Shaina Kasper has been a member of the Board of Directors at Emerge Vermont since May of 2019. A native Vermonter, Shaina provides insights and leadership to the organization. She also serves as the State Director of the Toxics Action Center for Vermont and New Hampshire. After studying Environmental Studies and Political Science at college, she knew she wanted to be involved with community organizing. Although she pegs herself as more of a campaigner, she plans to run for some sort of elected position someday soon. Shaina is an advocate, is passionate about the work she does and definitely leads by example when it comes to bringing powerful women to the forefront of our cause. Emerge Vermont is lucky to have her on our team!
How did you first get involved with Emerge Vermont, and what has the experience been like?
My first job out of college was as a field organizer with Progressive Massachusetts supporting folks to run for office and working on ballot initiative campaigns to raise the minimum wage and provide earned sick time for all workers. I went to a training by Ryanne Olsen and she explained her work with Emerge Massachusetts. This work struck a chord with me as I care very deeply about women’s leadership. After that, I followed the formation of Emerge Vermont and felt drawn to their mission. Through my job I get to meet a lot of outstanding and impressive women who are finding their voice and wanting to be an advocate for others, so I see firsthand the importance of empowering women to run for elected positions and win.
Can you give me a brief overview of the work you do at the Toxics Action Center?
I’m approaching my six year mark working with the Toxics Action Center. We were founded in 1987 in the wake of the Woburn, MA water contamination crisis which completely devastated many families in that area. During that crisis, there wasn’t really anyone who could meet with the terrified parents of the children who were getting sick from the contaminated drinking water. There was no one to sit down with them and figure out what they wanted to happen and how to get it done. And that’s why the Toxics Action Center was founded—to help communities form groups, make a plan and get their voices heard in response to local pollution issues. In the 33 years since, our work has really expanded beyond just traditional toxics. A significant part of our work is focused on fossil fuel infrastructure, pesticides, and ground water contamination work. I co-facilitate a national coalition of grassroots groups that are fighting PFAS drinking water contamination in their communities. I work with over a dozen groups on-the-ground in Vermont and New Hampshire, and we train on everything from developing a message, to planning for an upcoming hearing, to winning a community vote.
During times of crisis, do you think we can see more clearly the need for female leadership?
Yes, absolutely. In my work, I see community groups that are formed to deal with a crisis that’s happening in their neighborhood. Time and time again, I see that the people who are rising up to respond to these serious crises in a coordinated way are more often than not women. Making a generalized statement: women know how to multitask. Women can create a community that will work for people who have multiple competing priorities—and we’re really seeing that now with COVID-19. We’re seeing that the caring economy has been undervalued for far too long and that the people who are on the front lines—whether it be healthcare workers or hourly paid jobs—are overwhelmingly women and women of color. Not valuing the importance of these women as the backbone to our communities is really showing in our response to COVID. I think if we had more women leadership at all levels—from mayors and selectboard members to president—we would be dealing with this crisis differently.
What would you say to women who want to run in their community or state?
Just run! In my experience—and the data shows this—women need to be asked and encouraged to run for elected office even when they have just as much if not more experience, passion, and commitment. Understanding that you can and that you should run for decision-making positions is harder for women. That’s why I care so much about Emerge. It’s not only providing the necessary skills training and the space to practice, but it’s also giving a supportive community for women to encourage one another.
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.