by Brenda Siegel
“Susan B. Anthony gave her whole life to the work of voting rights for women. Her whole life. Then she died on the eve of its inevitability. The work is about making progress, fighting for us to have safer and stronger communities. We all need to become brave enough to lose. All of us.”
Those were the words that I spoke on election night. That is what I had to be, to run this race. To try to win. I had to be brave enough to lose. I had to believe in the possible, even against the odds. No one else had that courage. To lose is hard. To walk into the fire with your eyes wide open is hard. It is really hard. To experience the barriers faced when you come from a marginalized background and experience them in public, is painful and sometimes gut wrenching. To believe that change is possible, is what I have had to do my whole life. It is what people who have experienced the hardest things have to do. Because without hope, there is nothing. But what I get more than any of this, is the pain that Vermonters are feeling and how important it was to run and be someone with the knowledge, the experience, the guts and the lived experience to make clear what we face, what is going wrong and what work we all have to do to make it better.
I had the honor of a lifetime, an honor that only a few ever experience, being the Democratic nominee for Governor. Not only that, I experienced something that no one else ever has, doing it while in poverty. It was profound and it made me who I was and with any luck, it made that path easier for others.
As public figures and elected leaders, we can get lost on outcomes and our own careers. But the outcomes that matter most are if we get housing for all Vermonters. If we begin to make it across the finish line on strong bold action for climate change. If we have adequate child care. And if we can stop burying our children from Overdose and Suicide.
At some point in my campaign, I said to my team, “Let’s fight like hell to win…but..also lets fight like hell to win on the issues. Because losing on the issues is not an option for me.”
We 100% won on the issues and we did not just win, we knocked that out of the park.
I am not trying to sugar coat the experience, it was rough. It was like walking through mud. At times it beat me up, but it was important. Someone had to stand up for the needs of everyday Vermonters. We could not let the significant mismanagement of the current administration go unchecked and we could not let Vermonters down by refusing to fight Goliath. None of us should be ok with turning our backs on those who need us most just because it is hard. Vermonters don’t get that choice and I believe with every ounce of my being that as public figures and elected leaders we should be right there beside our community members and neighbors. I was not willing to leave the most vulnerable Vermonters on the battlefield without someone to rise alongside them and so I did it anyways. Even though it would be hard. Even though the entire system is designed to work against me. Even though it seemed impossible. Even though at moments it broke my heart.
If we were not there beating that drum when Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance (VERAP) and Emergency Rental Assistance (ERAP) was cut off without notice, if I had feared at all speaking truth to power when this administration was ready to cause harm, the current administration would not have “found’ 20 Million dollars. We would not have a new commissioner of DCF and we would not see a scramble to do something. We placed housing for all Vermonters squarely at the center of the conversation. But we are not done yet.
On the last night before the election, I met with people utilizing emergency housing. Through tears, people told me their immense fear of being dumped back on the street. In my campaign I offered many solutions to this. We can expand the pods across the state, we can use pallet housing, we can look at dormitory housing. We must begin to understand that the cost of doing nothing both economically and to our communities is exponentially higher than investing in a solution.
I will be working with legislators to introduce and work towards a strategic short and long term plan for housing. One that addresses the needs of everyone, from people experiencing homelessness all the way to those in middle income families. I am not done yet and I need all of you standing with me to get this done.
We brought into the spotlight the problems with sexual assault and harrassment in the National Guard. We made sure that it could not be ignored and used this platform to allow a former member to share her story.
In this campaign, we broadcasted that childcare money that the legislature allocated was not getting out the door and now it is. We used a megaphone about the needs of our downtowns, our small businesses and we will keep pushing this issue.
We shared bravely and explicitly about the overdose crisis and the need for us to move forward.
We will get Overdose Prevention Sites this year because we were not afraid and I am not done yet. This year I will work with a legislator to introduce a comprehensive bill to address the overdose crisis and with all of your help, we will get it passed. I want to turn to the 845 families who lost loved ones in the last six years and promise you that your loved ones did not die in vain, we will fix this for other families no matter how long it takes. Included in that 845 is my nephew, Kaya Siegel. To my family, thank you, for being open enough to endure the retelling of our pain. Your courage is helping others.
We corrected the record on climate and the clean heat standard and we drove home the need to build in-state renewable energy. We are going to get some serious climate action this year.
We talked in real numbers about the economic cost of inaction on all of these issues. We are wasting so many tax payer dollars by not facing our challenges head on and we will keep talking in dollars and cents because Vermonters deserve to know the real cost of doing nothing.
On election day Vermonters elected the largest super majority in our history. Vermonters said without hesitation that they want progress on the issues. We pounded the pavement day after day on the reality of this administration and that we can not sustain two more years of his vetoes and THAT worked. I know the people Vermonters elected, I stumped for them the entire campaign. I showed up for them. I did that because I believe in them. They are climate, childcare, criminal justice reform and housing champions. They are people who will fight for change. Vermonters said loudly and clearly that they are ready for progress. While our state is historically uncomfortable with ousting an incumbent and the reality of money in politics loomed heavy on my race, Vermonters did speak up by ensuring victory on the issues that matter most. We must deliver on these issues now that we have the power to do just that.
What we have shown is that Vermonters are worth fighting for and that there are a lot of wins, even in a long shot race. My team and I ran an incredible, truly tireless (though we ARE tired), relentless, disciplined, tenacious campaign and we did absolutely everything that we could. We left ALL of it out on the field.
It was not the outcome we wanted, but what we accomplished along the way and will accomplish as a result of this race is way better than most imagined and we nailed down the issues. Because of all of you, we will get things across the finish line this legislative session and that is no small triumph, It is in fact huge. Whether you voted for me or for Scott, I urge you to hold this administration accountable and rise when the people who need us the most are left behind. None of us should turn our backs.
You see, together we ARE stronger.
The work is hard. It is long and it is lonely. But, it is worth it.
I hope that what I leave you all with, is that today we must get up, stand strong and fight another day. We have accomplished so much together and together and we will accomplish so much more.
I said over and over again throughout the race that this is a tough fight, but it is not even close to the toughest I have had to face in my life and I am still standing. Believe me when I say, I am still standing now and ready to keep pushing forward.
To those who are fearful of loss or question what we can achieve when it is a true uphill battle. To those of you who don’t see the point in trying. I hope you saw through this race, that we have to try. If you have the privilege to be comfortable, it will always be easier to look the other way. We are at a time in our world where we have to do more and be better. Where we must rise together to make progress. We have to be prepared for what is to come and know that we will stand together in our commitment for a brighter and stronger Vermont.
To all of you who have to get up every day and fight anyways, even though it is hard. I see you and I will fight alongside you. I promise. To every Vermonter who said that I was their only hope, thank you. Though I am humbled by your support, that is simply not the truth. We are all each others only hope. Let’s keep moving.
We elected the most historic slate in the history of Vermont, the most women, the most lgbtqia folks, the most people of color and more. We did that together.
For me and my team, for those who were ready for us to move forward, this is a tough moment, but not the end. Just look at what we did together. It really is quite something.
Thank you Vermonters for your courage and your bravery.
I will not leave you behind.
I am no where near done yet.
I am only just getting started.
The author, a Newfane resident, was the Democratic nominee for governor this year. She lost to Republican Phil Scott by a 69-23% margin.