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Equal pay advocacy skates into Essex

Roller skating, bumps, soccer, bruises, cheers, and advocating for gender equality. What do they all have in common?

Before recently, not that much. But a few different local groups came together and collaborated to support one another in Essex Junction earlier this month.

The Green Mountain Roller Derby (GMRD), Change the Story VT (CTS), and the Burlington High School (BHS) girls’ soccer team partnered to dedicate the skaters’ first bout of 2020 to the #EqualPay movement--working to close the pay gap between women and men.

“Pay is still unequal in Vermont,” said Aly Johnson-Kurts, communications director for CTS. “Right now, the wage gap is 16 cents; and women of color are earning even less--likewise with women with disabilities. So, that is why we are here, because we need a deeper sense of fairness in the community.”

The #EqualPay bout took place Feb. 1 at the Champlain Valley Expo which is home to GMRD’s flat track. Skaters donned personalized jerseys made special for the occasion, and fans were able to purchase their own throughout the night. One dollar of each jersey sold goes to BHS girls’ soccer’s #EqualPay fund while the remaining proceeds will support GMRD’s Junior Roller Derby League in the form of gear and scholarships.

One of Johnson-Kurts’ colleagues at CTS has a daughter on the BHS soccer team, and the connection grew from there. The Seahorses made national news in October after players were penalized for not just wearing shirts which read “#EQUALPAY” underneath their uniforms--but taking off their jerseys to display the undershirts after scoring a goal late in the game.

BHS senior captain Helen Worden spearheaded the team’s interest in advocating for equal pay by bringing back the motivation she got for it in Europe.

“I went to the [2019] Women’s World Cup in France,” Worden said, “and in the final game, after [the U.S.] won, the entire city and stadium started chanting, ‘Equal pay!’ It was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been to. So I talked to [my teammates] about doing something when I got back home, and it took off from there.”

The Seahorses were originally going to try and sell homemade jerseys with the hashtag, but CTS jumped in and offered to help design and purchase official, tech material shirts with names put on the back and then to help sell them.

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place after GMRD reached out to CTS to see if someone might be interested in setting up a table to promote their work at a bout. As no one from Change the Story was available for that particular date, the derby team contacted Vermont Works for Women, one of CTS’ three core partners.

“It kind of felt like a no brainer,” said Nell Carpenter, the youth program manager for Vermont Works for Women. Carpenter had never heard of roller derby before but was enthralled with the idea after looking into it. Carpenter would later sign up for GMRD’s boot camp and joined the team, taking on the skating nickname “Megan Scrapinoe’’ in honor of U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) star Megan Rapinoe.

Rapinoe has been a staunch leader in the equal pay movement and was a driving force in having the U.S. Women’s National Team (USNWT) file a class action suit against U.S. Soccer last March. The lawsuit says that between 2013-16, the women’s national players earned, at most, $4,950 for winning a non-tournament game while men’s U.S. players collected an average of $13,166 per similar victory.

Further frustration for USWNT fans, and fans of equal pay, is that the women’s team has won four FIFA World Cups since 1991--including the last two--while the men’s squad has never even made it to the championship round.

“I’m a soccer fan, derby fan, fan of gender equity, fan of youth activists… so this game was a really cool fusion of all those passions,” Carpenter said after the Feb. 1 bout.

The Seahorses’ raised funds will support accessibility for young girls looking to play in the Greater Burlington Girls Soccer League and widening access to other girls’ sports.

“This was so cool--to see everybody wearing our jerseys,” said BHS senior captain Maggie Barlow. “It was really great to see so many people supporting the cause.”

GMRD was established in November 2007 as part of the modern day resurgence of roller derby. It’s a fast-paced, full-contact sport which is among some of the fastest-growing athletic competitions in the world today.

Kim Anetsberger, known as “Risk” by her teammates, has been skating with GMRD and Essex’s Grade A Fancy squad for the last three years.

“I love it,” Anetsberger said about roller derby’s physicality. “It’s really fun, and it’s really fun to even get hit. There’s something about getting knocked down; like, flying down and just getting up again. It’s empowering as heck, as crazy as that sounds. It’s amazing.”

Asked about the #EqualPay event, Anetsberger said, “The partnership has been really great. We share similar visions about what our future should look like with equal pay and women’s rights. I hope we will keep partnering with them in the future.”

Anetsberger also said that the bout might have introduced derby fans to the movement, as well as hopefully drawing some new people to the sport.

“Maybe we’ll get more recruits out of it too,” Risk commented. “It’s always great to see another person stand up and try it. But I also think--I’m really hoping--that tonight is reiterating an important concept to our regular derby goers.”

GMRD might have found three new skaters that night in the BHS soccer players who said they were immediately interested and picked up information about the sport and how to join. Anetsberger assures potential recruits that they won’t be banged up right away, as new members go through a detailed process of learning how to fall safely before being involved in contact drills.

The league’s next boot camp for beginners starts Feb. 25 at the Champlain Valley Expo. More information on how to join GMRD, the sport in general, and the ability to purchase one of the #EqualPay jerseys can be found at gmrollerderby.com.

CTS is a multi-year initiative which aims to align philanthropy, policy, and program to fast track women’s economic well-being in Vermont. Along with Vermont Works for Women, it partners with the Vermont Women’s Fund and the Vermont Commission on Women. Change the Story launched in 2015 with a project to collect baseline data related to women’s work, wages, business ownership--as well as in civic, political, education, and corporate leadership roles.

“We’re seeing Vermont businesses and organizations look deeply at pay equity,” Johnson-Kurts said. “Change the Story just launched a program called ‘Leaders for Equity and Equal Pay: LEEP.’ It’s a year-long cohort that brings together employers in the community to do a pay equity review, notice pay discrepancies, and ameliorate them. This effort will help chip away at the pay gap in Vermont, and the tools will become widely available in the future for more employers to do the same.”

Vermont Works for Women has another strong tie to the area, hosting Rosie’s Girls at the Center for Technology Essex (CTE) for the last 20 years. The summer camp is for middle school girls and gender non-conforming youth who spend a week learning a trade. 2020 will be situated in the woodshop with professional carpenters and woodworkers teaching the campers.

“It’s a really empowering camp,” Carpenter said. “It helps them expand their sense of possibilities for their lives and also develops some really great connections with their peers as they all try this new thing, take risks, and rise up together throughout the week.”

Carpenter found a connection between Rosie’s Girls and the roller derby last year, meeting a camper who had been spending the summer learning to weld at CTE and skating at the junior derby camp.

“I think that there’s so much synergy between the two of them,” Carpenter said. “For a lot of people, getting up on roller skates is a really incredible thing--just as using power tools for the first time.”

GMRD’s next bout is scheduled for March 21.

ADL students hold Black Lives Matter flag-raising ceremony

On Jan. 21, three Albert D. Lawton (ADL) eighth graders presented a proposal to the Essex Westford School District School Board to raise the Black Lives Matter flag at ADL during the months of February and March. Their proposal was approved, and student leaders organized a flag-raising ceremony for Feb. 3.

Students from ADL’s A World of Difference group designed and facilitated school-wide student dialogue last week to provide students with an opportunity to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, the symbolism of the flag, and ways everyone can support inclusivity in their community. The school and district is incredibly proud of the student leadership in this work and the students’ efforts to raise awareness and promote a safe and welcoming environment for all members of ADL.

Village’s Karen Dolan to run for Vermont state rep seat

Area resident Karen Dolan announced on WVMT’s The Morning Drive Feb. 10 her candidacy as a state representative for Chittenden District 8-2.

Dolan, who primarily grew up in the Northeast Kingdom, moved to Essex Junction shortly after graduating from the University of Vermont. In a statement announcing her candidacy, Dolan said her entire career has been focused on public service--leading initiatives to strengthen opportunities for Vermonters.

“Essex Junction is a vibrant, growing community that requires a strong and connected voice at the State House,” Dolan said. “As a Village resident for the past 14 years, I feel fortunate to say that Essex Junction is the community that showed me what community is all about. I am running for state representative to ensure Essex Junction continues to thrive and that all Vermonters have access to communities that support them to succeed. As I start my campaign, I look forward to connecting with more neighbors to strengthen our village.”

Dolan has spent time working with food security systems, work-readiness programs, criminal justice reform, and facilitating community dialogue. She currently works at Essex Community Justice Center and plans to continue her efforts there if elected to the State House.

Outside of her work at the justice center, Dolan volunteers with Meals on Wheels and the Ronald McDonald House, and she is a coordinating member of Voices for Inclusion in Essex Westford. Additionally, Dolan is a member of the Village Capital Project Review Committee and a Girls on the Run coach at Thomas Fleming School.

Dolan lives in Essex Junction with her husband, Jason, and their two daughters.

Chittenden 8-2 is currently represented by Dylan Giambatista and Lori Houghton. Giambatista has announced he will not seek reelection to the House and is instead running for a Chittenden County senate seat.

Proponents say dividing board would bring unity

Ken Signorello believes that the proposal he and Irene Wrenner have put forth to divide representation on the Essex Town Selectboard between the village and the town outside the village (TOV) will capture the diversity of the town.

Essex residents live in everything from condos to log cabins on 100 acres, he told the Reporter. Because most board members are from the village and the developed area immediately outside it, those are the perspectives heard by the board. “They’re going to tend to talk to the people in their own ecosystem,” said Signorello.

Although, it should be noted, the board backed off of planned regulations for backyard shooting ranges last year after hearing from residents in the town’s rural areas.

Asked if a proposal to divide the town’s representation evenly between the village and TOV with three representatives each would address the issue of representation for the town’s more rural areas, Signorello said, “We’d love to do more. You need a redistricting commission.” Because the village boundaries already exist and the population between the two is roughly even, two districts is easier to implement and doesn’t create new voting districts. Creating additional, smaller districts would require that each district receive its own ballot for selectboard.

Wrenner pointed to the Essex Westford School District as a model. When the three existing districts merged, they created a board with three representatives each for the village and town, and two for Westford, each with a half vote. “Why can’t our selectboard do this?” she asked.

Wrenner added that she first raised the issue in 2005, when the village lacked any representation on the selectboard. “I have worked for 15 years to fix the representation problem.”

“The only way to build a bridge between the two is to have equal [representation],” said Signorello.

When the Reporter spoke with selectboard chair Elaine Haney, she quoted an Essex resident who called the proposal a solution in search of a problem.

Over the past several years, 95 percent of the board’s votes were unanimous. In a couple of dozen instances there were 4-1 votes, but most of those were over the minutes, with one member wanting changes, Haney said.

“There’s been disagreement from time to time on small things,” Haney said. But when it comes to the big issues the board tends to arrive at a consensus and vote unanimously.

“I understand the sentiment behind it, that we should all just get along,” said Haney, adding there is no evidence of votes splitting on town and village lines.

It’s only recently that the village has had more than one representative on the selectboard. For ten of the last 30 years, there were no selectboard members from the village, including in 2006 when the last merger attempt was made, noted Haney.

It’s also easier, in Signorello’s view, to run for the selectboard from densely populated areas. “It’s daunting to run as a selectboard member from here,” he said, pointing on a map to some of the town’s more remote areas. Canvassing one’s neighbors, for example, involves a lot more travel to reach the same number of people as are on a block in the village and its environs.

Haney, however, said where board members come from “depends on who wants to represent their town at any given time.” She added, “It has nothing to do with geography right now.”

While the board currently has three village members, “that’s the first time that’s happened,” said Haney.

One of the concerns Haney and others have raised is the possibility of a tie with an even number of board members.

Signorello said that is a risk now, when board members are absent or recuse themselves.

Haney acknowledged that can happen, but said she tends to table major issues when members are absent.

In a tie vote the proposed measure would fail. Signorello said that would allow for a compromise to be arrived at. But Haney said that on some items, such as the budget, the board is obligated to follow tight timelines that may not allow time to resolve issues. She offered the example of the TOV representatives deciding that the amount of plowing being done in the village was excessive and refusing to vote for the budget. “Three people can hold the community hostage until they get what they want,” she said.

A board with an even number of votes is so unusual that Haney reached out to experts to find out if it was even legally allowed. She said she has contacted the town’s attorney, the merger attorney, the Secretary of State’s office and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT).

Signorello and Wrenner requested Haney’s communications related to the proposal and received her emails with those entities as well as the town and village manager Evan Teich and village trustee George Tyler. Signorello and Wrenner shared those emails with the Reporter. The Reporter’s review did not show any communications which were inappropriate or untoward.

When presented with a petition, municipal boards do have an obligation to ensure those petitions are legal, as Wrenner did in this case.

Voters will weigh in on the issue on Town Meeting Day. Should the proposal, which changes the town’s charter, be approved, it will be sent to the legislature, which must approve all charter changes.

The House and Senate committees on government operations will receive the proposal. Whether or not they take it up is up to them. With the merger vote pending in November, the committee chairs could easily decide to table the charter change until 2021. Or they could approve the change. Should the merger be approved, that plan would ultimately supplant this one.

As for how their proposal would be implemented, Signorello said that if the legislature approves the change, the selectboard would fill the newly created seat by appointing a member from the TOV. As the terms of current members expire, those seats would become either village or TOV seats.

Addressing the criticism that their proposal doesn’t contain a mechanism for insuring that representation changes along with population, Signorello and Wrenner said that should the populations become unbalanced the selectboard would appoint a redistricting commission.