Justice for our Communities
People of color have always been part of the fabric of our state, from the stewardship of this land by the Abenaki people, to the free and enslaved Black Americans who shaped our history, to the migrant farmworkers who continue to keep our dairy industry alive. All Vermonters, especially Vermonters of color, deserve to know from candidates how they will advance an anti-racist platform as their State Senate representative. Because when we advance racial justice, we all benefit.
Racial justice is at the core of every policy I put forward. It guides my work to ensure all Americans can practice their right to vote. It centers my work to end our nation’s cruel immigration and incarceration practices. It fuels my work to address the disproportionate burdens that climate change inflicts on communities of color. It underlies everything.
As the first woman of color to serve in the Vermont State Senate and co-chair of the Social Equity Caucus, I’ve fought to end systemic inequities for people of color in Vermont. I am driven by the pursuit of racial justice because, unfortunately, America continues to fall short of its promise as a nation of freedom and equality. White supremacists are emboldened and hate crimes are on the rise, all the while the manufactured panic surrounding “Critical Race Theory” sweeps across the country. We must stand up to these racist attacks on people of color and address the root causes of racial inequality in this country.
It is no secret that Vermont is a predominantly white state. However, what is often left out of this narrative is that the vast majority of our population growth over the last decade has come from the in-migration and resettlement of people of color and new Americans. It is in our collective best interest – for the strength of our communities and growth of our state – to build inclusion and equity into our communities. True equality cannot be achieved until we break down the systems of oppression our government created. And that is what I intend to do in Montpelier.
Protecting our Democracy:
I have not forgotten the generations before me that have fought and died to secure my right to vote. Their sacrifices have made my life possible, and they fuel me to continue the hard work of building a truly inclusive democracy.
Vermont has a proud tradition of participatory democracy and, in the Vermont State Senate, I have worked to expand access to the ballot box. We’ve passed universal vote-by-mail so that every voter automatically receives a ballot. We’ve advanced Ranked Choice Voting, a critical democratic reform that increases participation among female candidates and candidates of color. And, we’ve extended the right to vote to all noncitizens in local elections, allowing more Vermonters to participate in decisions impacting their local communities.
We need fighters who will actively defend our right to vote. I will be that fighter: proudly co-sponsoring the For the People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and supporting an end to the filibuster to get these vital reforms passed.
The right to vote is under attack. And Black, Indigenous, and communities of color are experiencing the most harm. We must secure and ensure the right to vote for all, including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, young people, disabled people, and immigrants.
I support immediately restoring the Voting Rights Act, and passing legislation to overturn racist voter ID policies, stop unnecessary voter purges, expand access to mail-in ballots and early voting, and make voting easier for all Americans. In addition, we must ensure everyone is fully represented in our government, regardless of geography. I also support statehood for the District of Columbia and self-determination for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.
Fair & Free Elections:
Elections must also be free from interference or election subversion. This is critical to ensuring trust in our democratic systems. We must provide more resources to upgrade our election infrastructure and support our local election administrators in safeguarding an accurate ballot count. In addition, we must create a federal standard that prevents partisan politicians from interfering in election administration or the counting of the ballots. In addition to securing our election systems, we must put an end to dark money in politics.
I am proud to not take any corporate PAC money or contributions from fossil fuel companies and executives. We must level the playing field across the board so our government is responsive to people not corporations.
Criminal Justice and Policing Reform:
Whether we’re Black, white, or brown, living in a small town or a big city, we all want our families to be whole and our communities to be vibrant.
Mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex are tearing families and communities apart, especially communities of color. People entrusted to serve and protect our communities target, detain and even kill Black people like George Floyd, Tamir Rice, and Breonna Taylor, and too many others. This is a problem right here in Vermont. We have one of the most disproportionate incarceration rates of Black youths in the country.
As a Vermont State Senator, I’ve led the way in addressing the urgent need for criminal justice and police reform. I’ve fought for justice and equity at every turn, championing legislation that creates systems for police accountability and ends life without parole sentences for juveniles. I’ve led on legislation to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and end the use of suspensions and expulsions for children under eight. But there is still so much more work to do. We must reimagine and rebuild our justice systems so that we truly prioritize safety for all.
Marijuana Legalization and Ending the War on Drugs:
The War on Drugs has failed to make our communities safer. Instead, it disproportionately placed communities of color behind bars. We must create better solutions to address addiction and embrace a public health model that meets the needs of those most impacted by these disastrous policies.
In the Senate, I will support the decriminalization of all substances. However, while marijuana legalization is a necessary first step, it must be paired with structural changes. That includes the expungement of records, the pardoning of anyone incarcerated for marijuana offenses, and the active inclusion of those with prior marijuana-related offenses in the legal market. In addition, I support investing in public-health-based programs, ending mandatory minimums, and stopping programs that give local police stations military-grade weapons to be used in our communities.
Investing in Public Safety
When I was 13, I was profiled by the police while walking home with a friend and arrested without explanation. We were detained most of the night, unable to call our families and without legal representation, while the officers bragged about receiving overtime pay. Unfortunately, this story is all too common in America, especially for communities of color, and we need systemic reform to hold those in positions of power accountable.
In tackling the injustices of our criminal justice system, we can start by finding effective alternatives to policing and incarceration at all levels. I support investing in mental-health professionals who are best equipped to handle emergency calls. We must also disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and invest in restorative justice programs that provide children with the support they need to thrive. In addition, we need to end the inhumane practices that keep people incarcerated and eliminate cash bail and the criminalization of poverty. Poor people should not be incarcerated based on their inability to pay.
Creating a Just Immigration System:
Like many Americans, my story is one of immigrants who sought safety, freedom, and opportunity in this country. My mother’s Jewish ancestors fled persecution in Kyiv nearly a century ago, making their way across Europe and eventually to Pennsylvania and Illinois. My father and his family fled the part of India that became Pakistan during the Partition, and then came to the United States to access education and the American Dream of entrepreneurship and prosperity.
My Jewish American mother and Indian immigrant father opened an Irish pub where I grew up waiting tables and pitching in to help the family business. I watched them struggle with access to capital and the inability to afford retirement. I also watched my father lose the ability to return to India for over a decade during the post-9/11 era.
People with the courage and tenacity to move to America for a better life, like my ancestors did, embody our country’s commitment to being the land of the free. And that is why we must do right by them if we want to hold up our ideals and values.
That is why we must build a just and accountable immigration system that upholds the dignity of all who seek refuge and opportunity in America.
Equal Opportunity for Immigrants & Refugees:
Many immigrants are stuck in unstable situations due to our employment and visa policies. In the State House, I’ll fight for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and other undocumented immigrants, while also increasing the number of refugees and asylum seekers admitted annually. We must provide temporary solutions for undocumented immigrants to be able to fully participate in our communities. In 2013, I led efforts in Vermont to allow undocumented immigrants to register for a drivers’ licenses, giving them agency and tools to travel to the doctor’s office, work, or the grocery store and will work to advance similar solutions in the State Senate.
Finally, we must reform our immigration system to invest in robust refugee resettlement programs to support displaced individuals across the globe and at home in Vermont. As the war unfolds in Ukraine, genocide takes place in Tigray, and global unrest continues, we must ensure that our refugee resettlement systems are appropriately identifying and addressing the needs of the people they are set up to support.
Honoring our Veterans and Military Families:
At the age of 17, my grandfather enlisted to serve in the Navy during World War II. As a young Jewish man watching the rise of fascism and antisemitism abroad, he answered when his nation called. He served in Okinawa and the Philippines, and received a Purple Heart for his bravery and sacrifice.
We must never forget Americans, and their service, when they put themselves in harm’s way to protect our democracy. Our veterans deserve the comprehensive benefits they have been promised, expanded support programs to better address their needs, and quality and comprehensive health care. That is why I introduced successful legislation to support military families, service members, and retired veterans, earning formal appreciation from the Department of Defense for helping Vermont keep its commitment to those who serve.
In the State Senate, I will fight to eliminate the Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit backlog and wait times at VA medical facilities so that veterans can immediately access the support services they need. This means more funding to hire doctors and nurses and staff to care for veterans, updating and retrofitting VA facilities, and fighting back against threats to privatize and profit off of VA medical facilities. We must additionally expand healthcare coverage to guarantee mental health care, suicide prevention services, dental care, long-term care, and improved support services for survivors of sexual assault in the military.
I will also continue to be an outspoken advocate encouraging action on the issues of toxic exposure. Many of our veterans are developing rare forms of cancer and respiratory illness as a result of their exposure to airborne toxins from burn pits and other chemical exposures during their foreign deployments and on US soil. Currently, over 75 percent of veterans filing disability claims due to exposure are being denied their claim.
Finally, we must support those caring for our veterans. That means investing in comprehensive care and the VA workforce, as well as expanding the VA’s comprehensive caregiver program. Our veterans deserve the compassionate care that allows them to remain at home and in the communities they fought to protect.
In 2009, Vermonters organized to overcome hate and legalize marriage equality. I remember this fight clearly, as it was my first year in the legislature and one of the most significant advances in civil rights for which I would ever have the privilege to cast my vote. Vermont was a leader then and we need that same leadership now.
While we have come a long way since marriage equality became a reality, the LGBTQIA+ community across the country still faces serious discrimination. And this burden is not felt equally across the community. Specifically, trans women and queer and nonbinary youth have been experiencing the brunt of this hate. As anti-transgender legislation proliferates in many states across this country, it is vital that we set the example in Vermont for what trans rights and protections can and should look like and then lead other states in securing similar safeguards.
In over half of U.S. states, people can still be denied the right to housing, employment, and education based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. We must pass the Equality Act to prohibit this discrimination in every state in America, and I will work hard in the State Senate to advance this important piece of legislation.
We must also stand up for and protect LGBTQIA+ youth who are disproportionately impacted by issues of homelessness, food insecurity, and drug addiction. Legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida only exacerbates the issues currently facing this community. We must also acknowledge that this legislation is often specifically designed to target trans and nonbinary youth, who are at particular risk of experiencing violence and discrimination. I will be an outspoken advocate in Montpelier to provide protection and resources at the federal level for LGBTQIA+ youth.
Advocating for Gun Safety:
We all deserve to live in communities that are safe for ourselves, our children, and our neighbors. Gun violence robs us of this right and has reached the level of a public health crisis, and one that we have felt here in Vermont. I stand with Vermonters in supporting common sense gun laws that will keep our communities and loved ones safe while respecting the rights of law-abiding, gun-owning Vermonters.
As the Legal Advocacy Director for Steps to End Domestic Violence, I was in court with survivors weekly helping them get relief from abuse. I brought this experience with me to the legislature, advancing legislation to remove weapons from households in domestic violence cases and eliminate dangerous loopholes putting Vermonters and their families at risk. I was the lead sponsor of our landmark human trafficking legislation and, in 2013, I was one of just 12 co-sponsors on legislation to establish routine background checks.
I will also be a strong advocate for giving our communities additional tools to take on gun violence stemming from a lack of police accountability, which can often further escalate tensions around firearms. As someone arrested by police when I was young for “curfew,” I know what it’s like to feel criminalized and racially profiled at a young age and tempted to live into that stereotype about who you are. I have worked to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by addressing violence with restorative justice outside of the criminal justice system and will continue this fight in the State House.
Finally, I am married to a responsible gun owner who has been trained in gun safety, including safe storage practices. Our state has the highest rate of gun ownership in the Northeast, and passing gun safety legislation here inevitably involves working with responsible gun owners and getting buy-in from a wide range of voters. I will be a strong messenger for bipartisanship on this issue in the State Senate, using my own experience in a gun owning family to work across party lines.
Close to 1 in 4 Americans identify as having a disability. People with disabilities are overrepresented in our criminal justice system as victims of police misconduct. They are also subject to higher rates of suspensions and expulsions from school. And they experience poverty at higher than average rates. We must not allow this kind of discrimination to continue. In the State Senate, I will fight to ensure people with disabilities have economic security and justice, access to education and comprehensive health care, and the support to live and thrive with dignity in their communities.
As we work towards an inclusive economy, we must expand social security and strengthen the program to increase benefits. We can do this by ending the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI) backlogs for people with disabilities. We can also eliminate the outdated eligibility terms and expand the program to increase payments to people with disabilities. In addition to expanding Social Security, we must end the subminimum wage for employees with disabilities.
I will also ensure that people with disabilities have access to quality education by targeting funding towards the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, so that students have access to the support services they need to succeed. And, finally, I will fight for a Medicare for All plan that supports people with disabilities.
Upholding Indigenous Rights:
As Vermonters, we take pride in calling this state home. We must also acknowledge that we live on N’dakinna, the unceded territory of the Abenaki people who have stewarded this land for centuries. For too long, this country has ignored our history of erasure and injustice against the Indigenous Peoples of this land.
Repairing the harm caused to Indigenous communities in Vermont begins with recognition. In 2011, I first worked with Indigenous leaders to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. After a decade of dedicated action, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is now recognized as a Vermont state holiday. We must also work to advance federal recognition of many Indigenous tribes and nations, including the Missisquoi Abenaki.
Finally, as we work towards developing climate action plans across Vermont, we must center the voices of Indigenous Vermonters. Specifically, I will work to ensure that our environmental justice policies provide Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. That is the right of Indigenous Peoples to give or withhold consent for various projects that affect their territory as described in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Together, native or newcomer, we can honor our land and protect the rights of the people who live on it.
In the State Senate, I will work side by side with activists and allies to ensure that Indigenous voices remain at the center of environmental action and that Indigenous communities receive the recognition they deserve.