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Kunin: Women must mobilize ‘anger and optimism’

By Andrea Waxman
of The Chronicle staff

August 28th, 2008

Madeleine Kunin

Madeleine Kunin

Though former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin, 74, no longer holds an elected office, her work to strengthen her adopted country continues unabated.

In addition to teaching history and women’s studies at the University of Vermont and St. Michael’s College, Kunin, a Swiss native who escaped the Holocaust at age 6, has recently written her third book.

“Pearls, Politics and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead” (Chelsea Green Publishing Company; April 15, 2008; 224 pages; paperback $14.95) is Kunin’s “call to action for new political leadership to emerge from the women of America,” she writes in the introduction.

She will speak in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Sept. 9, as the opening event of the 2008 Jewish Book & Culture Fair and the 2008-2009 Edie Adelman Political Awareness Series of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Women’s Division.

In her introduction to “Pearls,” Kunin laments that though American women are making progress in the political realm, too few of them are participating; and progress has not come fast enough.

“We can no longer wait for incremental change,” she writes, “it has been too slow. Parity will not be achieved by patience. To arrive at equal representation, we must mobilize both our anger and our optimism: anger at what is wrong in America and optimism that it can be changed for the better.”

Kunin, the first Jewish woman ever to be elected governor of any state, believes that young women do want to effect change, she told The Chronicle in a telephone interview last week, “but they don’t necessarily see that politics is a way to do that.”

Observing that politics is currently viewed in a very negative light, she said that she is trying to show its positives.

“Politics is where the decisions are made that determine whether our children will go to war, whether our parents will live in security and whether Earth itself will continue as we know it,” Kunin wrote.

It is crucial, she said, for women to get more involved for a number of reasons. Among them is that women have different life experiences from men and consequently women promote and have credibility in different areas of life.

Without the participation of women, we cannot have a truly representative democracy and government will not be as responsive, she said.

She noted in the interview, “We are one of the few countries that does not have a family leave policy. The countries that have the best family leave policies also have the most women serving in elected office.

Kunin holds academic degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Columbia University School of Journalism; and the University of Vermont.

She said that she was inspired to enter politics by the women’s movement and by her experience as an immigrant.

“My mother [told me] that anything is possible in America,” Kunin said.

In addition to her career as a professor at several colleges and universities and three terms as governor of Vermont — she was the first woman governor to be re-elected that many times — Kunin worked as a journalist; was elected to the Vermont General Assembly (1973-79); and served as lieutenant governor of Vermont (1979-83).

She was appointed deputy secretary of education (1993-96), U.S. ambassador to Switzerland (1996-99) and is the founder and board president of the Institute for Sustainable Communities (1991-present).

Though Kunin is clearly still intensely engaged in working for change, “in a way,” she said, with the publication of this book “I’m passing the torch” to the next generation of American women.

The Jewish Book and Culture Fair is a program of the Harry & Rose Family Jewish Community Center in partnership with the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, and in association with the Jewish Book Council.

It is funded by the Dr. Gary & Judy Guten Jewish Book Foundation and the Alex & Ilsa Neurath Malkin Endowment Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.