Former Vermont state representative Kiah Morris is getting back into politics — sort of.
The one-time Bennington lawmaker has joined progressive advocacy group Rights & Democracy as the organization’s Vermont movement politics director. She described the position as one in which she helps “move Vermonters from what we call ‘protest politics’ to seats of actual power and decision making.”
“That’s really my vision for this work,” she said, “to encourage and promote a really radical diversity in those different elected seats, and to build needed systems of support for those folks that are elected to be able to successfully pass and implement progressive policies.”
Morris started a few weeks ago but intended to take things slowly as she transitioned out of a position with the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools. That all changed as the coronavirus hit the state.
“There really was a need for me to focus my efforts on supporting some of the different community responses and statewide conversations that were needed in regards to the COVID crisis,” Morris said.
Morris is a graduate of Emerge Vermont, a training program for Democratic women looking to get involved in politics. She went on to serve nearly all of two terms in the Vermont House, resigning in September 2018 after she’d been repeatedly racially harassed by a white nationalist and to help care for her husband, who’d recently had open-heart surgery. She’d been the lone black woman serving in the Statehouse.
VTDigger.org and Vermont Public Radio each ran series last month examining her experiences — and the aftermath of it all, including an investigation of the racial harassment by Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
While Morris is working for a political organization, she considers herself a background player in helping to get other candidates elected. And she has no intention of running again herself.
Rather, she said, she’s excited to “build that bench out for people who are coming from areas of poverty, people who are disabled, persons of color ... to bring those needed voices you only typically hear through advocacy organizations instead of through the direct experiences of the people themselves.”
James Haslam, executive director of Rights & Democracy, said the organization is thrilled to have Morris aboard. She'll join a staff of about 20 full-time employees working in Vermont and New Hampshire. Haslam described her position as “uniting the grassroots movement and electoral politics.”
“The idea is that politics is more than just elections,” he said. “In between elections is where some of the most important political change happens.”
Haslam said he and Morris met in 2015 as he was preparing to launch the organization.
“When we were envisioning the kind of people we wanted to see step up and run in their communities and champion human rights and help build a strong democracy, we thought of people like Kiah,” he said.