A multi-generational Vermonter, Democrat Ember Quinn hopes to bring her passion for social justice and support for low-income families to the Vermont House of Representatives.
“Adversity just kind of found us, and so as a family we kind of waded into activism,” she said.
Quinn, who is a self-described homemaker, as well as a substitute teacher in the Milton Town School District, moved to Milton with her partner and children four years ago. Around the same time, she came out as transgender.
“After I came out, my kids started being harassed,” Quinn said. “And I just really felt a need to figure out what was wrong with society.”
Since then, she has become active in the Milton Inclusion and Diversity Initiative and an advocate for affordable housing. She and her family are Green Mountain Habitat For Humanity partners and homeowners.
Despite the harassment Quinn has experienced, she still wants to see the best in people and to work to make even her tormentor’s lives better.
“People say just horrible things about me online, but I think that comes from a sense of being forgotten, of struggling, whether that be financially or educationally,” Quinn said.
Last week, Quinn spoke with the Independent over the phone. Her responses have been edited for length. See italicized Editor’s Notes for more context and links for fact-checks.
The legislature this session took some steps to address concerns about use of excessive force by police and the inequities in how often people of color are subjected to motor vehicle stops and criminal charges. Do you think those actions were sufficient or is there more to be done?
I think there is a lot more to be done. I’m not going to say all police are bad, but what I will say is that the job as it is now, has too many expectations.
We really do need the police when there is an issue of violence, when we need protection, but we don’t need them in our schools.
When it comes to things like auto infractions, we don’t need people trained with deadly force intervening when somebody has an uninspected vehicle. We could easily divest our police funding and have an unarmed Department of Motor Vehicle official handing out tickets or calling people to find out why their car isn’t inspected.
I would like to put a freeze on hiring any new officers. I’m all for reallocating funds.
What should legislators do to address the impact of COVID-19 on low-income Vermonters?
Low-income, working class people in Vermont were struggling before the pandemic.
We need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. We’ve got people out there working for $10 an hour (minimum wage is $10.78 in Vermont), trying to support their family, working two or three jobs.
We need to freeze rent and forgive a lot of rents due to COVID-19.
The $1,200 individuals received from the federal government was terrific. Now that it’s gone, we need to do more to help people catch up on their bills.
We need to ensure health care for all Vermonters. There’s no reason not to. When I was a kid, I grew up without health care, and then in the 1990s we got Dr. Dynasaur, and now every kid under the age of 18 is insured. But poor people often still have to decide whether to keep the electricity on or go get a check up.
Editor’s Note: In 1989, the Vermont Legislature created Dr. Dynasaur, a program that provides health care coverage to uninsured pregnant women and children through age six, who were ineligible for Medicaid. In 1992, coverage was expanded to children up to age 18.
Economists are expecting Vermont to face shortfalls when it is time to prepare the fiscal year 2022 budget, especially the Education Fund. How should the state address that loss?
Right now on the table, we’ve got a bill to legalize the sale of cannabis, which of course could create incredible tax revenue. I think the majority of tax revenues from the sale of cannabis should go into the Education Fund.
What COVID-19 is telling us is that we need schools that are twice the size. We’re doing hybrid learning right now in Milton, and I’ve heard from teachers that they can actually get work done now because of the smaller class sizes.
Education is something we don’t see the benefits of for a couple of decades. This is an investment we make. We tell kids they can be anything, but we don’t give them the tools to do so.
Scientists largely agree action is needed to delay the worst impacts of climate change. What actions, if any, do you feel the legislature should be taking to reduce Vermont’s share of carbon emissions and ready the state for the effects of a changing climate?
I know that Vermont itself is not going to tackle climate change. We need to look 20, 30, 40 years ahead, and we need to prepare our children and our grandchildren to live in a drastically different world.
I compost all of our food scraps. I would gladly stick my head in our trash bag, because it’s clean. We have garbage cans around town in various spots, but we don’t have food scrap cans. We need to put more money into outreach and we need to have grants available to help people get the compost supplies they need.
We need to increase public transportation. There are four buses that come to Mlton. I think that’s unreasonable. We need to have less cars on the road. Less cars on the road also means less accidents, which would mean less police. It’s all connected.