Former Bennington Rep. Kiah Morris may be departing the Vermont Legislature, but she says her work on racial justice issues in Vermont will continue.
Morris withdrew from her re-election campaign last month, after becoming the target of alleged racial harassment. She then resigned her post earlier this week, to focus on family health issues at home.
In some of her first public remarks since she announced her resignation in a Facebook post Tuesday, Morris told VPR Friday that she intends to continue her role as a racial justice advocate.
“I was in this fight before I was in this seat, and so I plan to be in the fight afterward as well,” Morris said. “And I think that my role will be in trying to be a courageous truth-teller. And the things that I have to say are not easy to listen to, they’re not easy to hear, but they’re absolutely necessary in order for us to do anything of real measure.”
Morris said her withdrawal from the race has spotlighted the “systemic racism” that many Vermonters didn’t know existed in the state. But public attention to her experience in Bennington, she said, has jumpstarted a long overdue conversation about how to address the problem.
“I saw people that I didn’t even know in anguish, in frustration and anger and sadness and disappointment in feeling like we had really worked in so many ways to make progress, to really be about progressive values and concepts, to be about the equality that we are so well known for, but we fell asleep and got too comfortable,” Morris said. “And in the meantime, fascism emboldened itself. Racism became a popular thing again.”
Morris said she’s detected a “shift in collective consciousness” since she went public with the alleged harassment she endured. Community groups have begun assembling across Vermont, she said, to talk about how to help residents dealing with issues related to racism.
“So this is something that I celebrate right now, and I see our state as fighting back, and our state as having an opportunity to lead the way, and to show people how it gets done,” Morris said. “I’m proud to have been a part of this state’s history, and I’m proud to be a part of this state’s future, and us trying to help bring about the change we need across the nation, through our own example.”
Morris said the primary driver behind her resignation was a need to help her husband recover from open-heart surgery.
She said the harassment that compelled her to withdraw from her re-election bid, however, has continued in the weeks since she decided to drop out of the race.
“We had a group of youths that had a really coordinated, organized effort, and had been walking outside of our home … to kind of surveil our property, and then went about banging and slamming and crashing on our doors and our windows … over and over and over again,” Morris said.
Morris said in her resignation announcement that she and her family plan to “seek legal remedies to the harm endured.”
Morris’ lawyer, Robert Appel, said Friday he hasn’t yet filed any civil complaints on his client’s behalf.
“We anticipate investigating what remedies might be available,” Appel said. “The situation’s rather unique. We are in the preliminary stages of that process, so there’s not much more I can say at this point.”