BRATTLEBORO—Nationally-acclaimed comedian and writer Lizz Winstead returns to Vermont to participate in The Hatch’s “Storytellers on a Mission” benefit for Brattleboro’s Winston Prouty Center, hosted by local humorist — and voice of the Motel 6 lodging chain — Tom Bodett.
Winstead joins renowned storytellers Ernesto Quinonez, Catie Lazarus, David Martin, and Adam Wade, who “will tell moving and hilarious stories to raise money for a great cause, The Winston Prouty Center for Child Development in Brattleboro,” say the organizers of The Hatch.
The Hatch, co-founded by Bodett, was “launched in early 2013 to produce entertaining storytelling events for the community and donate the proceeds to nonprofit organizations in Vermont,” say the organizers. Since its inception, The Hatch has raised more than $150,000.
Winstead says she looks forward to her return. “I would come and perform in Vermont every week if I could,” she adds. In her experience, “Vermonters are inspired by art, and by making the world a better place."
She compares Vermont’s people to “the ‘oxygen mask’ line” that flight attendants instruct passengers to use during an emergency: put on your own mask before helping others with theirs.
“Vermont has this view of taking care of itself first, but caring for the outside world, too,” Winstead says. She says she sees the state’s culture as one of “environmental concerns and human rights,” and she made special note of the high value Vermont places on education.
Speaking about Brattleboro, Winstead says, “I’ve spent some wonderful times” here, noting a recent New Year’s Eve she spent with friends who own a vacation home in Brattleboro.
“We took a midnight sleigh ride. We were all bundled up. It was the most beautiful thing,” she says.
A native of Minnesota, Winstead sees similarities between the people and the culture of her state and Vermont.
“There’s a rich storytelling tradition,” she said, which she attributes to “long winters and fewer people,” and the audiences in both states are more willing to take a journey with the storyteller, which makes her job more fun.
Winstead says she is deciding between two pieces for her Brattleboro appearance: “a funny story about my dog rescue addiction, or a serious story — but with humor — about reproductive issues.”
She may show up prepared to tell both stories, and ask the audience to pick which one they would like to hear.
A rebel with a cause
The latter subject — reproductive issues — gets Winstead all fired up, and with good reason.
She said reproductive rights encompass more than just the right to a safe abortion; it’s also about taking care of our health and having access to childcare.
“People think these are ‘women’s rights issues,’ but it’s really a human rights issue,” relevant to all genders, Winstead says. “We need to demand support from people.”
To this end, Winstead says that she’s “taking my love of information, comedy, and activism” to promote Lady Parts Justice [ladypartsjustice.com], “the first NSFW (not safe for work), rapid response, reproductive justice messaging hub that uses comedy, culture and digital media to sound an alarm about the terrifying erosion of reproductive access so people will get off their asses and reclaim their rights,” says Lady Parts Justice’s Mission Statement.
Winstead said she uses humor in the form of short, smart videos — sometimes starring such notables as comedian Sarah Silverman and rock goddess Joan Jett — “to bring awareness to people about which laws are curbing reproductive access in their states.”
Winstead, who has long combined comedy, intelligence, and political awareness and activism in her roles as co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show; co-founder of Air America Radio; and regular commentator on MSNBC, says she “might as well do it with this issue — reproductive rights — in particular” with Lady Parts Justice.
She says, “we are dumping this message into public space, not into political space,” because that approach will appeal to more people, especially those who don’t consider themselves political activists.
Winstead talks about many adults who think “affordable reproductive care is not about me anymore” because even though as young people, they needed that resource, now that they are grown up their care is covered by their employer’s health insurance plans. But, she asserts, “affordable reproductive care is everyone’s issue.”
As an example, Winstead mentioned the recent HIV outbreak — 79 people testing positive in rural Scott County, Indiana — pointing the finger at the Indiana legislature in 2011 shutting down, “all of a sudden, for no reason, the few Planned Parenthood clinics” in the state, “even though they didn’t even provide abortion services.”
Those clinics provided, among other things, affordable access to HIV testing, as well as information and resources for preventing the disease.
“Now,” Winstead says, “the state has had to set up emergency mobile clinics to deal with” all the new cases of Indiana residents who have contracted HIV, mostly through intravenous drug use.
Although one might think Vermont is mostly immune to such political manipulation of reproductive care, Winstead notes that, until last year, “there was a law on the Vermont books that rapists could sue for custody rights” of children conceived from sexual assault.
Winstead noted it was a high school girl — Stacy Blackadar, a former student at Brattleboro Union High School — who, along with some of her classmates in Tim Kipp’s class, led the fight to change that law.
As Mike Faher reported in the May 26, 2014 edition of the Brattleboro Reformer (“Brattleboro students helped launch rape custody law”), “Blackadar contacted and later met with state Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington. Manwaring, last year, said the students ‘came to me with a well-researched, well-thought-out framework for legislation.’”
The article also reports, “The bill was introduced in 2013. It initially passed the House in the second month of the 2014 session and received final approval after amendments in the session’s final few weeks.”
Winstead says, “nobody can make a convincing argument these rapists” have a right to remain in the lives of the women they assaulted. And now, she adds, rapists in Vermont can no longer use women and their bodies as “potting soil,” as they still can “in 30 other states in America.”