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ChatChat - Claudia Cragg


Apr 15, 2021

Claudia Cragg @claudiacragg speaks here for @KGNU with Dinah Yessne. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Yessne’s parents were active in the Progressive movement of the 1940s and 50s, earning them the enmity of their neighbors during the "Red Scare" hysteria and causing them to remove both her and her brother from the St. Paul public school system, never to return. 

Twelve years later, she emerged from the University of Minnesota’s law school politically primed by classmates
whose parents included the mayor of Minneapolis, the governor of Minnesota, and the son of a president of the United States.  

'Politically Defined', Yessne's memoir, examines her binary development in the political hotbed that was the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1960s, where she learned the basics of electoral politics while at the same time demonstrating against the war in Vietnam and capping her political education with tours of Harlem, Milwaukee’s freedom schools, and an angrily divided South.

From there, her journey continued through six states and the siege of Chicago as a member of Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign staff, then through five more states as an organizer for the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Landing in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in 1970 (quite by chance), she went on to live a personal and professional life advocating for underrepresented people as a social worker, attorney and lobbyist, and as a much-needed voice in Vermont’s contentious civil union election of 2000.

Everyday US newspapers offer a glimpse of the work of national leaders on the civic and political stage. What most rarely get to see in detail is the work and workmanship of those closer to the front line, where service delivery happens.

Yessne’s book goes a long way towards revealing the details and challenges of delivering those same services. Though unknown to all but her immediate circle of friends, family and colleagues, Dinah’s life is a lesson in how one ordinary person CAN make things better for many.