Braden: Great things can emerge when we make space

It was a simple thing. The Chapstick rolled out of the medicine cabinet. When I picked it up, I stood up so with such efficiency that when I slammed into the door of the medicine cabinet I gave myself a concussion that took a month to recover from. Being out of commission in a dark room was not my plan, but thanks to the gift of living in a supportive community, I was able to give my brain the space it needed to heal. There was a flip side to it, too. By removing myself from daily family tasks, I created a space in our household, and it was beautiful to watch my family rise to fill it. For the first time my kiddos started to help make their lunches, put their dishes into the dishwasher, and my son even started biking to and from school by himself.

The best part is now that I'm better (and can soak up the sunshine and drive) their habits are already part of the routine. It served as a remarkable lesson. If a tree falls in the forest, a whole host of new plants are given the space they need to grow.

Unrelated to my concussion, I had been working to make space in another aspect of my life, as well. In 2013 I founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots organization advocating for moderate gun laws, because it seemed like democracy wasn't working the way it was supposed to when it came to the issue of guns. The vast majority of Vermonters supported sensible reform, but their voices weren't being heard in the Statehouse, and no one was talking about the common ground in the debate. After four years I'm proud to say that we have brought some balance to the landscape and shifted the gun conversation away from the polarizing zero-sum game of pro-gun versus anti-gun towards one focused on the shared value of gun responsibility.

But to be sustainable an organization often needs to be able to grow beyond its founder. I could clearly see that the best way to make sure GunSenseVT is around for the long haul was for me to step away and create the space for a new leadership team to rise up. It's been so exciting to watch the transition into this new phase. The leadership team now in place is grounded in the certainty that it's possible to both support the Second Amendment and do a better job of protecting our communities. They are committed, and, most importantly, they are fearless.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, many of us made space in our lives to allow for a new level of participation in democracy. When the results came in on Election Night this week, we saw the promise of what can come from having a broader segment of society willing to engage. We must keep it up. But as we hit the one-year mark, we also need to recognize that sometimes stepping away from one project and making space for another is the best way to make the long-term change that we are seeking.

I've always loved the month of November, and this year after emerging from weeks in a dark room, I understand more clearly why it's my favorite. With so many leaves gone, it's finally possible to see more of the sky. It is a big, beautiful sky. And it's yet another reminder that great things can emerge when we make space.

Ann Braden founded GunSenseVT and now serves on the leadership team for the Local Love Brigade and the Windham County Action Network (WeCAN). She writes about the joys and struggles of staying engaged in democracy. She lives in Brattleboro and can be reached at


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