Representation Matters: State Representative Becca White
This is part of The Humanist’s monthly series highlighting openly nonreligious elected officials across the nation. Because of the work of the Center for Freethought Equality, the political and advocacy arm of the American Humanist Association, there are now ninety elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels who identify with the atheist and humanist community serving in thirty states across the country. Join the Center for Freethought Equality to help politically empower the atheist and humanist community—membership is FREE.
The Center for Freethought Equality’s advances have been groundbreaking. Prior to the 2016 election, there were only five state legislators and no members of Congress who publicly identified with our community; because of its efforts, we have sixty state legislators today—a twelve-fold increase – and a member of Congress, Jared Huffman (CA-2), who publicly identify with our community. It is critical that our community connect and engage with the elected officials who represent our community and our values—you can see a list of these elected officials here.
Representative Becca White
Representing Windsor 4-2 District in Vermont
“My nonreligious worldview impacts my policy platform because I believe we have the present moment to live, and that government should not dictate the spiritual choices of its citizens.”
A lifelong Vermonter, Representative Becca White grew up in the village of Wilder in Hartford, Vermont, and received her Bachelor’s degree in American History from the University of Vermont in 2015. Upon graduation, White began her career as an organizer for a local solar company and now works as a community engagement manager for Efficiency Vermont.
At the age of twenty, she ran and was elected to a seat on her local Selectboard, where she served two terms and was elected Vice Chair before being elected to the state legislature. She currently serves on the Transportation Committee and House Communications Committee in the Vermont House of Representatives. She is also a member of the Rainbow Caucus, Women’s Caucus, a member of the leadership team of the Climate Solutions caucus, and a co-chair of the bipartisan Futures Caucus.
In addition to her public service, White is a leader in her community and the Vermont Democratic Party. She is an Executive Committee member of the board of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Hartland. She also serves as Chair of the Hartford Democrats and Executive Committee Member of the Windsor County Democrats.
White and her husband, Dylan, live in White River Junction alongside their cat, Ms. Kitty, and a flock of chickens.
Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?
Rep. Becca White: Growing up, my family ran a no-frills household where the budget was tight. When the financial crisis of 2008 happened, we were unable to ride the wave unscathed. Yet, my community was there for my family—I had Dr. Dynasuar (a healthcare program for children and pregnant people in Vermont), free school meals, and support from a myriad of other social programs. Neither of my parents ever stopped working full-time in their jobs as small business owners. My mother ran a daycare and my father was a plumber and electrician. The economic system we have does not reward hard work as we aspire it to, and I experienced that firsthand. At every turn, a barrier would pop up out of our control—like medical debt, predatory mortgage lending practices, rising energy costs, transportation challenges, and much more.
I was motivated to run for office because I want to make sure that every family in Vermont has the same support network I grew up with and to expand the resources further. I also feel a deep sense of privilege and responsibility to give back to my home because of how my community cared for and invested in my family. At age twenty, I ran for local office and served on my Select Board for two terms. When one of our State Representative seats was open, I decided to run and have served two terms in that role since I was elected.
Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?
White: We have big challenges that my generation will be asked to live with if we do not respond proactively now. These urgent crises include global warming, health care inequities, unaffordable childcare, systemic racism in our institutions, capitalism forcing out of control consumerism, attacks on reproductive liberties, and demographic challenges straining our workforce. I don’t back down from a challenge and have the enthusiasm and grit to make a difference!
I was raised in a multi-faith household. My mother was shamed and manipulated by the heavy hand of the Catholic faith growing up and found her spiritual path in Tibetan Buddhism, which is what she raised my brother and me to follow as children. My older half-brother is Jewish and we also took time to honor the rituals of that faith tradition. My father was raised Protestant and I now would consider him a member of the “On Being” fellowship project from NPR.
I was given the opportunity to come up with my own belief system with this interwoven fabric of possible traditions. Starting in late elementary school I chose to not say “God” when told to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I was fully supported by my mother in this choice, and I explored philosophical alternatives to monotheistic religion. I do not believe in a god or gods. It took me some stumbling and exploration, but at this point, in my mid-twenties, I attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation in the neighboring town and also participate in an atheist alcohol-recovery community.
My nonreligious worldview impacts my policy platform because I believe we have the present moment to live, and that government should not dictate the spiritual choices of its citizens. We all deserve the freedom to find our own path, and I believe that to be true in most matters whether they be healthcare decisions, who we love and share our lives with, or what we are asked to do in service to our community.
Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?
White: When I first ran for local government, I didn’t think believing in God or not would matter. I mean, what does a sewer and wastewater bond decision have to do with my perspectives on an afterlife? So, to my family and friends, it was a commonly known fact about me, but I did not include it as a part of my campaign materials. Once elected, I sat at my first meeting and was again asked to publicly stand and say the pledge of allegiance. In college, I had a profound conversation with a Vietnam Veteran that reframed for me whether or not to omit “God” in the pledge, and out of that, I made the decision to not speak during the pledge and instead take a moment of silence either by sitting or standing with my hands by my side.
It went unnoticed during my first year on the Select Board. Then in my second year, a fellow Select Board member forwarded an email of a racist meme targeting Black Americans to members of the board, multiple reporters, and staff of the town. I was appalled. It seemed plain to me that this Select Board member should resign his position and apologize for the harm caused. I was the only one on the board of seven who felt this way, but I was not the only one in town: Black and Brown members of the community led an outpouring of grassroots organizing when the email was made public. In a subsequent public meeting, I read a statement calling for the resignation of the board member to a round of applause in the most heavily attended local government meeting I had ever been in.
Yet, the following days and weeks were a whirlwind because the board member I had asked to resign chose to reverse the conversation and called for my resignation since I was an atheist that did not say the pledge of allegiance. I was mailed bibles, letters asking me to reconsider my damnation to hell, and was subjected to attacks on social media ranging from insulting and profane to direct threats, causing my husband to purchase additional home locks. The backlash was grueling. My father asked me why I didn’t just say the pledge and get over it. Was it really that big of a deal?
To me it was. I didn’t bend, and ultimately the tides shifted back in that election. I won my re-election against a candidate who chose to run because he felt it was his moral duty as a Christian to oppose me. The other member was ousted by strong numbers in favor of a young man of color I had helped recruit for the office. I have since received countless notes from young people, veterans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other atheists expressing how important those wins were and why it mattered that I didn’t give in to the pressure.
I tell that story because it shows why I am now open with my nonreligious identity. It matters to see elected officials who have different belief systems and it makes sure our voices are heard. It is not surprising to me now that being an atheist was used as a way to discredit me, but I’m not ashamed—I’m proud!
Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?
White: It is mixed. I think for some constituents it is a bit confusing that I’m an atheist who attends a church every Sunday, but when I have one-on-one conversations that quickly gets cleared up.
Vermont is not a particularly religious state, so if it comes up it is typically either because someone has strong perspectives as a Christian or they appreciate having a candidate who is not religious. I think my combination of being young, a woman, openly queer, and an atheist is a shake-up politically, but more often than not, I find people are hungry for candidates that reflect the diversity of our citizens.
To learn more about State Representative Becca White, visit: