WAMC | September 8, 2015 | Report by Pat Bradley
Activists gathered in Burlington’s Battery Park on Monday to launch a new grassroots organization. They want to help Vermont’s working families by encouraging and recruiting more labor-supportive and progressive candidates to run in upcoming elections.
“Welcome to Battery Park kick off for RAD, Rights and Democracy”
The 14th annual Burlington Labor Day Celebration featured music, booths from labor unions and advocacy groups, speakers and food in the park overlooking Lake Champlain. Advocates and the curious gathered on the hottest Labor Day ever in the Queen City to find out about Rights & Democracy, spearheaded by the Vermont Workers’ Center and founding and executive director James Haslam. “We have had a lot of years in Vermont of struggling to advance human rights, to advance justice and try to have a big impact on state policy. Over the years we recognized that really the way that politics happens is currently not set up to actually make sure that it’s fundamentally serving the interests of everyone, of working families. So that’s what we’re out to change. We want to re-invent politics so actually working families are actually at the center of decisions that get made and why they get made is the betterment of our communities.”
Rights & Democracy plans to recruit and sponsor candidates who have experienced the challenges faced by average Vermonters. Employing the mantra “Together We Win,” it has aligned with a wide scope of organizations, including a number of unions, 350-Vermont, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, the Peace and Justice Center, Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s.
Vermont Workers’ Center President Ellen Schwartz says they do grassroots organizing and she’s excited there is a new group that will focus on voter frustration. “Changes will only happen if lots of people rise up and say we expect our elected officials to do this and we want our bosses at the workplace and our representatives in the legislature to act on behalf of the rights of working people. So we need the people power. There’s an expression that I think the Podemos group has in Spain which is a hundred feet on the ground and one in the house, meaning behind every person that gets elected we need to have a lot of people power and that’s really what we’re about.”
During speeches to the dozens in the crowd, Carpenters’ union member and Rights and Democracy board member Chris Car emphasized the importance of the individual voter. “You know there’s a lot of people out there, there’s probably a lot of people in this crowd, that don’t vote anymore. They say why should I vote, doesn’t make any difference. Well that’s what they want you to believe. And in fact the way things are right now and so few people are voting that your vote means more now than it ever did. I’m on this board to go out and knock on doors and re-engage all you people in this audience, and there’s a lot of people that aren’t here today, and present them with candidates that are willing to support our points of view. Our democracy does work. We have to make it work.”
Rights & Democracy’s mission statement notes that the group’s goals include a livable wage, affordable health care, and a progressive and equitable tax system for Vermonters.