Blog - Rights and Democracy

Take Action: Stop Indefinite Internment of Families

I’m deeply terrified by the anti-immigrant fervor gripping America right now. Especially a recent remark made by President Trump. He said that our country is “infested” with immigrants. This is not a flippant choice of words. Like most of his rhetoric, it’s is deeply white supremacist, and is aimed at dehumanizing specific groups of people. That’s frightening enough. But what I find particularly terrifying about this most recent comment is the glimmer of intent behind it. How does one resolve an “infestation”? When we allow ourselves to see others as something less than human, that’s when all manner of horrors suddenly become justifiable possibilities.

The leap from internment to extermination is very much shorter than I think we’d all care to believe. And for those who call me an alarmist for saying so— who think that such a thing could never happen in America— I would remind you that it's already happened.

Children in America have been ripped from their parents and put in cages. The President has passed an executive order to supposedly stop the separations, but which actually allows for the indefinite detention of these families. There is no plan in place for reuniting the more than 2,000 children who’ve already been taken from their parents. The Trump Administration’s cruel and unnecessary “zero tolerance” policy remains in place.

Here, in Vermont, we've passed policies that speak to a sentiment of making our state a "sanctuary", which keep us from feeding into the hateful frenzy, and which provide aid and comfort to those seeking freedom and opportunity. 

There are lots of things you can do to help. Here are just a few:

Stop the Separation of Children Now!

My name is Kelly Mangan. I’m a member of Rights and Democracy, the chair of the Burlington Progressive Party, a mother of 2, and the wife of an immigrant.

I’m not an expert on immigration law or activism— there are a great many people far more knowledgeable than me who’ve spent years working on this important issue. But, as a parent I cannot live with the knowledge that our government is quite literally ripping babies from their mothers’ breasts, and children from their fathers’ arms.

Amazingly, people I know (most of them parents, all of them white) have said to me: “But they came here illegally,” as though that were a defense for what is being done to children and parents on our borders right now in our name. We know that many of these families did not, in fact, cross the border illegally, but presented themselves at the border asking for asylum. Still, they were arrested and their children taken away.

It doesn’t matter to me if they followed the “proper" procedures to seek asylum to enter the country. We should not criminalize people for seeking safety, freedom from oppression, and opportunity.  

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Nina Turner to Keynote Whose Vermont? Our Vermont! Forums

It's time to build the people power necessary to see paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, clean water and energy, and racial equity and justice legislation enacted in the State House and signed into law.

Join Rights & Democracy (RAD) at three events next Friday and Saturday with Nina Turner of Our Revolution to hear what we can do to make a better future possible here in Vermont. (See RSVP and ticket information below!)

Because ... Whose Vermont? Our Vermont!

RAD is hosting two gubernatorial candidate events—one in Rutland and another in Bennington—on June 29th where members and local residents will ask direct questions of candidates running for the state’s highest office. These forums will provide folks the chance to ask questions that matter most to them and their community, and hear directly from candidates what they’ll do to tackle the most pressing issues facing them and their community.

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What Issues are Most Important to You & Your Community?

Rights & Democracy has launched an exciting listening campaign to hear from people around Vermont—of diverse backgrounds and political viewpoints.

We are interested to learn more about you and your community's priorities for the future, like:

  • Do you worry about young people leaving small towns and rural communities?
  • Do you worry about the impact of the overdose crisis?
  • Do you worry about how people are  treated fairly?

We also ask you what we should be doing to address them so we can work with you on those issues in your community and across the state.

Take Our Community Survey!

Help us get there by taking the survey, passing it along to a friend or neighbor, and let us know if you'd like to host a forum in your community about this survey. It's a great way to have a quality conversation about the issues that matter most to your community, and how we can solve them—together.

Once we've collected your responses to the survey, we will share the results as part of an updated Vermont People’s Platform.

During the November midterm election, we (and you!) will encourage local candidates who champion this People’s Platform to run for office, and win, so they can best represent the issues that matter most to you.

Once again: That link to our survey.

It's Time to Veto Phil Scott

Today, Vermont Governor Phil Scott vetoed bills to raise the minimum wage (S.40) and establish paid family leave (H.196). While not surprising, his actions will have a profound impact on tens of thousands of working Vermonters and their families.  
"With these vetoes, Gov. Phil Scott made it clear he does not represent the interests of working families in Vermont, and is more interested in maintaining an economy that benefits the wealthy few while increasingly leaving tens of thousands of us behind," said James Haslam, Executive Director for Rights & Democracy, a community-based membership group that strongly supported both bills. 
"It would be generous to say that Governor Scott is simply out of touch with the everyday struggles of families in today's economy. The fact is, he is simply more interested in representing powerful corporate lobbying interests than he is the working folks he claims to care about. If we are going to have a state where everyone can thrive, Vermont will need to veto Phil Scott and elect someone who has not been bought and sold by Wall Street and the likes of Koch Brothers. Vermont can no longer afford Gov. Phil Scott."

Urgent: Calls Needed Today in Support of Raising the Minimum Wage

We are close to winning a huge victory for working Vermonters by raising the state’s minimum wage—providing a nearly $250 million boost to the state’s economy, and lifting thousands of the state’s lowest-wage workers out of poverty.

On Friday, the House Appropriations committee voted to send the bill to a full floor vote this week: that House floor debate and vote on this important bill is expected to happen on Tuesday!

Join us tonight at our Burlington offices - or from your home - for a statewide phonebank to get this bill passed in the House this week. RSVP on Facebook, or if you can't make it to our offices email Elise Greaves for other ways you can help make calls.

The Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition, which includes Rights & Democracy, has led the effort to pass this bill, as well as Paid Family Leave, during this biennium. Friday's vote to move the bill to a full floor debate was a huge step forward. In addition, key Senate committees have agreed to move the paid family leave bill to a floor debate in that chamber.

"By raising the minimum wage and establishing paid family leave, Vermont legislators and Governor Phil Scott have an opportunity to raise the quality of life in our communities," said Andrew Tripp, a Rights & Democracy board member. "Right now, too many families are working 40 hours a week, or more, and still unable to afford basic necessities or to stay home with their loved ones when they need them most. There is a lot of talk about how to make Vermont communities healthier and more affordable. These two bills offer a chance to reward the hard work of tens of thousands of Vermonters."

Your Representatives needs to hear from you before Tuesday about why they need to support raising the minimum wage.

If you have a personal story about the impact low-wage work has had on you, that’s the most powerful story to tell. For some additional key myth-busting talking points, see below.

Recently House Speaker Mitzi Johnson told VT Digger that raising Vermont’s minimum wage was critical to making Vermont affordable for low-income residents. She added:

“If we want a state that supports families, that supports a strong healthy future, that’s attractive to young people, then we need policies that are accommodating to young families and that are accommodating to entry-level workers. I think even if it’s vetoed, even if we can’t override, I think a very big segment of Vermont wants to see people speaking up for them.”

This is great news to hear from the Speaker, but we want to hear this message coming from your Representative too. If they support the legislation - thank them!

Here’s two ways to make sure this bill becomes law this year.

  • Call and email your Representative today: You can look up their contact information here. You can also leave a message for them at the Sgt. at Arms office. That number is (802) 828-2228.
  • Call Gov. Phil Scott at (802) 828-3333 and tell him to stand with working Vermonters and raise the wage!

At a time when billions in federal tax breaks are being given the wealthy, raising the standard of living for thousands of Vermonters—many of them women and people of color—is only fair and just.

But it will only happen if legislators and Gov. Scott hear loud and clear from folks like you.

Here are some key talking points to combat some common myths, if you need them, when you’re talking to or emailing your legislator.

Check out this story from New Hampshire, which explains how workers are seeking jobs in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts because the minimum wage is higher in those states. As a result, New Hampshire businesses are raising their wages to compete. In other words, raising the minimum wage attracts workers.

Opponents like to say jobs could be lost, but this ignores a simple truth: People who make more money don’t need as many jobs to support themselves or their families. So, if someone works two jobs now, they may only need to work 1.5 jobs in the future. But, they have more money in their pocket. A win-win!

The wage increases will happen slowly over a six-year period. Businesses, and nonprofits, will have time to adjust. And, it’s not like the cost of living is going to stop going up in those six years. Some large nonprofits—such as the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity—already pay their employees more than $15 an hour because as an anti-poverty organization, they don’t want to be paying staff poverty wages.

The benefits cliff concerns are real, but they’re real for folks today. Someone making $10.50 an hour can lose public benefits for food, housing, and child care. Raising the minimum wage will not exacerbate the problem, but provide people a path off of receiving benefits—which is what many low-wage workers said during two separate public hearings this session.

Our Success Depends on You

Thank you for your past support — it is because of you that we were able to accomplish so much last year.

And it is because of you that we have been able to unite folks during the legislative session around issues that improve the lives of our neighbors and our communities.

These wins are important because, if the past sixteen months have taught us anything, it’s that Democracy is fragile, and Rights can’t be taken for granted.

The priorities of far too many elected officials – and the policies they attempt to enact – favor the wealthy few over the benefit of communities they have been entrusted to serve.

We need your voice to let our elected officials know we expect them to deliver on behalf of the people of Vermont.

And, we need your financial support.

Building on the success of the past two years, Rights & Democracy has fortified its coalitions in order to fight for economic, environmental, health care and racial justice in the Vermont State Legislature.

  • We have mobilized thousands of Vermonters in the the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which recently passed the Vermont Senate and is currently being debated in the House.  
  • We have played a key role in the coalition advocating paid family and medical leave insurance, which has passed the House and is now in the Senate.   
  • We are actively engaged in the battles for Medicare for All, clean water , energy democracy, and working to end systemic racism in our schools, our government, and our judiciary. 
  • We are fostering the next generation of community and elected leaders, through recruitment, education and training through our LEAD-VT program, and providing direct electoral support and endorsements.

Throughout rural and urban communities in our state, we see working and middle class neighbors fighting to survive in today’s economy. That’s why this spring we are launching a series of community forums, going into our rural communities, meeting people with diverse backgrounds and political viewpoints in order to better understand their priorities for the future, and develop a platform we can use to hold elected officials accountable to our community’s true needs.

Your financial support makes our work possible.

You can help with a one-time, annual donation of $25, $50. $100, or more.

Or, join our growing list of monthly, sustaining donors who give $5, $10, $20 (and more) each month to help make our shared work possible.

We need your help in so many other ways, too. Get involved – forward our emails and Facebook pages to your friends, attend a meeting or a rally, join a working group, attend a legislative committee hearing or testify. We want our elected officials to hear your concerns.

One way to get involved is our upcoming MAY DAY RALLY!  The all-day event will feature citizen lobby training, a petition delivery to Gov. Phil Scott, and a press conference at the Vermont State House on Tuesday, May 1st, culminating with a 4:30 PM Rally on the State House lawn, State Street, Montpelier.

RSVP: Join us to rally in support of human rights & celebrate working class power & unity.

Without the support of our members, our shared goals will be difficult to realize. So, it’s imperative that you unite to promote grassroots progressive policies our country so desperately needs.

By becoming a sustaining member of Rights & Democracy, you are helping to build that movement — online, in local communities in Vermont and New Hampshire, and beyond. We need your help now to make it a reality.

Thank you for your contribution and continued support,

Chuck Pizer, Community Engagement Director, Rights & Democracy

Raise the Wage Update: One House Committee Down, More to Go!

Yesterday, the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee voted 7-4 to support raising Vermont's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Thank you for all of your calls, emails, and powerful personal testimony!

While this is great news, your help is needed now—more than ever—as the bill is now being sent to House Appropriations where it's fate is not clear! We need your help letting committee members know that they need to pass the bill ASAP!

Here's the list of names, emails and phone numbers. Remember: Every call and email counts!

House Appropriations Committee

After you call and email these Representatives, call Gov. Phil Scott at (802) 828-3333 and urge him to stand with thousands of working Vermonters who have waited to long for a wage that enables them to support healthier families, create a stronger economy, and build more resilient communities.

The time is now to raise the quality of life of our friends and neighbors by raising Vermont's minimum wage. But it will only happen if legislators hear loud and clear from folks like you.

RSVP Today: May Day Rally at the State House

Tuesday, May 1, State House lawn, State Street, Montpelier. Join us and rally in support of worker rights & human rights and to celebrate working class power and unity. There will be workshops on citizen lobbying, time to meet with lawmakers, a petition delivery to Gov. Phil Scott, and a rally on the State House lawn. Register today!

Welcome New (and Familiar) Faces to Rights & Democracy Staff!

We had a great conversation on our membership call Sunday night, where we discussed upcoming actions you can take to help us pass a strong minimum wage bill and paid family and medical leave insurance.

We also let folks know about our upcoming membership appeal, and why it’s important to become a member and support Rights & Democracy’s (RAD) important, intersectional organizing work.

RAD is the region’s major membership based organization, uniting people and organizations to ensure that our elected official deliver on behalf of the people of Vermont. We’re fighting for justice—economic, racial, gender, environmental, housing and health care— while also taking on corporate power and big money. We are fighting to improve the lives of our neighbors and our communities.  

As a member, you help build a sustainable movement. Learn more about becoming a monthly donor or making an annual contribution.

But, we also announced some important staff updates.

Elise Greaves rejoined RAD as our Political Engagement Coordinator. Elise has been working at RAD since 2015 and was previously our Lead Organizer. She has taken on much of the work handled by Isaac Grimm, who has moved next door to New Hampshire and is now RAD’s New Hampshire Organizing Director. Stepping into the role of Lead Organizer in Vermont is Emma Schoenberg, who joined RAD last year as a Grassroots Organizer.

Here’s the list of new staff who’ve joined our team in the past few months. You can read their full bios and see their staff photos:

  • KATE LOGAN, Director of Programming and Policy (bi-state). Kate is a feminist social and political theory scholar, specializing in family policy, participatory democracy, and human rights, as well as a having a background in labor and community organizing and nonprofit management. Working for Rights & Democracy gives her the opportunity to put all of these passions and skills to use in helping to build a more just and sustainable future. You can reach her at
  • JAIME CONTOIS, Director of Strategic Development (bi-state). Jaime worked as a community organizer in NH and VT for over ten years, leading campaigns for living wages, health care reform, affordable housing, labor and LGBTQ rights, and addressing systemic racism. She has worked in NH as Director for Working Families Win,, and led a campaign that defeated the radical right in the State House. You can reach her at
  • JOHANNA DE GRAFFENREID, Program Director, Jobs, Justice Climate Campaign. Johanna found her roots in the environmental justice movement while working for Greenpeace USA in 2009. For more than a decade she has worked as a grassroots trainer, street medic, campaign director, and policy expert with grassroots, regional, & national organizations. You can reach her at
  • CHUCK PIZER, Director of Community Engagement (bi-state). Chuck Pizer is RAD's Director of Community Engagement. Prior to RAD, he worked as the Community Engagement Director for Vermont PBS for six years. During that time he rapidly expanded its partners – and presence – throughout all fourteen counties of the state. You can reach him at

Thanks for your ongoing support of Rights & Democracy as we all know that there is a lot to do in order to win on some of today’s most pressing issues facing our communities.

Jacky Rieke - Let's Raise All Boats

It is a privilege doing business in Vermont, this state with a great big heart! We make and eat and grow and create so many beautiful things, a unique people in contemporary times! Sadly, as the operator of Nutty Steph’s for 14 years and a well-integrated member of many facets of the community, I observe the feeling of scarcity that plagues the commoners and small businesses of our state, (as with all states in this wealthiest of nations on Earth). In case you are wondering if you are alone in your poverty, you are not. It is not in your imagination but rather the fiscal reality of the political policies of our time.

The only solution to the epidemic paucity of our time is to raise all boats with the tide of higher individual incomes, as was envisioned by those who fought for and won the first minimum wage law in 1912. In the 106 years since that time, inflation has far outpaced minimum wage increases, and we are again living in the slave culture that threatened the earlier period of industrialization.

Today’s wealth inequality is worse than ever. We work and work and have no savings or wiggle room. Lacking disposable income eclipses individual wellness and simultaneously casts a shadow on the cultural drive for leisure, beauty, adornment, and other miracles that feed the human soul. This in turn creates anxious workers, who jump from job to job, never getting what they need in exchange for their earnest efforts to contribute to the world. This is why small business owners struggle most. Turnover is far more expensive than a few more dollars an hour, and I imagine my sentiment would be echoed by other small businesses that are thriving while  providing great pay and benefits to workers, such as Farmers to You, The Alchemist, and Red Hen Baking Company. To concerned business owners I advise: pay more, provide a semblance of financial integrity to your workers, and they will devote themselves, and your business will thrive.

I’m glad Vermont is working toward a $15 minimum wage and only lament that we are too short-sighted to be planning for the $20 that will be needed by all workers by 2025, the $20 that indeed is needed now. The higher, the better, for individuals and Vermont small businesses. The greatest part about spreading high wages across the whole society is everyone will have more money for chocolate. Love!

Jaquleyn Ziegler Fernandez Rieke - Owner of Nutty Steph's in Middlesex


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