MONTPELIER - Leaders of the Vermont Raise the Wage coalition convened Tuesday in the State House to send lawmakers a clear message: Passage of a $15 minimum wage is a top priority of working Vermonters and it needs to pass this biennium.
Coalition members were joined by several lawmakers who have been instrumental in keeping this legislation moving through the House and Senate, as well as Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.
Legislative leaders have made the minimum wage increase a priority to pass in this biennium. No bills passed either chamber, however, before the crossover date to ensure passage before adjournment. Instead, the bills will be taken up first thing in January 2018, after lawmakers are briefed by legislative and outside economists on the impacts the legislation will have on workers and businesses.
“In a session dominated by the notion of affordability, it’s a shock that raising the minimum wage hasn’t been at the top of the agenda,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina-Washington (P/D).
On the eve of the Congressional debate on the proposed GOP health care bill known as the American Health Care Act, Rights & Democracy made a dual capitol stand—in Montpelier and Washington, DC—to protest its passage.
Resistance to the GOP health care bill has been building for months, including here in Vermont. That resistance has made passage uncertain, despite Republicans controlling both the Congress and the White House.
In Montpelier, dozens of people gathered in the State House to deliver open letter signed by more than three thousand Vermont residents to Republican Governor Phil Scott asking him to publicly oppose the GOP’s AHCA. To date, Gov. Scott has ignored Rights & Democracy’s requests to speak out against these disastrous health care proposals, or meet with Vermonters to talk about health care.
“I believe it is our responsibility to lift everyone up. I believe that if I, or you, are fortunate enough to be healthy then we have a responsibility to care for those who are not,” said Brenda Siegel, a RAD health care leader from Newfane. “I don't buy into the idea that people who can't afford health care need to somehow suffer because they could have done something differently. I don't believe that health care is a privilege. I believe that health care is a right.”
As a nurse, I know firsthand that, in many ways, our health care system is already unjust, unfair, and offers worse care to the poor, elderly, people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and women. However, there is no doubt, that the Republican plans will make this situation far, far worse.
First, let’s stop calling it TrumpCare or RyanCare or GOPCare. Call it Don’tCare, because the Republican proposal is an all-out assault on health care. The grotesquely misnamed American Health Care Act (AHCA) is the culmination of a decades-old neoliberal agenda to dismantle Medicaid and Medicare, further privatize our health care system, and transfer wealth from low income folks to the rich.
We need to call this out for what it is: immoral. I don't know how else you could describe policies that profiteer off the most human of experience—illness—and create a health care caste system where whole swaths of our society are deemed unworthy and barred from the medical care they need to function in their daily lives.
In the last few days, many Vermonters have read stories ICE arresting four undocumented farmworkers who are leaders of Migrant Justice. While there has been lots of coverage, Rights & Democracy is receiving some basic questions from our members and supporters, such as:
“How and why do people become migrant workers?” Do they just work for some periods of time or stay here for longer?”
This is a big topic that I’ll just try to give some context, but everyone should check out Migrant Justice’s website: www.migrantjustice.net.
First, it is important to understand that US economic policies like NAFTA devastated the Mexican economy, along with the repercussions of decades-long military interventions in Central America, which has led to people coming to the US, undocumented, but as true economic or political refugees. For decades, Vermont’s dairy industry has been increasingly squeezed financially by big agriculture and chemical corporations. And, for last decade has survived only by hiring primarily undocumented folks who work incredibly hard for little pay and often in dangerous working conditions. These corporations put their profits ahead of the often struggling dairy farmers and exploited farm workers (and also contribute to the pollution of Vermont’s water).Read more
Multiple incidents have taken place at Vermont border crossings in the past week where people have been racially profiled and denied entrance. One woman and her family were denied after 4 hours of being questioned about their religion, views on Donald Trump, and after border agents took and searched her cell phone.
Join us in letting State and Federal employees know that we will not stand for blatant racial profiling, and unnecessary and unconstitutional questioning and searches.
CALL NOW: Please call the Vermont US Border Control offices to demand they stop the blatant racial profiling and should not enforce any orders which are clearly unconstitutional.
Phone Number for the Highgate Border Patrol Station in VT: 802-868-3361
Phone Number for the Derby Border Patrol Station in VT: 802-873-3489
Demand that Governor Phil Scott ensures our Border Patrol upholds the constitution and puts a stop to racial profiling by calling his office at 802-828-3333.
Please email email@example.com to let us know you got through.
I know that I am not the only parent right now who feels terrified about what the future holds. But, in my almost two decades as a community organizer I’ve never seen so many of us ready to take action.
When I founded Rights & Democracy, it was clear that we needed a multi-issue organization that worked with allies to connect all the issues and struggles of our communities. But who knew that all of our rights, across the board, would be under attack and our already deeply flawed democracy would be so threatened?
Thanks to so many of you, we are bursting at the seams with people wanting to do something. We need your help so we can have the capacity to meet our national political crisis head on.
With your help here’s what we are going to do:
MOBILIZE: Continue to support mass mobilizations working with individuals and partner groups like we have with the historic Women’s March and rallies against the Muslim Ban to show strong opposition to the attacks across the board from the Trump administration and Republican Congress.
ORGANIZE LOCALLY: As the saying goes, the best defense is a strong offense. We will continue pushing on a state and local level for key issues like raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, family and medical leave insurance, clean water systems, ending mass incarceration, ending the use of fossil fuels and expanding energy democracy.
BUILD & TRAIN LOCAL LEADERS: Roll out a new candidate pipeline so that we don’t have just one Bernie Sanders, but hundreds of Bernie Sanders’ starting at the local level. This spring we are developing a new candidate training program to dig into issue analysis and leadership skills for our members.
We always knew that it was critical to have a holistic and strategic approach that organizes our communities to take collection action around the policies and elections that impact us all. If we do not seriously and wholeheartedly turn our electoral and political process around, it will continue to threaten our communities, our ecosystems, and our future generations. Together, we can reshape these systems toward an agenda that benefits all people and the planet. But we need your help.
MOBILIZED: From Glossophobic to ‘Healthcare Activist’
(My “Healthcare Story”)
By Brenda Patoine
If you had told me two weeks ago that I would be telling my “healthcare story” before a standing-room-only auditorium of 1,000+ people and then again to the policy wonk at my U.S. Congressman’s office, I’d have told you that you were nuts. As in, bonkers.
Public speaking, you see, makes me sweat. And possibly vomit. Glossophobia, they call it. I just call it hell.
So you can imagine my response when a volunteer from RAD, Jessica Early, contacted me about speaking at the local rally in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ National Day of Action to Save Healthcare on Jan. 15. Thanks to my big fat facebook mouth, she had gotten wind of the fact that the only reason I have healthcare insurance today is because of the Affordable Care Act, and she wondered if I’d be willing to tell my story.
How could she know the very idea would send my stomach churning?
Once I stopped retching, I was left scratching my head. ”I don’t have a compelling healthcare story to tell,” I said. I was genuinely perplexed.
I told Jessica, nicely, that she had the wrong person for the job, that she should find a single mom with a sick kid, or a nice old man in danger of losing his Medicare. Or a veteran facing cancer treatment. Now that’s compelling, right?
But me? I’m just a single, self-employed science writer who lost her health insurance when she divorced her husband. Not very compelling, right?
My ex worked in healthcare, and had reallllly good insurance. I’d been self-employed since 1989, and he had always had good employer-based health insurance, so I had never had to think about it. With the divorce, that all changed. It was going to cost me four or five hundred dollars a month to continue my coverage -- not financially feasible for me at the time -- so I let it go. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly concerned about it. I’m fortunate to have good health. I’ve never had any significant health issues and I don’t get sick a lot, so I have never been a big “consumer” of healthcare services.
You know, the kind of person insurance companies love.
Despite my good health and underutilization of healthcare, I lived with this constant background anxiety around not having healthcare coverage. There was this ever-present nagging notion that I was just one slip on the ice away from financial ruin. You know what I mean?
So when the opportunity arose to get healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, I signed up -- somewhat begrudgingly. Obamacare, as the Republicans had nicknamed it, was not perfect, by any means. We all knew the insurance company lobbyists had practically written it to serve their own interests. That Big Pharma was still going to gouge us on drug prices. And then there was that penalty…ouch, did that hurt for people like me who were facing it as a reality.
After a contentious election cycle, which saw a man with a history of verbally and physically attacking women become our president-elect, women came together to organize a march on our nation's capital to stand united and strong for the rights of women, their allies, and marginalized communities across the country. Since November, thousands of sister marches were organized world-wide to show solidarity with those marching on Washington and to lift up this message in their own communities. What started as a March on Washington D.C grew into the biggest global day of action in history with 673 Sister Marches and 4,876,700 marchers worldwide.
This past Saturday, we made history right here in Vermont. While sister marches across the world surpassed all expectations, it was amazing to see 20,000 people - 1 in every 31 Vermonters - in the streets (or stuck on the highway), embracing each other, laughing, crying, chanting, and singing. The energy in the air was truly electric.
The Women’s March on Montpelier started as a Facebook page. When a group of women met to begin organizing a Unity Rally for January 21st at the Statehouse, they discovered the page and joined forces with the march organizers. A dedicated group of dozens of individuals emerged ranging from seasoned activists to first-time organizers working to bring Vermonters of all backgrounds together for parity, equity, dignity, and justice for all women. The number of RSVP’s steadily grew by the thousands in the days leading up to the march. In the end it was not only the biggest rally Montpelier had ever seen, but it was perhaps proportionally the largest rally in the country. Having 20,000 people jam into a city with the population of 7,800 is like having a rally of over 10 million people in a city like Boston or L.A.
We are not only blown away by the historic turnout that shut down three exits on the highway. The energy the entire day and sense of solidarity was tangible.
Our amazing line up of speakers addressed our nation's many intersecting issues, ranging from women's reproductive rights, to LGBTQ rights, racial justice, the rights of migrant workers, the Muslim community, indigenous sovereignty, education, healthcare, workers' rights, and much more.
Thank you to all of our speakers and performers for a powerful celebration of work being done and energizing us for the fight ahead: Muslim Girls Making Change; Meagan Gallagher, President of Vermont Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Representative Kiah Morris, Bennington; Linda Quinlan, Rainbow Umbrella Central VT; Madeleine Kunin, former Governor of Vermont; Ebony Nyoni, Founder and Director of Black Lives Matter VT; Mary Gerisch, former Human Rights lawyer, water & Indigenous People’s Rights Advocate; Wilmar Santiz, Migrant Justice; Lt. Governor David Zuckerman; Poem by Greta Hardy-Mittell, “Don’t Tell Me I Can't Cry"; Rebecca Eun Mi Haslam, 2015 Vermont Teacher of Year; Sue Minter, former Vermont Gubernatorial Candidate; and Senator Bernie Sanders, our surprise guest. Dwight & Nicole, thank you for the music.
While we must reject the rhetoric of the president elect and resist the disastrous policies of the new administration, we recognize that the new president-elect is not the cause - he is a symptom. Marginalization of women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, indigenous people, migrant farm workers, and the working class did not begin with the election, but has added a strong sense of urgency for folks in our communities that will be under increased threat.
We will be tested in the weeks and months to come. The fight for equality will depend on our commitment to stand by each other, and our commitment to motivate and inspire one another to stand up each and every day. Rights & Democracy would be honored if you would join us in continuing to keep this momentum going. If you have ideas on how build in your own community, want to talk or meet with one our organizers, attend another amazing event, or create a local organizing team, please reach out to us. You can also stay connected by simply liking our facebook page, signing a petition on our website, or making a donation to help us cover the costs of organizing this historic day.
The silver lining of the political mess our country is in right now is that it has brought us together in ways we’ve never been before. Increasingly people are realizing that our struggles are interconnected and our movement must be indivisible. Rights & Democracy is committed to working with all of the groups and individuals who built this historic event to work together in coalition to tackle the challenges ahead.
What happens next is up to all of us. We hope you will join us.
Since the start of the new Congressional session, the Republicans in Washington, DC have been very busy. They are working frantically to pass a budget that could take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans, privatize Medicare, make massive cuts to Medicaid, and defund Planned Parenthood. All of this will endanger America’s seniors, people with disabilities, nursing home residents, the middle class, and low-income families.
Here in Vermont, we have been busy, too. This past Sunday, on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, more than 1,000 Vermonters turned out to a rally to “Save Health Care” from this Republican assault. Joining the tens of thousands of Americans attending solidarity rallies across the country, these Vermonters made a loud and clear declaration: protecting and promoting the health of all people in this state is an urgent priority.
It seems, however, that the Vermont GOP disagrees. In response, to our new Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman’s participation in the rally, Vermont’s Republicans put out a statement urging “Zuckerman to immediately shift his focus from Washington D.C. to right here in Vermont.” (http://vtgop.org/vt-republicans-statement-on-lt-governor-zuckermans-political-rally/)
Apparently, the Vermont GOP thinks the health and well-being of thousands of Vermonters is an “inside the Beltway” issue. This may come as a shock not only to Sunday’s rally attendees, but also to the 35,000 Vermonters who could lose their health insurance and the 13,000 Vermonters who could lose newly gained Medicaid coverage if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed. The thousands of Vermonters with preexisting conditions who could pay higher insurance premiums, and potentially be denied coverage without the ACA, might also disagree with the state GOP. Finally, Vermont’s taxpayers facing a statewide loss of $2.9 billion in federal funding over the next decade and increased “uncompensated care costs” might be baffled by Vermont Republicans’ lack of immediate action in response to these national threats by their own party. (Please see the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ analysis of the effects of ACA repeal in Vermont http://www.cbpp.org/.../12-7-16health-factsheets-vt.pdf)