Blog - Rights and Democracy

How We're Going to Win Big for Thousands of Vermonters this Session

Momentum is building to raise Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and enact family and medical leave insurance this legislative session.

Your calls, emails, and voices are needed now, more than ever. Here are two quick updates on these important bills that will Raise Up the lives of thousands of Vermonters. Thank you to everyone who’s told their story to legislators, or called and emailed in support of these bills.

Here’s what coming next and how you can help us win big for Vermonters!

  • The Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs Committee will take up H. 196, the family and medical leave insurance bill, on Wednesday, which is an important first step toward getting this legislation through the Senate and onto the Governor’s desk. Email committee members, as well as your Senator(s), to support this bill.
  • Before the end of the month, the House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee is expected to take up S. 40, which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. This bill has passed the Senate and now needs to be passed in the House to get to the governor’s desk. Email committee members, and your local Representative, to support this bill.

During the Town Meeting Day break, Rights & Democracy members and staff talked with hundreds of Vermonters throughout the state and urged them to contact lawmakers to do more to support our friends, families, and neighbors in the Green Mountain State.

Many of them filled out our Community Survey, if you haven’t done so please take 5 minutes to fill it out yourself!

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Make Calls in Support of Universal Primary Care

While S. 53, the Universal Primary Care (UPC) bill, passed unanimously out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on March 2, this bill has a long way to go before becoming law as it now moves to two more committees – Senate Finance and Senate Appropriations. 

We’ve heard some officials say that they do not believe there is an access problem in Vermont. That’s why we need people to tell the Senators about their personal stories of how out-of-pocket costs have kept them from getting primary care.

Please let these Senators know before they return to work on Tuesday, March 13th that Vermonters need access to primary care with no out-of-pocket costs.

Senate Finance Members

Senate Appropriations Members

Telling your personal story, or the stories of people you know, will inform these Senators about why access to universal access to primary care is a critical need in Vermont.  Here are some other key points to relay:

  • UPC will ensure access to primary care for all Vermonters, including mental health and substance abuse services.
  • UPC ensures Vermonters can seek primary care when they need it most and not worry about out-of-pocket costs.
  • UPC will attract more primary care providers to Vermont by simplifying paperwork and payment processes.
  • UPC is a crucial first step to creating the true public universal health care system Vermonters want, and what is spelled out in Act 48.
  • UPC will save lives because people won’t delay care.
  • UPC will save money because people will be treated earlier before they end up in emergency room and/or their conditions are much worse.

If S. 53 passes these committees in timely fashion, and then passes the entire Senate, it will be sent over to the House before the end of the session!

So besides contacting the Senators listed above, also contact your own Senator(s), because it's important that every Senator understands why we need Universal Primary Care.

Thank you!

Ellen Oxfeld & Barb Wilson, members, Rights & Democracy Vermont


Kate Larose - Vermonters Deserve $15 an hour

headshot2.jpg“Those people don’t deserve more than $10 an hour.”

This is one of the statements I heard at a recent community forum hosted by Rep. Parent and the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association on S. 40.

S.40 would raise Vermont’s minimum wage incrementally from $10.50 to $15 an hour by the year 2024.  It’s no secret that the cost of living continues to increase each year: housing, child care, medical expenses…these cost more today in Vermont than they did yesterday. 

I’ve been fortunate to receive a cost of living adjustment almost every year when I worked with the state, and now in my non-profit job.  Our elected officials also receive raises to keep up with growing costs.  Why shouldn’t families working the hardest to make ends meet and put food on the table also see an increase?

At this forum much of the focus was on high school students, as if they are the face of minimum wage earners in Vermont.  But the reality is that 87% of minimum wage earners in Vermont are adults, and on average they provide 63% of their total family income.

And in fact, 56% of minimum wage earners in Vermont are women.  Though women represent less than half of the workforce, they outnumber men when it comes to low wage work. More than 1 in 4 women who work full-time in our state do not make enough to cover basic living expenses.  (This was highlighted at the forum when one brave woman stood up and said, “Those people? You’re talking about me!  I spent most of my life working two to three jobs to support my children as a single parent.)

In my work at Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity I see too many of my neighbors struggling to make ends meet even though they are doing everything they can: working multiple jobs, turning to the food shelf between pay checks, living frugally and trying to balance budgets that aren’t possible to balance.  Raising the minimum wage would raise pay by an average of $2,000 a year for more than three in ten working Vermonters. 

Will $15 an hour solve poverty in Vermont?  No.  But it is a needed step in the right direction to help families get by until we do.  They deserve that!  We deserve that. 


Rights & Democracy's Voter's Guide for Burlington Elections 2018

This is it, folks! Tomorrow is the day to turn out and show your support for our endorsed candidates for Mayor, City Council, and School Board, as well as several key ballot items.

We know you've heard from us a lot here at Rights & Democracy - texts, emails, and in meetings, so here's the quick recap:

Mayor: Independent Carina Driscoll for Mayor. The momentum of people supporting Carina’s campaign has been building for weeks as folks learn how she plans to include all of us in building Burlington's future.

Aside from Rights & Democracy (RAD), Carina has been endorsed by the Coalition for a Livable City, AFSCME Local 1343 Council 93 (nearly 300 city and school workers), Our Revolution, the National Nurses Union, and the Burlington Free Press. This diverse group of endorsements demonstrate Carina’s inclusive vision for the city and a recognition of her ability to bring people together.

Carina’s victory will be the start of rebuilding trust and opening up the doors of City Hall to everyone in our community. Carina has proven skills to lead the city and a record of listening to all of the people who live here, not just a self-selected group of self-identified "leaders." That combination will ensure that under her leadership that City Hall will work for the people, not private interests.

For same-day voter registration information, getting a ride to the polls, or to find your polling station: Visit Carina's website for details.

In addition to Carina, here are the other RAD-endorsed candidates that our members voted to endorse:

RAD_endorsed_logo.pngCity Council

Ward 2: Max Tracy, Progressive

Ward 3: Brian Pine, Progressive

Ward 5: Jesse Warren, Progressive

Ward 6: Charles Simpson, Progressive

Ward 7: Ali Dieng, Progressive-Democrat

Ward 8: Carter Neubieser, Progressive

School Board

Ward 4: Martine Gulick

Ward 5: Nicole Twohig

Ward 7: Monika Ivancic

In addition, several issues on our Burlington People’s Platform are on the ballot, too.

We are encouraging folks to support the following ballot items:

Question 1: Vote Yes on the School Budget. Any problems that we have with the way we fund education should be settled in the School Board elections, and in discussions with Montpelier - but not taken out on our kids. We also need to show support for our teachers and staff. Of the budget increase, only 1% is due to local spending, the other 7% is due to an increase in the statewide property tax (of which we have no control over at the local level).

Question 4: Vote Yes to say you want more climate action! Our friends at 350 Vermont have been working hard around the state to ensure that legislators and the governor know that we cannot slow down our progress to create a just transition to a future powered by renewable energy. Add your voice by voting Yes on #4.

Question 5: Show your support for Affordable Housing by urging the City Council to look to a suite of local option taxes to provide more progressive and equitable funding sources for the city’s housing trust fund and rely less on the regressive property tax. This important fund could be used more widely to build truly affordable, and perpetually affordable, housing. This ballot item was proposed by RAD members in Burlington, and we are thankful to Councilor Max Tracy for helping to lead the fight to get it on the ballot.

Question 6: Vote Yes on cancelling the F-35 from coming to Burlington’s International Airport. The impact on affordable housing and our children in our community and in the communities of our neighbors—especially Winooski and South Burlington—is too much to ignore.

So, join us in putting the people back in charge of City Hall and vote for Carina Driscoll and all of our RAD-endorsed candidates!

And, mark your calendars: Join us next Monday, March 12 for a Burlington Community Action Meeting & Potluck from 6-7:30 PM at our offices on 241 North Winooski Avenue. We'll have food, an election debrief, talk about our next steps on affecting change here in Burlington (and supporting our winning candidates), and get updates on our statewide campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage, and more.


Let's Win Big in Burlington on March 6th!

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With less than a week to go - here are some ways in which you can help our endorsed candidates and ballot items be victorious on Tuesday, March 6th.

First of all - make sure that you turn out to the polls on March 6th! Or, request an absentee ballot and vote early to get it out of the way and help work the polls on Town Meeting Day to ensure a victory.

Here is our full list of candidates who our members voted to support:

Mayor: Independent Carina Driscoll for Mayor. The momentum of Carina’s campaign is really building - just in time for election day!

Aside from Rights & Democracy (RAD), Carina has been endorsed by the Coalition for a Livable City, AFSCME Local 1343 Council 93 (nearly 300 city and school workers), Our Revolution, the National Nurses Union, and the Burlington Free Press. This diverse group of endorsements demonstrate Carina’s inclusive vision for the city and a recognition of her ability to bring people together.

Sign up to participate in Carina’s Get Out the Vote effort through Tuesday! Come to a honk and wave, make calls, or volunteer to hold a sign at the polls on election day.

Carina’s victory will be the start of rebuilding trust and opening up the doors of City Hall to everyone in our community. Carina has proven skills to lead the city and a record of listening to the people who live here. That combination will ensure that under her leadership that City Hall will work for the people, not private interests.

In addition to Carina, here are the other RAD-endorsed candidates that our members voted to endorse for March 6th:

City Council

Ward 2: Max Tracy, Progressive

Ward 3: Brian Pine, Progressive

Ward 5: Jesse Warren, Progressive

Ward 6: Charles Simpson, Progressive

Ward 7: Ali Dieng, Progressive-Democrat

Ward 8: Carter Neubieser, Progressive

School Board

Ward 4: Martine Gulick

Ward 5: Nicole Twohig

Ward 7: Monika Ivancic

In addition, several issues on our Burlington People’s Platform are on the ballot, too.

We are encouraging folks to support the following ballot items:

Question 1: Vote Yes on the School Budget. Any problems that we have with the way we fund education should be settled in the School Board elections, and in discussions with Montpelier - but not taken out on our kids. We also need to show support for our teachers and staff. Of the budget increase, only 1% is due to local spending, the other 7% is due to an increase in the statewide property tax (of which we have no control over at the local level).

Question 5: Show your support for Affordable Housing by urging the City Council to look to a suite of local option taxes to provide more progressive and equitable funding sources for the city’s housing trust fund and rely less on the regressive property tax. This important fund could be used more widely to build truly affordable, and perpetually affordable, housing. This ballot item was proposed by RAD members in Burlington, and we are thankful to Councilor Max Tracy for helping to lead the fight to get it on the ballot.

Question 6: Vote Yes on cancelling the F-35 from coming to Burlington’s International Airport. The impact on affordable housing and our children in our community and in the communities of our neighbors—especially Winooski and South Burlington—is too much to ignore.  

To help these candidates win, reach out to the candidates and see what help they need with last-minute phone calls, door knocking, sign waving, and get out the vote parties! Encourage your friends to vote, too, in support of these grassroots candidates and to support these ballot items.

Let’s put the people back in charge of City Hall on March 6th!


Rights & Democracy Endorses in Burlington Elections

The results are in!

Thanks to the dozens of Rights & Democracy (RAD) members who took the time to vote last week in our second round of Burlington endorsements for candidates running for office on Town Meeting Day.

In late December, members elected to endorse Independent Carina Driscoll for Mayor and also ratified our Burlington People’s Platform.

Last week members weighed in on a number of City Council and School Board races. Here are the results:

  • In the contested Ward 3 City Council race, RAD members voted to endorse Progressive Brian Pine over Independent James Lockridge and Democrat Lizzie Haskell. Pine won with 81% of the vote. Lockridge earned 19% of the vote. Haskell did not receive any votes.
  • In the contested Ward 5 School Board race, RAD members voted to endorse Nicole Twohig over Mike Fisher by a 67-33% vote.

RAD_endorsed_logo.pngRAD members also endorsed several other candidates running for office in March. They are:

Congratulations to the candidates (we’ve linked to their campaign pages so you can check them out). And, special thanks to the member leaders of RAD’s Movement Politics Team , especially Burlington leaders Laura Mistretta and Grant Taylor who interviewed all of the candidates, and were supported by members Dustin Tanner and Alison Nihart.


Raise Your Voices to Raise Wages in Vermont

MinWage_BenefitsVT.pngThis legislative session we can win a $15 minimum wage, but only if we stand up and make our voices heard.

Sign up to join your neighbors at a public hearing in support of raising the minimum wage on January 25th at the State House, from 5:30 - 8PM in Room 11.

RSVP on Facebook and invite your friends!

We are in for a serious fight this session. The big business lobby will be pushing back hard against the Vermont Raise the Wage Campaign, threatening dire economic consequences if we bring the minimum wage up to a livable wage.  But we know we are on the right side of this fight, and we know all too well that tens of thousands of Vermonters are struggling to get by on less than $15 an hour, and of those:

  • 88 percent are adults, 56 percent are women, 59 percent work full time, and one in five are parents.
  • Our country's structural racism is evident in low-wage work, too. Almost 60 percent of African Americans in Vermont earn less than $15 an hour.
  • Inadequate wages are also impacting too many young children in our state. More than 43,000 Vermont children live in a household supported by someone earning less than $15 per hour, and nearly 30,000 children live in a household supported by someone earning less than $12 per hour.

It's time that we do something direct and meaningful to improve the lives of these Vermonters while at the same time strengthening our local economies and tackling the massive inequality that's holding back too many of our neighbors.

Next Thursday is a critical moment to show our legislators that Vermont stands with our lowest paid workers, and that the time for livable wages is now!

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If you have a story to share please let us know when you fill out the form and we can help you prepare your testimony.

You can even share your story if you cannot come in person but want someone to read your testimony for you at the hearing.

More than 80,000 low paid Vermonters are counting on you now and in the coming months. Thank you for standing up against poverty and inequality.

Share this great Rutland Herald and Times Argus editorial supporting a $15 an hour minimum wage with your legislator!


Rights & Democracy's Whole Movement Approach to Social Change

We started Rights & Democracy in 2015 as a multi-issue and multi-tactical grassroots organizing and movement building project in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Many of us had been part of the many exciting single-issue and single constituency organizing efforts that have made progress, but have not been able to realize their goals because of the larger issues of who is holding political power. We often felt like we were fighting for social justice while having one, or even two, arms tied behind our backs. We started by asking how we could build enough people power to win and our goal became to use all the tools in social change toolbox to build a powerful peoples’ movement for political and economic transformation. The idea of a “whole movement” approach is to aim to be comprehensive in our undertaking of realizing change, by making something first possible, then creating a political mandate around a policy, winning the policy, and then implementing it making it a reality.  

16299827_1906245109594263_7981089464984180557_o.jpgWe see ourselves as working in an exciting historical period where we can draw from the best practices of traditional labor, political and community organizing and leadership development methods from Alinksy, Ganz, People’s Action, Center For Popular Democracy, Momentum, and potential candidate training programs such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.  We also believe there is much to learn from the extraordinarily successful distributed organizing tactics used by Black Lives Matter, Indivisible, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, Our Revolution, and the Women’s March.  These movement organizations give us a glimpse of what is possible, but we also know that no one has quite figured out a strategy for the successful political transformation on the left which is why the right wing establishment is in power nationally and in the vast majority of state houses in this country.

So we know we have our work cut out for us. Reactionary forces have exploited cultural resentment, racial anxiety, and racism to pit Americans against one another, maintain corporate dominance, and perpetuate structural inequality.

Our organizing opportunity lies in political education, shifting the public narrative, and building an agenda that directly confronts racial animus and divisive politics by promoting interdependence, dismantling systems of structural oppression, and building an economy that puts people and the planet before profits.  We believe the way we do that is build durable, long-lasting grassroots movement organizations and infrastructure that is invested in this for the long haul. RAD is exploring how to do this with our partners in two rural states for the sake of our communities, but also consciously situated in a national movement where we can receive and share lessons with the broader movement.

In both Vermont and New Hampshire, this started by receiving grants to pay for field canvassers on issue campaigns as a way to get off the ground.  However, our goal from the start was an approach of building grassroots organization that used a full range of tactics for social change.

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Rights & Democracy Endorses Carina Driscoll for Burlington Mayor

Rights & Democracy members have voted to endorse Carina Driscoll, independent candidate for Burlington mayor.

Driscoll was the clear favorite among the active, voting Rights & Democracy members in Burlington, earning 63 percent of the vote to independent Infinite Culcleasure’s 33 percent of the vote, who had also sought RAD’s endorsement. Mayor Miro Weinberger, who did not seek RAD’s endorsement, received two write-in votes.

Carina-40.jpg"I am very pleased that as a group of voters we have chosen to endorse Carina Driscoll for Mayor of Burlington. Her previous experience on the Burlington School Board, Burlington City Council, as a Vermont State Representative, and as a business owner prepares her very well to manage our city departments and employees. She also has a proven track record of working for social justice and environmental conservation," said Grant Taylor, an active Burlington RAD member and leader who took part in key one-on-one candidate interviews.

Before voting, members had a chance to review candidate questionnaires submitted by Driscoll and Culcleasure, as well as watch a livestream of member-led, one-on-one interviews with the candidates (or watch a recording of those interviews).

This endorsement process represented a new approach for Rights & Democracy by opening up the decision to through an open, member-led, democratic process. Previous endorsements came from a smaller group of active member leaders.

"I had a great time participating in the Rights & Democracy endorsement process. I found it incredible that we were able to include over 200 RAD members to make the decision for the endorsement," said Taylor. "This has increased the democratic involvement in our endorsement process as an organization, and that is what we are all about."

In the questionnaires and the interviews, candidates were asked about their support of the Burlington People’s Platform, an effort to unify our shared values and vision for a healthier and more inclusive Burlington that lifts up ALL voices and people. These issues aim to break down structural oppression and create a society that empowers all Queen City residents.

For three decades, Burlington was at the forefront of municipally-led activism that put people and the planet before short-term profits. City officials partnered with nonprofit organizations, citizens, and employee-owned companies and cooperatives to build a resilient local economy that has become a model for other communities around the country. In the wake of several political and economic shake-ups in the mid-2000s, a pro-privatization, pro-development agenda has taken hold in the Queen City. This culminated with the election of Democratic mayor Miro Weinberger in 2012 who, despite promises to live up to the legacy of his predecessors, has undermined citizen input and collaboration, walked back Burlington’s commitments to lower- and middle-income families, and has abandoned our city's core value of placing people at the center of policy decisions.

The People’s Platform, and this year’s two strong mayoral challengers, makes it clear that a growing majority seek to return Burlington to its core values and enact a clearer vision of the future that includes everyone in our community.


We Stand in Opposition to this Immoral Tax Bill

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Our Statement

Rights & Democracy stands in opposition to the immoral tax bill passed today by the US Congress which gives huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while leaving low- and middle-income folks out in the cold.

Today, Republicans in Congress implemented an historic transfer of wealth and power for the sole purpose of enriching their donors, corporations, and Wall Street elite while widening an already massive income gap. This bill moves our country closer to an oligarchy, where only the wealthy will be able to profit from our economy, access health care, education, retirement savings, and have a voice in our democracy.

This bill’s passage means more money in the pockets of wealthy Americans—like President Donald Trump and many of his donors—which will be paid for by an impending assault on this country’s social safety net, with billions in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

We will continue to fight back against this disastrous policy, and thwart attacks on the public programs that enable millions of people to meet their most basic needs—needs that cannot be met on the wages that corporations have suppressed for decades.

As a grassroots organization committed to economic, social, racial, health care, and environmental justice, we believe this tax package is a direct threat to the sustainable, equitable, and healthy communities we are helping to build in Vermont and New Hampshire.

We are committed to fighting the fallout from this bill at the local, state, and national level and, in 2018, we will show Republicans that robbing from working people to give to their wealthy donors will cost them at the ballot box.

Join us in this fight!

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