One of the highlights of this year’s legislative session in Montpelier was the passage of the Racial Justice Reform Bill, which was finally signed into law on May 31.
In this Take Action Tuesday host Jeffrey Caesar, Outreach Director at Rights & Democracy. Jeffrey leads an important discussion with Ebony Nyoni of Black Lives Matter Vermont and Mark Hughes of Justice for All on seeking racial justice in Vermont.
Jeffrey, Ebony, and Mark talk about the potential impact of the racial justice legislation and the necessary steps to ensure its implementation, as well as updates regarding Black Lives Matter Vermont’s upcoming actions and events.
The implementation of the racial justice reform bill will be important to track as it could provide a lifeline for people of color and marginalized communities, who are disproportionately stigmatized by the criminal justice system, which has become a vehicle for implicit and unconscious racial bias to take root.
“Do not be mistaken by Vermont’s famed progressive predisposition: Racism and racial bias are alive and well in Vermont. It is not easy to live in Vermont as a person of color, as we are consistently profiled and targeted as we go about our day to day lives,” Jeffrey told lawmakers during testimony this session in support of the racial justice reform bill. “I have been followed and watched more times in stores Vermont than ever in my life.”
“Our public schools also hold disparagingly low employment and retention rates of faculty of color, and per capita we have nominal POC-owned and operated businesses,” he added. “This lack of diversity is a reflection of our communities and ultimately shapes how we are treated in person, in groups, and institutionally. Ironically while we are also made painfully aware that individually we stand out, we as a community are virtually.”
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Let’s face it, the 2017 legislative session in Vermont lacked both a rejection of the Trump agenda and a bold vision for the state we seek to build.
We had a few successes—Racial Justice Reform, PTSD coverage for first responders, Paid Family Leave passing the House— but, we have not yet seen the bold vision for progressive change we need.
It is time to turn up the heat.
This summer, Rights & Democracy will host Town Halls throughout the state as we reclaim our political power to create real and lasting change on issues such as universal healthcare, energy democracy, economic justice, and much more.
Rights & Democracy will launch this important summer campaign with a kickoff event on Friday, June 16th from 7–7:30PM.
Join us in person if you’re in Burlington: Stop by the North End Studios at 294 No. Winooski Ave. at 6 PM for some pre-launch festivities.
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Stream the event from your home and invite your friends and neighbors to watch.
RAD members across the state are hosting kickoff house parties to bring people together to translate the energy from mass mobilizations like the Women's March into real and lasting change in our communities, our elections, and our legislature.
When we receive your RSVP, we will provide you with a House Party "toolkit” to help you organize your event. Once you provide your event details, we will post the event on our website so that you can invite your friends and neighbors, as well as share via social media.
We have a lot of work to do: the October special legislative session to deal with federal budget cuts, the upcoming 2018 legislative session, as well elections on Town Meeting Day and the 2018 midterms.
This summer and fall we must organize, train, and mobilize people to be leaders in their local communities and run for office in the upcoming elections. Join us to organize together for the change our state and our world desperately need.
I went from being inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders to introducing him in Washington, DC to a room full of 1200 community leaders and activists from around the country.
Because like you I’m not just one person focused on one issue at at time. And, I found my voice.
I’m not a woman on Monday, a person struggling with poverty wages on Tuesday, a caregiver worried about healthcare on Wednesday, a grandmother who cares about the future of the planet on Thursday, and a citizen who thinks we need to take back our democracy on Friday.
We are all of those things all of the time.
Rights & Democracy (RAD) is an organization that is all of those things, too, fighting for economic, environmental, racial, and social justice issues and uplifting people who have too often been left out of the political process.
I was one of those people.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders ran for president and urged everyday people to join the revolution, I took it to heart. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and knocked on some doors. From there, I began to volunteer politically, but it didn’t seem enough.
Then, I heard about Rights & Democracy and joined immediately.
Since becoming a member, I’ve stood alongside other RAD members in Bennington to rally for health care for all, for opioid treatment, and testified for raising the state minimum wage to $15, and more, giving a voice to people who have too often been left out of the political process.
Rights & Democracy plays an increasingly important role in our state: From helping pass legislation for paid sick days and same-day voter registration to helping coordinate the largest protest in our state’s history—Vermont Women’s March with more than 20,000 people gathering in Montpelier.
Inspired by my fellow RAD members, I ran for Selectboard and while I fell short of winning (this time), I was not discouraged. I learned that when you listen and speak up, people do want to hear what you have to say.
That’s why RAD is launching Democracy Summer: From Protest to Power, a series of town halls around the state that will lift up local leaders on issues of economic, racial, social, and environmental justice.
In addition, we have set out to raise $25,000 from members and supporters to sustain our work this year, and into the 2018 elections. We know that the issues we fight for every day—racial and social justice, raising the minimum wage, providing healthcare for all, and ensuring clean air, clean water, and clean power for all Vermonters—will also be on the ballot.
Together, We Win.
Under civil rights law it’s unconstitutional to offer an accommodation, which by its very nature would have to be considered inequitable.
Two distinct water fountains, one for Caucasians and a second for all other people, doesn’t pass legal muster. Brown v. Board of Education, the legal case which struck down the “Separate but Equal” segregation laws are over half a century old. Equal protection rights exist well beyond the question of race — Most recently the federal courts upheld a series of decisions that legalized gay marriage. In doing so, the court repeatedly found that offering anything short of full marriage rights would be inherently unequal.
Equitable and equal are two completely different legal standards, and by either measure the American Health Care Act fails the most vulnerable amongst us. The revised version of the American Health Care Act (or AHCA 2.0) now being passed by House Republicans authorizes each states to reintroduce high risk health insurance pools. High risk pools for health insurance takes everyone with a pre-existing medical condition and forces them to pay vastly over-inflated costs for health coverage. It’s a health insurance users fee for anyone who might have the unbridled audacity to consider using their health coverage. The more one might avail themselves of the health care buffet, the greater the cost that they would be expected to kick in.
Literally, anyone with a chronic medical condition — stroke, heart attack, diabetes — would all be moved into a high risk pool. Women simply because they are women would be moved into a high risk pool. A multitude of patients will be driven from the ordinary healthy insurance market for ordinary healthy patients. These less desirable patients, or rather “consumers of health care services,” would be issued policy quotes based on their having a health insurance need, for which they are contracting with a health insurer. Health insurers guided first by responsibility to stockholders, and second by their own financial interest, will go to extreme lengths to shield themselves from risk. People with chronic health needs by their very nature constitute an ongoing financial risk across a period of years. Insurers will fight to pay less, and sick people will seek to get their health needs met. These interests by their very nature can’t help but be in conflict. The parties fighting do not come into the square as equals, rather the parties do battle as an insurance behemoth versus John Q. Public.
Over time, anybody who would be using their health care benefits with any kind of frequency would be segregated into a high risk pool. High risk pools were reality for millions of Americans before Romney/Obamacare became law. In those days, high risk pools were largely unsupported by both the state that created the pool and the health insurers who view these “consumers” to be as costly and demanding. The net result was that client care for patients was insanely expensive and, patients reported they frequently experienced what they considered sub-par health interventions.
The segment of the population health insurers want are people who are basically well … people with few health needs because they pay in more in premiums than they use in benefits.
Rights & Democracy is proud to announce it’s unanimous endorsement of Ali Dieng for Burlington City Council!
We are encouraging all of Burlington’s RAD members to:
Ali met with RAD’s Burlington Organizing Team attendees on May 9th and answered questions about the issues he would champion as a city councilor.
Ali talked about the need for more affordable housing, affordable, universal child care in the city, better transportation options for seniors, improved communication from city government, and more opportunities for people to connect and create community in the New North End.
He also believes we should do more to protect Lake Champlain, be creative in how we tackle the opioid crisis, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and create a police oversight commission to confront racial and cultural bias in policing.
"I have the skills and experience to do the job right, because I have always been involved in building a better community in both my professional and personal life. Since settling in Burlington in 2008, I have been serving the city and our residents in many ways and will build on this knowledge and experience in my new role as a city councilor. As a leader, I am able to listen carefully to everyone, identify community needs and gaps in services, and find creative solutions. This is exactly what I did in taking Parent University from a visionary idea to a successful and sustainable program. I believe our city needs this kind of innovative thinking and courageous leadership," Ali told RAD members.
"As a person of color and an immigrant from an underdeveloped country in Africa, I have real-life experiences that help me understand the critical importance of meeting the basic needs of the most vulnerable in our community," he added.
Ali—who announced his candidacy to run as an Independent in the June 27th special election—won the Democratic Party endorsement at a packed Ward 7 caucus on May 4th. He is also seeking the endorsement of the Progressive Party.
Ali is a founding board member of Rights & Democracy, and his candidacy is something RAD was created to help make happen: to train and support community leaders to build the skills and supporter base necessary to run for political office, win, and make lasting change.
We ask you to join us in congratulating Ali and help get him elected so that his powerful community voice can be represented on Burlington’s city council.
Pitting us against each other is what those in power do best, and too often we take the bait without realizing that in the end, nobody wins. Except those in power.
Reject this false choice by calling the Sgt at Arms office today to urge your State Representative and State Senator to:
1. Stand firm against cuts to clean water funding;
2. Provide funding for affordable housing; and,
3. Protect the rights of teachers to collectively bargain with their local school board.
Call the Sgt. At Arms office at (802) 828-2228
Call Gov. Phil Scott at (802) 828-3333
We need to tell our elected officials: Water, housing, and health do not belong on the chopping block!
As we stare down yet another austerity budget from politicians in Montpelier, the need for clean water to drink, swim, and fish in is pitted against the need for safe, affordable housing. Both are issues of long-term health—for individuals if not the entire state—and both should be fully funded and supported by the legislature and governor.
We are given the false choice of providing health care benefits to public employees or destroying the pact of workers’ rights to collectively bargain. In fact, we should be fighting and arguing for both—salaries and benefits for valuable public employees and their right to collectively bargain with their local school boards.
If Gov. Phil Scott was serious about saving healthcare dollars he would follow the principles of Act 48 and enact a single-payer, healthcare for all system.
Let’s be honest that is not what Gov. Scott is up to. This is a page out of the right-wing playbook that Gov. Scott Walker, a poster child for the Koch Brothers, used in Wisconsin to undermine public unions. Wouldn’t the Koch Brothers be ecstatic if they could undermine “liberal” Vermont’s environmental standards, push for universal healthcare, and collective bargaining rights?
Yes, they would.
Our teachers are asking that we show up at the State House tomorrow at 4:30 to stand in support of their hard-won right to collectively bargain for healthcare. RSVP here and be sure to share the event with your friends and family!
We cannot let Gov. Scott and his right-wing backers in Vermont take advantage of an invented crisis to undermine our rights. And we need to let our lawmaker allies know that now is not the time to be fearful and retreat on our shared values.
Rights & Democracy was founded on the principle that public policies need to meet the needs of everyone in our communities and that our rights are indivisible and interdependent. The state budget is a moral document that demonstrates our priorities, and we cannot let policymakers present false choices that pit the basic needs of our communities and environment against each other.
We are asking Gov. Phil Scott, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, and other legislative leaders to come to agreement on a budget that preserves collective bargaining, health care benefits for public employees, and funding for clean water and affordable housing.
Call your State Representatives and Senators to stand up for Vermonters and our environment.
Follow RAD on Facebook and Twitter or visit our website for more updates. Support our Work: Sign up as a contributing member of Rights & Democracy today!
Given the passage of the American Health Care Act on May 4, Rights & Democracy wanted to re-connect with Gov. Phil Scott and ask him to make a more forceful stand against the GOP-led plan to strip healthcare from millions of Americans and thousands of Vermonters. In the days following the House passage of this disastrous law, hundreds of new voices rose up in Vermont, and many signed our ongoing petition calling on Gov. Scott to stand up for Vermonters.
Below is the letter we sent to Gov. Scott's office on May 17. It was acknowledged and received by a senior staff person.
Dear Governor Phil Scott,
Since the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on May 4, hundreds more Vermonters have added their names to the thousands who have already asked you to stand up for Vermonters’ healthcare.
These Vermonters are sharing their stories about how the GOP House bill, including the repeal of key Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions and the dismantling of Medicaid as we know it, impacts their own lives or those of their loved ones. Today, we are asking you to read their stories.
These voices are calling on you to join other Republican governors who are opposing the AHCA and take a leadership role in protecting the health and wellbeing of everyday Vermonters. With Vermont’s experience developing innovative healthcare reforms and promoting access, our state has an opportunity to be a role model for other states, including those governed by your Republican colleagues who know this bill will cause irrevocable harm.
In fact, your own administration has already acknowledged this repeal will hurt Vermonters. According to a recent news article, your Secretary of Human Services, Al Gobeille commented that, “the state’s analysis is that this could be really, really tough for the state of Vermont."
I think everyone agrees that we have a right to clean air, clean water, and that if we’re going to solve the climate crisis, we need clean energy.
It’s time for us to build an equitable system that puts people and the planet first. A system where we set the priorities and goals to create sustainable, healthy communities. And, a system where the way that we make decisions is up to us, not the people and corporations who profit at our expense, and the expense of our planet.
That’s why Rights & Democracy is launching our campaign for Energy Democracy: A vision for Vermont that harnesses our natural resources and empowers our communities to solve our climate crisis. It’s time to end the inequity in our system that allows our natural energy resources to be financially strip mined for the benefit of distant communities and distant owners.
Wouldn’t we rather see the power, and those profits, be kept local to benefit all Vermonters? And, improve access, regardless of income or status, not only to renewable power, but also to the ability to own it?
The climate crisis will be solved by us, the people, through energy democracy. It doesn’t matter what cutting edge technology we have if we’re not working to disrupt the status quo that exploits us and that pits us against each other so we can’t see the thing we have all have in common — a desire to live healthy, safe, dignified lives.
We have to put the power back into the hands of the people, and our communities who have the most to lose, but also, the most to gain.
Rights & Democracy hosted a recent Take Action Tuesday call / webinar focused on Energy Democracy with Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, General Manager of Cooperative Energy Futures in Minnesota and Board member for Community Power. Watch the webinar and Timothy’s important slideshow and the Q&A afterward.
If you're interested in helping us build this campaign, first sign onto our Energy Democracy petition that we launched at the People’s Climate rally (click to watch a video of several speakers).
This petition lays out the broad goals and vision of Energy Democracy, and in the coming months we’ll be working with members to develop more specific proposals and policies to put forward in communities, as well as the legislature.
If you’d like to volunteer on this campaign, email us.
Power to the People!
Vermonters from across the state — from Middlebury to Hartford — attended a Health Care for All Town Hall in Montpelier Thursday night, calling on lawmakers to continue moving forward on creating a universal health care system in Vermont.
Gathered inside the Montpelier High School auditorium, people told their personal stories about the importance of accessible, affordable, and available health care — recovering from addiction, being heard and supported medically in identifying as a transgender woman, being on Medicare because of age or disability, or being unable to afford crushing medical costs for life-saving procedures.
One by one, these Vermonters testified for the need for an health care system in Vermont that cares for everyone - no exceptions. A system in which everybody is in, and nobody is out.
Many spoke out in favor of the current legislation stalled in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that would provide universal primary care for every Vermonter.
The full video is embedded below, but you can also watch it here.
Individuals testified before a panel that included Dr. Deb Richter, a physician and longtime advocate for universal health care, Sen. Anthony Pollina, Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, who sits on the House Health Care Committee, Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, of Vermont Interfaith Action, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.
Gov. Phil Scott was invited but did not attend. A chair with the sign, "Reserved Gov. Phil Scott" remained on stage.
"I wish I could say the governor sent me here on his behalf, but unfortunately he didn’t," said Zuckerman.
The event occurred on the day that the GOP in Congress and President Donald Trump resurrected a health care bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"Despite the recent defeat of the disastrous Trump administration and House GOP health care bill a few weeks ago, Republicans are still committed to rolling back gains made under the ACA, destroying Medicaid, and eventually going after Medicare," noted Jessica Early, RN, a Rights & Democracy health care leader and emcee for the evening. "Just today they have renewed their efforts and resurrected the bill in an even more damaging form. The leader of the House Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Tuesday Group came out with an amendment to the American Health Care Act that would allow states to waive key protections like essential health benefits and rules barring annual and lifetime insurance payment caps and higher charges for people with pre-existing conditions. Republicans in the House hope to vote on this new incarnation of the bill next week."Read more
Rights & Democracy is joining health care advocates, doctors and people who depend on the Affordable Care ActACA for health care on tax day to release a joint report from Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now (HCAN).
The report, Republican Health Care Repeal Plan: Tax Cuts for the Rich, Health Care Cuts for Everyone Else, details how the Republican plan to repeal the ACA would give billions in tax breaksto wealthy households, insurance companies and drug manufacturers, paid for by cutting the health care of low- and moderate-income families.
Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated this past weekend to demand that President Donald Trump release his tax returns from the last ten years and come clean with the American people about his income, financial holdings and whether he’s paying his fair share into the economy like the rest of us.
While the President has refused time and time again to disclose this basic information to the public, his actions have been loud and clear when it comes to his views on tax cuts for the rich and corporations.
President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan view repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the radical restructuring of Medicaid as the first step toward sweeping tax reform that would turn over trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the rich and corporations while average and low income American families lose health care and struggle to make ends meet.
In a recent interview with Fox Business Network, President Trump said: “We're going to have a phenomenal tax reform, but I have to do health care first. . . tax reform and the tax cuts are better if I can do health care first.”
Today, we’re releasing a report that explains how the Republican repeal plan doesn’t just cut healthcare for 24 million people and raise costs for million more, but also turns over $600 billion in tax breaks—money that currently funds health coverage for families—over the richest 1%, the insurance industry and prescription drug companies.
Join us this Thursday in Montpelier for a Health Care for All Town Hall where you can share your health care story, and ensure that Vermont continues to move forward on creating a universal health care system.
We are also continuing to call on Gov. Phil Scott to speak out against the GOP's plan to gut Medicaid and Medicare and give tax breaks to the rich. Join thousands of Vermonters and sign the petition.
Repealing the ACA Cuts Health Care and Increases Costs:
- About 21,000 people in Vermont have health care coverage thanks to the ACA. Not only will the Republican repeal bill wipe out those gains in coverage, but the GOP proposals increases costs even for those who will keep insurance.
- Compiled data in the report shows that our of pocket costs like premiums, deductibles and co-pays in Vermont out of pocket costs will increase by an average of $3,239 for individuals who buy ACA coverage.
- Costs for older people increase even more because the repeal bill will let insurance companies charge them more and at the same time reduces the tax credits they get to buy coverage.
Not only would many people pay more, but they will actually get less healthcare. That’s because the repeal bill lets insurance companies go back to charging people with pre-existing conditions more and waters down essential health benefits that come standard in policies now but would be optional for the insurers to provide under the repeal bill. Those essential benefits include prenatal and maternal care and mental health care.
The ACA bill cuts and radically changes Medicaid, which kids, seniors, people with disabilities and poor people depend on for health care:
- Repealing the ACA also means effectively ending Medicaid expansion in 31 states, including Vermont which has covered 206,000 under Medicaid thanks to the ACA. But that’s not all. The GOP plan abolishes traditional Medicaid as we know it jeopardizing Medicaid even for those who had it before the ACA and shifting more burdens to states.
- The bill cuts $880 billion from Medicaid over 10 years so that 14 million children, seniors and people with disabilities would no longer be able to get the care they needed.
- Vermont would need to raise an additional $2 Billion over the next 10 years to maintain coverage for current enrollees, including 49% of Vermont children covered under Medicaid, not to mention the seniors, people with disabilities and poor residents who have no other source of health care.
These cuts in the ACA and Medicaid in the repeal bill are terrible news for families, providers, and state budgets but for not everyone will suffer under repeal.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest households, big health insurance companies and prescription drug manufacturers will be the beneficiaries of huge tax breaks thanks to Republican repeal.
- The Republican repeal bill includes a large tax cut that only goes to families making more than $250,000 a year—the top 2%—while raising taxes on millions of low-and moderate-income Americans. Millionaires would each receive a tax cut of $50,000 a year, on average. The 400 richest families would each receive an annual tax cut of $7 million, on average.
- Giant health insurers like Aetna, Cigna and United Health Group will get $145 billion in tax breaks over 10 years from the Republican plan, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. These big tax giveaways are on top of massive profits that the insurers have made on expanded coverage through ACA—the profits of the eight biggest insurance companies increased 32% from 2011 to 2015, rising from $19.1 billion to $25.3 billion.
- The top five insurance companies would get almost $92 million in tax breaks for deducting their CEO’s pay on their company taxes.
- Prescription drug companies will also get a big tax giveaway—$25 billion over 10 years—under the Republican repeal plan. That’s on top of making huge profits from gouging consumers: AARP research shows that the average cost of brand name drugs commonly used by older Americans for chronic conditions more than tripled between 2006 and 2015, climbing from $1,788 to $5,897.
On tax day, as many families pay their fair share towards critical programs that support the whole community, it’s time to evaluate who wins and who loses under the GOP proposal for health care repeal. The Republican repeal plan means big tax breaks for the rich and corporations, health care cuts for the rest of us.
(Top Photo: From our March Stand Up for Health Care event at the State House. Thousands of Vermonters have signed a petition asking Gov. Phil Scott to stand up against GOP plans to cut health care.)