The auditorium at Burlington High School overflowed with people who turned out Sunday to rally against efforts by Republicans in the U.S. Congress to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law — actions they said would harm access to health care in the U.S. and put residents' lives at risk.
Speakers at the rally said the negative effects would include depriving millions of Americans of health care (including thousands of Vermonters), privatizing Medicaid, making cuts to Medicare and defunding Planned Parenthood. More than 1,000 people attended the event organized by Rights & Democracy Vermont, the Vermont Workers' Center, Vermont Health Care For All, Our Revolution, Black Lives Matter, and other groups.
Lawmakers and health care advocates spoke during the event, which also featured a live-stream of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaking at a rally in Michigan on the same topic. More than 70 health care rallies were held across the country on Sunday as part of a "Save Our Health Care National Day of Action." About 400 people also gathered in Manchester to watch Sanders' rally as well, Vermont Lt. Gov. Dave Zuckerman told the crowd.
"It's the people in this room who are going to work to make sure people here in Vermont can set the example for the whole country on organizing and fighting for workers' rights, livable wages, universal health care, but while fighting for these things, being respectful," Zuckerman said at the rally. "Right now, it's really tenuous out there and everybody's angry. It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to have hate. ... We have to build ourselves up together."
Vermont Republican Chair David Sunderland issued a written statement after the rally, responding to Zuckerman's role in the event. Sunderland said Zuckerman's work in Vermont's legislature supported legislation that led to crises within the state.
A Sunday health care rally was relocated twice due to high guest response before finally landing at Burlington High School. Attendants still spilled out of an over-packed auditorium and into the halls on Jan. 15, 2017. (Photo: KEVIN HURLEY/ for the FREE PRESS)
"Working Vermonters are struggling to make ends meet in a state with declining affordability, continuing job losses and over six years of state spending that is far out of line with the growth of our state's economy and Vermonters' paychecks," Sunderland wrote. "We urge Lt. Governor Zuckerman to immediately shift his focus from Washington D.C. to right here in Vermont and to join with Vermont Republicans in working to find solutions to these significant challenges within our own borders. Vermonters expect and deserve no less from their Lieutenant Governor."
George Twigg from U.S. Rep. Peter Welch's Office also attended the rally, saying Welch has become "fed up" with Republicans for trying to repeal Obama's health care law without having an alternate plan. Twigg encouraged those at the rally to continue showing up to rallies, support organizations that will be "under attack," and speak to friends and family members in other states about the issues.
"The stakes are enormous, and today is just the first fight," Twigg said. "There's going to be a lot more of this to come, and Peter and the delegation will all be doing their part to fight this like hell down in Washington. Having you all do your part as well is going to be critical."
President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to overturn and replace the Affordable Care Act, and majority Republicans in Congress this week began the process of repealing the law using a budget maneuver that requires a bare majority in the Senate.
Young Else Winch with her gandfather, Ed Winch, hold a "Put People First" sign in a packed Burlington High School auditorium. (Photo: KEVIN HURLEY/for the FREE PRESS)
“This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world," Sanders told the Michigan crowd. "It is time we got our national priorities right."
Contributing: Associated Press. Contact Elizabeth Murray at 651-4835 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurraySMC.