This past Wednesday, January 4th, a diverse coalition of advocacy and activist organizations came together to present a People's Agenda on the first day of the 2017 Vermont Legislature. At the same time, our allies in NH were rallying outside their statehouse in Concord.
Participating organizations included 350VT, Black Lives Matter VT, the Coalition of Vermont Elders, Disability Rights Vermont, Green Mountain Labor Council - AFL-CIO, Green Mountain Self Advocates, Justice for All, Lake Champlain International, Peace & Justice Center, Public Assets Institute, Rainbow Umbrella of Central Vermont, SEIU Local 200United, Sierra Club - Vermont Chapter, Vermont Center For Independent Living, Vermont Interfaith Action, Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition, Vermont Workers Center, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, and Voices for Vermont's Children.
Over 80 leaders, legislators and community members gathered outside the statehouse at noon for a rally and press conference calling for dignified work and livable wages, dismantling systemic racism and oppression, building a just energy system that bans new fossil fuel infrastructure, healthcare for all, and creating a budget based on the actual needs of the people of Vermont.
Mari Cordes, longtime nurse union leader, 350VT Treasurer, and Rights & Democracy Board member, spoke first, saying "now is the time to stand strong for passing a $15 minimum wage, establishing statewide family and medical leave insurance, protecting our air and water, and ending racial disparities in Vermont's criminal justice system. It's time to stand strong for our children and families with a current services budget that increases funding for affordable housing and restores ReachUp benefits to people with disabilities, and it's time to defend our people from the national Republican attacks on Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security."
Lt. Governor Dave Zuckerman came outside and spoke on the need to carry the energy brought forward in the elections into pushing our legislators to do the right thing for our people and our environment, and on the need to treat each other with dignity and respect, despite the discouraging national discourse.
He was followed by incoming Senator Debbie Ingram and House Representative Selene Colburne.
Ebony Nyoni, co-founder of Black Lives Matter VT, spoke on the need to confront Vermont's racial disparities in criminal justice enforcement and incarceration.
Sarah Launderville from Vermonters for Independent Living spoke compellingly on the need to stand united for all our struggles.
Max Barrows of Green Mountain Self Advocates addressed the issues of exclusion of people with disabilities and the lack of a livable wage for service providers, calling for Vermont to enact a $15 minimum wage as soon as possible.
Charlie Delaney-Megeso, a Veteran Native rights activist and Nulhegan-Coosuk Abenaki, spoke on Abenaki issues within Vermont, solidarity with Standing Rock, and on the need to implement Indigenous People's Day as a permanent holiday in Vermont.
James Ehlers, director of Lake Champlain International, emphasized the need for investment in a clean water as a crucial part of moving our economy and community's relationship with the natural ecosystems on which we depend in a more sustainable direction.
Our People's Agenda is about protecting and expanding workers rights and unions, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and establishing statewide family & medical leave insurance; it's about protecting our health by protecting our air and water, divesting from fossil fuels and banning new fossil fuel infrastructure; it's about investing in the people of Vermont; it's about decarcerating Vermont & ending racial disparities in our criminal justice system; it's about standing up to dismantle systemic racism, sexism, homophobia & transphobia, and classism, and it's about developing grassroots leadership and running people for office from our communities.
The current political situation in D.C. is dire, yet we have hope because thousands of people in Vermont and millions across our country are organized and committed to true racial, social, economic and environmental justice. We must all continue to call on our elected leaders to be strong and principled for people, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized, and our precious planet.
(cont. after the flip to read about the Public Forum: "Towards A People’s Agenda in Vermont")
Public Forum: "Towards A People’s Agenda in Vermont"
Shortly after the People's Agenda rally at the statehouse, Paul Cillo, executive Director of Public Assets Institute, presented to a packed room at the Christ Episcopal Church on A Framework for Progress, highlighting the measures our state needs to take in order to make real positive changes for our lower and middle income residents.
(A $15 minimum wage would mean a raise for over 85,000 workers in Vermont)
Featured speakers then spoke on a variety of issues, presenting their organizations key legislative priorities and delving into the intersections between all our allied organizations campaigns, the upcoming challenges we will all be facing, and how we can support each other's work moving forward.
Speakers included Ebony Nyoni (Black Lives Matter VT), Ed Paquin (Disability Rights VT), Ellen Schwartz (Vermont Workers' Center), Robb Kidd (Sierra Club - Vermont Chapter), and Traven Leyshon (Green Mountain Labor Council, AFL-CIO).
Many thanks to all the participating organizations, speakers, and community members who came out to rally in the cold and who provided thoughtful questions and comments in the Public Forum.
Be sure to join the "Our First Stand, Save Healthcare" Rally on Sunday, January 15th in Burlington and the Women's March & Unity Rally in Montpelier on Saturday, January 21st in Montpelier, and stay tuned for further actions!