Burlington Free Press | September 9, 2015 | Column by Haley Dover
A new grassroots organization believes that “together we win.”
That was the theme of the public launch of Rights & Democracy, a group dedicated to lobbying the Legislature and supporting progressive political candidates. The group aims to bring Vermont’s policies in line with the wants and needs of the majority of the people in the state.
The organization came on the scene in May, but launched publicly and asked Vermonters for support Monday at the 14th annual Labor Day Celebration in Battery Park.
Rights & Democracy believes Vermont can become a pioneer by implementing fair labor practices, addressing climate change and tackling racial injustice, Executive Director James Haslam said.
Haslam is the former longtime executive director of the Vermont Workers’ Center.
The group hosted a public launch piggy-backing off of the city’s Labor Day celebration where hundreds of people gathered and tried to grab some shade at the Monday afternoon event where local organizations asked for support, including the Vermont Workers’ Center and 350 Vermont.
The two nonprofit, progressive organizations have partnered with Rights & Democracy to work toward fair wages and the reduction of carbon.
While party-goers munched on hamburgers grilled up by the People’s Kitchen, petitions were passed around for people to sign, including a list of names for fair wages and for paid sick days, two of the main issues that the organizers from Rights & Democracy hope to tackle.
“We’re going to bring Vermonters together to discuss what is important to them economics-wise, issues-wise and bring those Vermonter voices together and encourage people to get out and vote,” said Michelle Salvador, chairwoman of the Rights & Democracy board and vice president of Vermont State Employees Association.
The group is looking to support policies that advance lower and middle income earners in Vermont, she said. Increasing minimum wage and growing the state’s economy in a way that will benefit the environment is at the top of the list, along with stopping Vermont’s practice of sending overflow prisoners to out-of-state, for-profit prisons and stopping racial injustice.
“We actually have a long way to go to address racism in Vermont,” Haslam said. “When you look at the racial bias in the criminal justice system and the policing system there is a humongous percentage of African American and people of color being disproportionally represented, and we just have a long way to go.”
The group plans to start local as they move closer to the 2016 presidential election. Haslam said there are ways to move forward now, starting with the push for paid sick days for Vermont workers, closing for-profit prisons and trying to make sure the state budget is funded in a way that can serve the needs of communities.
Burlington resident Grant Taylor, 34, said he liked what he heard at the group’s launch.
“I only vote for what I believe in,” he said. “If they are working together with these other groups, I think they are headed in the right direction.”
This story was first posted online on Sept. 7, 2015. Contact Haley Dover at 660-1850 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Haley on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HaleyRDover.