On May 1, International Workers’ Day, 500 people from Vermont’s labor, racial justice, climate justice, disability rights, and migrant justice movements marched on the statehouse in Montpelier, entering the building while singing, before gathering outside for a rally.
Demonstrators denounced Vermont’s political leadership for its failure to equitably address the revenue shortfall and healthcare crisis, instead choosing to attack state workers and cut funding for public services for the most vulnerable. The demonstration comes as the Vermont Senate reviews a last-minute proposal by Governor Peter Shumlin to cut an additional $10 million from the budget, impacting state workers and people receiving support to weatherize their homes.
Sarah Launderville, director of Vermont Center for Independent Living, said, “We say no more cuts to people who are personal care assistants, who need food, heating, housing, accessible transportation, access to jobs, emergency systems, and healthcare. We demand our elected officials make the choice to defend people and the planet with this budget and in our state.”
Homecare worker and AFSCME Local 802 member Heather Boyd added, “I’ve witnessed the impacts of cuts to our clients. I’ve seen people struggle to afford the care their children need. We need to stop the trend of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.”
Ellen Schwartz, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said “Many of us here have horror stories of dealing with Vermont Health Connect and the profit-based health insurance system. We’re deeply disillusioned by the failure of those in the statehouse to address the healthcare crisis by transitioning to an equitable, publicly financed healthcare system as laid out in Act 48 — we’re here today because we see that the hope lies in grassroots social movements and solidarity.”
“We’re here to say we’ll be silent no more. The new solidarity between our organizations doesn’t end after this budget fight,” said Michelle Salvador, vice president of Vermont State Employees Association. “Believe me, we’ll be stirring things up moving forward and toward the 2016 elections.”
At the rally, dairy farmworker leaders with Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante publicly launched their “Milk with Dignity” campaign, calling upon Ben & Jerry’s to commit to a set of human rights standards in their milk sourcing, and announcing a national day of action on June 22 targeting the company. Migrant Justice leader Enrique Balcazar drew connections between the fight for workers’ rights and dignity, and the situation faced by farmworkers in Vermont:
“There are about 1,500 of us dairy workers working day-in and day-out to keep the dairy industry in Vermont going,” said Balcazar. “There are many stories within our community such as Victor, who lived through the winter in a camper with deficient heat, a leaky roof, and no adequate space to sleep. This is an invitation to Ben & Jerry’s to commit to ensuring that dignity and fundamental human rights exist throughout our food system.”
Another main theme of the march and rally was solidarity with Black communities in Baltimore, Ferguson, and here in Vermont who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration and police violence. Black Lives Matter organizer Ebony Nyoni said: “We need to stand up anytime racism comes up in our lives—in our education, in our housing, in the workplace. We need to stand together against it, and that’s when we start to see change — when we stand together regardless of our color or background. If we don’t have each other, who else do we have?”