Leslie Matthews |
May 1st marks not only a celebration of workers, or of the symbolic closing of this legislative session. The day is also a celebration of our achievements this year and the beginning of a new era of solidarity in the face of our shared struggles. We expressed our optimism and unity yesterday in Montpelier, our state capital, in the largest weekday rally in state history and a call for human rights in Vermont!
Over 1500 people from all across the state gathered in Montpelier on a beautiful spring day. We are people of varying ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. We make up a variety of workers, students, parents, immigrants, and people with disabilities. Thousands of Vermont residents representing the Put People First movement joined among organizations such as the Vermont Workers’ Center, Migrant Justice, VT Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, the Vermont Center for Independent Living, Green Mountain Self Advocates, AFSCME, and dozens more! We are all different in infinite ways, but we all have at least one thing in common: we are human beings. We all believe in a greater humanity, where fundamental needs are met for all people, regardless of our differences.
We arrived on a packed school bus just in time to start the march at noon. As soon as I stepped off of the bus my senses were filled with excitement. I heard the beat of a drum and a loud chatter of people. I saw many different groups of people wearing bright colored shirts. I smelled the pleasant aroma of spring and felt the comfortable rays of sunshine on my skin.
As we marched, we sang and chanted in English and in Spanish. Our energy was contagious. Business owners and shoppers stepped outside of stores along the street to greet us with applause and smiles. On State Street a banner was dropped, saying, “ONE MOVEMENT FOR THE PEOPLE AND THE PLANET.”
Once the march circled back to the State House we united on the front steps to hear passionate and inspiring words from speakers from the Vermont Center for Independent Living and Migrant Justice, followed by a collective song and group photo. Afterwards we all dispersed to eat at the People’s Kitchen Tent and to participate in the activities fair!
Dozens of organizations had activities and exhibits on the State House lawn to demonstrate the unity and diversity of the Put People First movement. The fair included family-friendly activities at the youth for a better world tent, including various crafts and even a human rights puppet show! There was also a space for collective singing or prayer flag making. There were many other booths that focused on particular issues, such as the environment or immigrants' rights. The Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign and VT Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals facilitated an innovative health screening clinic free and open to the public as well.
Perhaps my most exciting moment of the day was to see our hard work pay off and literally move through the political process as I, among a room full of others, had the incredible opportunity to witness the house transportation committee vote 7-4 in favor of S. 38, the licenses bill! At the conclusion of the vote we all had to refrain from breaking out into cheer right then in the committee room. Though this was a big accomplishment, there is more work to do.
We must continue to hold our legislators accountable following this legislative session. Today’s wonderful events marked a celebration of accomplishments in the legislative session, while also a commitment to continuing to hold the Administration and Legislature accountable to our needs. Somehow today, in the face of all of our struggles, we could breathe a sigh of relief together knowing that we have thousands of friends who will catch us if we fall, thousands of supporters who will make sacrifices for a unified cause for human rights in Vermont. We are one, unbreakable force as we come together unafraid in solidarity.