Peg Franzen's May Day 2011 Speech

Many times in my life, I have heard someone ask “show me what democracy looks like.” Many times I have stood with a crowd of my brothers and sisters — in the streets (or on the lawns) outside the chambers of government — and I have heard “this is what democracy looks like.”

We have gathered here today, as we gathered last year and the year before that, to demonstrate what democracy looks like. We are demonstrating that democracy looks like struggle. Democracy looks like celebration. Most of all, democracy looks like neighbors joining together to demand the change that we need, to build healthy communities for our families. It is by joining together that we grow the power that we need, to make government [that] serve[s] our needs.

We have gathered here, outside these halls of power, year after year, because democracy looks like commitment. Democracy demands of us that we persevere, that we continue to join together despite frustration and delay, despite small failures, despite the instruments of the ruling class trying to make us believe that things are really ok just the way they are — trying to make us believe that social justice will trickle down to us if we just cast our votes in their elections every couple of years and then go home, watch tv and buy some things that we do not really need.

Well, we are not buying it. We are not letting our neighbors suffer and die needlessly while, in the halls of power, something very different from democracy happens.

Each year that we gather here, there are more of us here. We are not waiting for justice to trickle down to us. We are building a movement for justice, and our movement is growing. Our movement is growing in size, in diversity and in commitment. This is how we know that we will win.

Last year, we won a little. This year — in a few days — we will win more. Each victory serves as a measure of our success. But each small victory also serves as a call to action — because we have so much more that we have to win.

In Vermont, as in the rest of this country, we suffer from awful disparities. Our society is wracked by inequality. We have allowed our government to become not a tool for ensuring that the basic human needs of every person are satisfied. Instead, increasingly, our government has become a tool for continuing to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who already have too much.

Last year, we watched as our federal government enshrined the most broken aspect of our broken healthcare system in law. Is it inexplicable that healthcare system “reform” in the United States would amount to little more than a shopping channel for unaffordable, inadequate insurance plans? Of course not!

Is it inexplicable that hugely profitable corporations pay no taxes while they destroy our environment and impoverish the people upon whom their profits depend?

Is it inexplicable that our government embarks upon endless, senseless wars or tries to make us believe that another human being is less of a human being because they come from a different place, practice different customs or pray to different gods?

Right here, in Vermont, the legislature and the Shumlin administration continue to cut the public services upon which the most needy among us depend, while the wealthy are allowed to continue to hoard their wealth.

Vermont can do better. Vermont must do better. Vermont must lead this nation.

I think Vermont is going to lead this nation. Through our persistence and our unwavering commitment, we are winning healthcare as a human right. We are overcoming the corrupting influence on government of powerful corporate interests. We have a strategy that works. We have a vision of social justice, and we are growing the social movement that we need to attain it.

H.202 is a promise, little more. The passage of H.202 will constitute progress toward our goal of healthcare as a human right, but H.202 alone will not get us there. In the coming years, we will engage in struggles to define the nature and extent of the healthcare that we receive. We will fight to ensure that we pay for our healthcare in a way that is equitable. We will fight to create a healthcare system that is accountable to us, a system that lives up to the simple standard of providing care to every Vermonter when they need it.

We will struggle against efforts to divide us against ourselves — efforts to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt. We will be challenged to demand courage from ourselves and to demand courage from those that we have elected to represent us.

Vermont will navigate a tricky path through federally-mandated health insurance “exchanges” on our way to our unified, universal healthcare system, and we will face very strong efforts that will try to halt our progress there. We will have to overcome those efforts in the same way that we have overcome every obstacle that we have faced — by joining together with our neighbors to demand our rights.

We will persist in demanding reform of our healthcare system until those in power understand that the fundamental purpose of our healthcare system is — and must be — to care for the health of the people in our communities.

Then we will go on fighting, because what we are really fighting for is social justice. We will fight by joining together, and we will fight by persisting. We will not be done fighting until we have achieved government that serves the needs of all of us. We will not be done fighting until we have achieved democracy.

We gathered here today, as we gathered last year and the year before that, to demonstrate what democracy looks like. We have gathered here, outside these halls of power, year after year, because democracy demands of us that we persevere, that we continue to join together despite frustration and delay, despite small failures, despite how much more we still have to win.

In a few minutes, you will meet some of the heroes of our campaign. These are people just like you, people who recognize that we have a lot still to win — but that we can win, that we know how to win. They will ask you to join us, to become, like each of them, a hero.

In church basements, around kitchen tables, on street corners and at work, thousands of Vermonters are joining together around the vision of healthcare as a human right. Thousands of Vermonters — and more every day — are doing small things (and often quite huge things too) to grow our movement and make the change that we want to see. Ordinary people joining together in our communities — this is what democracy looks like.

We have a vision, a beautiful vision. And we have a strategy, a very simple strategy. We are growing the power that we need to bring our vision to life, one person at a time. We are going to win healthcare as a human right. We are going to lead the nation.

Vermont is going to lead the nation to healthcare as a human right. You and I are going to show this country what democracy looks like. We are going to win healthcare. We are going to win justice. We are going to demonstrate that we can make government serve the basic human needs of every person. No more needless suffering! No one left out! Sí, se puede. We can do it.

Let us not forget that we are gathered here to celebrate. I am so happy that you have joined me here. I am so happy to be surrounded by some of the best people I have ever known. We will celebrate now. But, later, when we are done celebrating, when you go home — back to your friends and family, back to your community — I need you to do something. We all need you to do something. In your home, in your neighborhood, at your job, we need you to remember what democracy looks like. We need you to remember that democracy is just people joining together to build power. Then, wherever you are — then, you can show us what democracy looks like.