One Movement for the People and the Planet
text of speech given from Moving Planet Rally at Vermont Statehouse,9/24/11
by James Haslam
There are a lot of us here today, I haven’t seen this many people here since last May when over two thousand came out for our Healthcare Is A Human Right rally. Today, we are here because the right to a healthy environment is also a basic right. I work for the Vermont Workers’ Center, a statewide workers’ rights organization that launched the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign in 2008 because we came to realize that workers’ rights really transcended the workplace. To have the healthcare we all need, we had to get organized, in every community in the state, to have enough people power to be able to change that system. Increasingly we have realized that our basic needs and basic rights are all truly interconnected. Last May there were many climate activists from 350.org and other organizations out for our Healthcare Is A Human Right rally, and today we are proud to be here with you.
We are here today because we’ve got a big job: we have a world to change. Yes, we are here because green solutions are not enough, and we need to end the use of fossil fuels. But we are here because we must fundamentally change the way our system works, we must change how we interact with the planet, we must change the way we live. We are here because we have a future to fight for. My wife and I have a sixteen month old son and another kiddo on the way, so we know we simply have to turn things around for a sustainable future for future generations.
But to do this is not so easy. And its not because we don’t know what to do. Actually we all know the kinds of things we need to do, the kind of changes we need to make. But the problem is not a question of knowing what do to, it’s that we simply can’t make the big decisions we need to, because we do not have the power to make them. The corporate interests have such a profound control over our government and policies that are set, and in their endless quest for more profits and obscene wealth for their tiny little club, we are being led down this destructive path which threatens the survival of natural life on the planet. The same forces that are destroying the environment are now trying to figure out how to create a new market of green solutions to make billions and billions more. But we simply can’t continue down their path, and must build enough people power for the new level of democracy needed to be able to choose the real solutions for our communities and planet. That’s why we are here today.
We faced the same dynamic we dealt with when considering what to do about healthcare; the government in Washington DC is controlled by corporate interests to such a degree that makes it impossible to establish universal healthcare right now on a national level, so we knew we had to win it on a state level first. In Vermont, we feel we have a special responsibility to lead the way in this country as we have on so many issues, we must be a catalyst for transformative change to address the climate crisis. And as if we didn’t have enough reasons to before, after Tropical Storm Irene we have no other choice.
Irene must be our wake up call that we can’t afford this current path. We believe that anyone who is serious about building a movement for social and economic rights, for human rights and eliminating poverty, must take on the issue of global warming and climate change. It’s kind of obvious, right, what good is a great universal healthcare system on an uninhabitable planet?
But Irene must teach us more that just that. We also really believe that anyone who is serious about truly addressing the climate crisis, must directly confront the issues of social and economic rights. The forces that exploit and commodify the planet also are the same forces that exploit workers and communities, and commodify our health.
We need a system that is based on the real values we have in our communities, the ones we saw in the wake of Irene. Where we have seen thousands of Vermonters going out of their way to help each other, making sure people have a home, have food, have transportation, and have all their basic needs met. We saw what solidarity is all about, what community is all about. But Irene also exposed another crisis, that was there already when she hit. The crisis of poverty and the gross inequities which led to thousands of Vermonters living on the edge, scraping to get by and often forgotten about. An example is the hundreds of families, including many elderly, disabled and hardworking Vermonters, living in the mobile home parks built in flood plains who literally lost everything. We simply cannot have so many of our communities in such a vulnerable state when the next Irene hits.
We believe we cannot wait until a disaster to start acting like we care for one another and making sure people’s basic needs are met must be the priority of all our public policy. There is a lot of work to do still to get people back on their feet, and in order to build the kind of people power we will need, we must connect our communities by addressing the full range of crises we face. We have launched Put People First! The People’s Budget campaign and we invite all of you and your organizations to join us in building a people’s movement to address economic, social and climate justice together (organizations sign up here: http://www.workerscenter.org/organization ). We are still going out in teams to do flood relief work around the state and on October 15th we are doing a statewide canvass for the Put People First campaign engaging people around all of these issues (sign up online at http://www.workerscenter.org/volunteer). We hope many of you will join us.
Building off the slogan from the US Social Forum, we believe Another World Is Possible, Another US is Necessary and Vermont Can Lead The Way! Let’s lead the way! One Movement for People and the Planet! Thank you.
James Haslam is the Director of the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC), their website is www.workerscenter.org. The VWC is a member of Grassroots Global Justice, which just launched an exciting cross-movement national campaign called No War, No Warming: Build an Economy For People and the Planet.