Written by Brittany Nevins. Photo credit: Matt Hogan
This past Saturday was the Vermont Workers’ Center’s annual membership assembly, held in the Old Labor Hall in Barre, Vermont. Can you believe that we have been fighting for workers’ and human rights for sixteen years now? This year we have participated in crucial battles for economic justice and workers’ rights, and are gearing up for a major fight to ensure Green Mountain Care is implemented according to human rights principles. But it’s not just policy reforms we’re fighting for -- as newly elected president Ellen Schwartz said, “We’re about fundamental transformation, not just putting band-aids on problems.”
The membership assembly included a democratic process of voting on representatives to the VWC's Coordinating Committee (CoCo), examining the budget, reviewing and giving feedback to strategic and organizational committees, and socializing over an amazing meal cooked by the Peoples’ Kitchen. Candidates for the CoCo each had important perspectives on our progress and points of intervention around specific campaigns and organizational processes. Cecile Rouge, newly elected secretary of the CoCo, said, “I hope to strengthen transparency between the membership and the staff of the Workers’ Center.” Others touched on the importance of building membership, utilizing arts & culture in social action, and more.
One part of the evening which really stuck in my head was our analysis of the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign, and the importance of formulating an innovative strategy at this crucial time in Vermont’s healthcare process. But our actions have a larger impact than just Vermont. One of the most inspiring moments during the assembly for me was when the Southern Maine Workers’ Center spoke about their fight for universal health care in Maine and the political atmosphere in which they and all of us are working in. Drew Christopher Joy, an organizer with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, noted that while their organizing may be on a local level, “We do so at home, but we do so with an eye on the rest of the world.” It can often be hard to see, but our work extends beyond what we can imagine and we mustn't stop fighting. It is in these moments of seeming desperation that we must come together. As outgoing VWC president Mary Gerisch pointed out, “This year we need to have a more pure unity than ever.”
Mary articulated an important distinction in our current climate surrounding health care implementation, and the need for a vision which moves people. She said, “the how is ‘single payer.’ The what is ‘universal health care.’ We can’t get the what with just the how.” As a member said to me in conversation, we need to remember that just because people are upset with the exchange and the current healthcare process, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are opposed to the goal of universal health care. How many people can you think of that might feel this way too? While the steps along the way are important, it’s just as important to have a compelling vision, which Ellen described as, “All people, all care!”
So how can we do it? We reflected in small groups at the membership assembly on a famous quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regarding the importance of information and strategy in the success of social action. King said, “…When we go into action and confront our adversaries, we must be as armed with knowledge as they.” During this breakout group, a fellow member and I connected around having both studied political science. They shared a story about a time when their mother said “Why didn’t you study something else? Political science, what good is that?” And the member replied, “I know when someone is lying to me. Well, that’s priceless!” In our context of corporate control over the mass media (not to mention many elected officials), it’s critical to be able to read between the lines and assess situations for ourselves. And it can’t happen alone - we all have to become leaders and develop these skill sets. As another quote by Barbara Ehrenreich mentioned, “The Civil Rights Movement [wasn’t just a couple of] superstars like Martin Luther King. It was thousands and thousands - millions, I should say - of people taking risks, becoming leaders in their community.”
Following the record low participation in last Tuesday’s elections, it’s clear that many people are uninspired and lack faith in political leaders like the Governor. In this context, we need to inspire our community to take action, acknowledging the environment we are working in and bearing in mind the goals and the road ahead. VWC organizer Matt Mcgrath spoke about the road ahead for a health care system that is equitable, accountable, transparent, universal, and participatory. Over the next eight weeks and beyond, we’ll be mobilizing to ensure Vermont leads the way for the rest of the nation with a healthcare system that provides all care to all people. Imagine us there every step of the way, building the movement and our strength along the way. We don’t have to do it alone. Unity-struggle-unity. Remember the words we sang together this past weekend as we have many times before: “We have come too far, we won’t turn around -- we’ll flood the streets with justice, we are freedom bound...”
Brittany Nevins lives in Burlington and organizes with the VWC Chittenden County organizing committee. Matt Hogan lives in Waterbury and is a member of the VWC People's Media Project committee. For the rest of Matt's photos from the 2014 Membership Assembly, click here.