BURLINGTON FREE PRESS/TIMES ARGUS/RUTLAND HERALD: "It's Time For A People's Movement" by James Haslam VWC Director/Lead Organizer

[Times Argus & Rutland Herald Published: December 26, 2010] http://www.timesargus.com/article/20101226/FEATURES15/712269947/1014/FEA...

[shorter version in Burlington Free Press published January 2, 2011] http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110102/OPINION02/101020329/...

By James Haslam
What happens when ordinary people aren’t organized? When you have a system designed to benefit the rich and powerful few above all else — no matter what the cost? That’s what we are seeing now across the country and the globe.

As Vermont heads into a new era under Gov. Peter Shumlin, we must learn a critical lesson from what is unfolding around the nation: It is not enough for working and low-income people to cast their ballots on Election Day. We need to get organized so after politicians are sworn into office, we can make the politically expedient thing to do the right thing to do. In 2011, we must expand the grass-roots organizing for universal health care and build a people’s movement to make sure government serves the real interests of our communities.

Following the recent arrival of our first child, my wife and I are more than a little nervous about what the future holds. Things aren’t looking so good. Inequality is now greater in the U.S. than during the days of the robber barons. While this one-sided class war is being waged against working and low-income people at home, our government is fighting two wars abroad. And then, of course, there is the very real prospect of climate change making our planet uninhabitable.

Although these challenges seem insurmountable, if we get organized we can change the balance of power and together solve the problems facing our communities. Why did President Obama just cave in to extending tax cuts for the super-wealthy at the expense of everyone else? Because as long as the working and middle classes are disorganized and pointing fingers at one another, the rich, with their teams of lobbyists, will always hold the reins to our government.

Part of the success of the tea party movement is that it has tapped into some legitimate anger of white working-class people — folks who have real grievances about struggling in an unjust system, under what is, by and large, an unaccountable government. The forces who mobilized to elect President Obama were a threat to the rich and powerful, who had grown accustomed to their stranglehold on the electoral and legislative process. Pouring money into the tea party to channel people’s anger away from their friends on Wall Street and in lavish executive suites across the country was a logical way for these entrenched forces to prevent any real change. The challenge of our time is to retake control by organizing a new people’s movement to lead our communities — and ultimately our planet — in a new direction.

In Vermont and around the country, communities find themselves on the defensive, battling to protect hard-won public programs from the constant assault of anti-worker, anti-family cutbacks. But today Vermonters have a real chance to take the offensive and lead the country in the struggle for a universal health care system that works for everybody.

In 2008, the Vermont Workers’ Center launched the Health Care Is A Human Right campaign to get organized to demand universal access to quality health care and change the political will of our elected representatives. Now, thanks to the hard work of thousands of Vermonters from communities across the state, victory is on the horizon, and Vermont could soon be a national model of a health care system made by and for the people.

On Jan. 5 we are holding a rally at the Statehouse to demonstrate the broad support for moving forward to achieve universal health care. We will be delivering a petition signed by thousands of Vermonters in every corner of the state who are calling on our elected officials to realize this goal.

The letdowns and unfulfilled promises of Obama’s first two years demonstrate that politicians will not deliver on their campaign pledges unless we force them to. We must not let that happen here in Vermont with our new governor, Peter Shumlin. It will be difficult; to win this struggle we will have to stand up to a health industry armed with slick tactics and big bank accounts. But while they have cash, we Vermonters have each other — and no Washington lobbyist or amount of money can defeat the will of our communities united to fight for what’s right.

Our country is in a tough place right now, but when a people’s movement wins universal health care in Vermont, it will serve as an example for the rest of the country. When the Vermont Legislature reconvenes Jan. 5, let’s make it Day 1 in building a new people’s movement to mobilize for and demand policies that serve the interests of our workplaces, our families, our communities, our planet and the future our children will inherit. Come stand with us and make your voice heard.

@Body tagline:James Haslam is the director and lead organizer of the Vermont Workers’ Center, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the Health Care Is A Human Right campaign.