Despite reports of harsh thunderstorms, over a thousand Vermonters, including hundreds of nurses and other healthcare workers, converged for what is believed to be the largest weekday rally at the state capital in memory. The rally was coordinated by the Vermont Worker's Center in Burlington, Vermont, and was also endorsed by well over one hundred different organizations and dozens of faith community leaders from across the state. The event was planned as a major step to change the politics of health care reform. The invitation to Vermont state legislators for the rally said that it was not just changing what was "politically possible,” but given the economic times and the growth of the movement, the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign is making the establishment of healthcare as a basic right "politically inescapable".
The event was more festival than rally, with street theater skits including a giant puppet named "Governor Jim=Jobless Douglas", a performance by the Raging Grannies choir, and a Dunk-The-Insurance-Companies-Dunk-Tank where an actor playing Mr. Insurance Executive who wanted to keep healthcare a commodity was dunked by the crowd.
“We wanted this to be a more of a huge celebration - of us claiming the right to healthcare," said Dawn Stanger, President of the Vermont Workers' Center, who began this grassroots organizing effort last year. “Today was a giant step towards realizing this right. We feel that Vermont can lead the nation by becoming the first state to have real universal healthcare. We are going to make it happen.”
Speaking at the rally, US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, announced a bill he has introduced in the Senate which would make it possible for five states to establish single-payer universal health care and provide federal waivers to create one public insurance company covering every resident. This bill, if passed, could be a major step in clearing the path to a real national health care system, instead of the complicated and holey patchwork of health care services, financing, administrative waste, and profit that we have now.
For almost a year, the Vermont Workers’ Center has been working on this campaign. As part of this campaign, volunteers from Brattleboro to St. Albans, and every place in between, have polled over 1,500 Vermonters, asking to hear their views and experiences on the Vermont health care system. The results were astounding: 95 percent of those polled said they were exasperated with the current system and believed health care should be a human right. Even more troubling, however, is the number of Vermonters who have suffered greatly because of the broken system. Powerful testimony was read from one survey, where due to a medical condition a woman reported having to stay in abusive relationship for over twenty years to keep her medical care.
“Over 60 percent of Vermonters polled said they have refrained from getting healthcare services because they were afraid they could not afford it. Considering we live in the wealthiest country in the world, we believe that is wrong, it needs to change and we are now changing it,” says Stanger. “Today is May Day, a day that commemorates when our foremothers and forefathers fought for basic workers' rights and the eight-hour-day. They did this by organizing, standing together and creating change through mass struggle. We need to do the same thing for health care."
More information: www.workerscenter.org. The Vermont Workers' Center is part of Jobs With Justice, Grassroots Global Justice and is supported by the National Economic & Social Right Initiative (NESRI).