We Cannot Let Despair Win

New Year's Message from Vermont Workers' Center President Ellen Schwartz

A couple of weeks ago I was canvassing about healthcare in Brattleboro with members of my local Organizing Committee. In home after home we met people who were barely getting by, some of whom were underinsured, others of whom were paying the penalty because they couldn’t afford the premiums on Vt Health Connect. We met folks who rely on the free clinic, which is open only one evening a week. People talked about their work at seasonal jobs, low-wage jobs, and jobs where they feel disrespected because of their low status in the pecking order. We talked with people with disabilities, anxious about what their lives will be like if vital services are cut.

This is the current reality, and we are all anticipating major attacks and rollbacks under the new administration. With so much at stake, it is tempting to go on the defensive. While it is certainly crucial to protect hard-fought gains, that is not enough. We cannot let despair cause us to settle for crumbs and rob us of our vision of the world we know is possible: a world in which each one of us is able to live and work in dignity. Among the people I have canvassed, when asked about their hopes, many spoke movingly not only about themselves and their families, but their hopes for their community and the wider world. It is that vision that fuels my commitment to keep organizing. It’s what reminds me that organizing at its best releases our human capacity to care for each other, to attend to each other with love.

The Vermont Workers’ Center is doing that kind of deep, visionary organizing.

Through our Healthcare Is A Human Right campaign we are bringing together people affected by our profit-driven healthcare system. This includes people like the folks I’ve met while canvassing. It also includes frontline healthcare workers, like the Licensed Nursing Assistants at UVM Medical Center who are currently engaged in a union organizing drive. In July, over 100 people submitted public comments at the rate hike hearings, and for the first time two GMCB members dissented from the Board’s decision.

We are furthering workers’ rights by operating our Workers’ Rights Hotline and supporting organized workers, including the nurses’ union at Porter Hospital in Middlebury and striking Verizon Wireless workers.

We are building broad social movements with other organizations, locally and globally. On May Day weekend, the second People’s Convention brought together 400 activists from Vermont and beyond to strategize about building a united movement for human rights and a just transition to an economy that works for people and the planet. VWC members also participated in grassroots delegations at the Paris climate talks and the Republican to the Democratic Conventions, confronting catastrophic climate change, racism, xenophobia, gender bias, polluting industries, and militarism.

We have sustained a robust political education program, with members attending educational programs and courses, including a 7-week course led by the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). Our Education Committee has developed a course on Vermont Political Economy, which has had two runs with our members.

As a grassroots organization, we count on people who believe in our values and our work to support us with time and money. I am looking forward to working with each of you in the coming year to sustain and expand our organizing for workers’ rights and healthcare justice, and to continue building a movement for social and economic justice in Vermont and beyond.