Thousands Rally on May Day for Human Right to Health Care in Vermont

Thousands of Vermonters came out on May Day to show their support for making health care a human right, marching through Montpelier and rallying in front of the Statehouse. The event highlighted the achievements of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign, culminating in the passage of the universal health care bill, H.202, by both the Senate and the House. It also served as a call to action, as the Campaign is pushing to strengthen the final version of bill to ensure it meets its original goal of guaranteeing universal healthcare for everyone in Vermont.

In her speech at the rally, Peg Franzen, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, recalled the driving force behind universal health care in Vermont: 

"In church basements, around kitchen tables, on street corners and at work, thousands of Vermonters are joining together around the vision of healthcare as a human right. Thousands of Vermonters — and more every day — are doing small things (and often quite huge things too) to grow our movement and make the change that we want to see. Ordinary people joining together in our communities — this is what democracy looks like. We have a vision, a beautiful vision. And we have a strategy, a very simple strategy. We are growing the power that we need to bring our vision to life, one person at a time. We are going to win healthcare as a human right. We are going to lead the nation."

Read Peg Franzen’s entire May 1 speech here or download it below.

Media coverage of the rally:

Single-payer activists take credit for passage of H.202
Anne Galloway, VTDigger, May 2, 2011

It was May Day in Montpelier, and single-payer advocates made it their day. After marching down State Street, more than 2,000 activists descended on the Statehouse lawn where, for an hour, thanks to gigantic loud speakers that carried their voices for blocks, they told anyone who would listen with the story of their campaign and stories of people who had suffered because of health insurance companies denying care.

They came from every county of the state and from many walks of life. Some came dressed in costumes, others in red “Health Care is a Human Right” t-shirts. Some tooted horns or beat on drums. Others sang, and chanted: “Everybody in; nobody out.” Bread and Puppet Theater performed “The Saints Go Marching In.”

Many of the activists carried the printed Vermont Workers’ Center signs. Others carried handmade placards with slogans like “Want health care? Get insurers off our backs, pass single payer.” Another sign read “We are not Arizona,” in reference to an amendment that would exclude undocumented residents from access to coverage under the federal health care exchanges and the single-payer plan.

More than 2,000 people came to the parade and what was billed as the people’s rally, according to James Haslam, a member of the Vermont Workers’ Center and organizer of the event. […]

Their message, which has been reiterated in numerous press conferences, forums, public hearings and testimony before lawmakers, hasn’t changed much. Activists said they want nothing short of universal health care, and they took aim at lobbyists from businesses, insurance brokers and insurance companies who they say have attempted to weaken the universal health care bill, H.202. They also told horror stories about Vermonters who have been denied care. They claimed credit for the introduction and imminent passage of H.202, billed as Vermont’s first step toward universal health care reform.

[…] Peg Franzen, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, echoed the slogan “This is what democracy looks like” — now made famous by the thousands of union workers in Wisconsin who protested Gov. Scott Walker’s repeal of collective bargaining rights. Franzen, a grandmotherly figure who wasn’t much taller than the podium she stood behind, called the assembled crowd “the people’s team.”

“I want you to get to know the people around you because this is what citizens who care look like,” Franzen said. “This is what it is, this is democracy. This is how we will make health care a public right. (Democracy) looks like a struggle and a celebration.”

Franzen described that struggle in her short remarks. She recounted how activists were told two years ago that a single-payer system was politically not possible. “We knew it was not going to happen in a year,” Franzen said. “We know it will not happen in three years.” She advised activists to continue their efforts over the long haul. Franzen characterized the health care conflict as a struggle between corporate interests and “real Vermonters.”

[…] She asked members of the crowd to hold legislators responsible. “Each victory is a success and a call to action,” Franzen said as she described a society “wracked with inequity.” Government isn’t committed to the people, in her view. Instead, she said, it’s concerned about the “concentration of wealth and power in the hands (of those) who already have too much.”

Vermont can do better, Franzen said. “We cannot stop until we achieve the goal of health care as a public good,” Franzen said. “You and I are going to show the nation what democracy looks like.”

Health care bill in the home stretch
Bridget Barry Caswell, WCAX News, May 1, 2011

A celebration and a call to action in Vermont’s capital city Sunday. More than a thousand Vermonters rallied at the Statehouse in Montpelier to cheer last week’s preliminary passage of the health care reform bill, and — according to those in attendance — to build momentum for the long road to universal access.

A sea of Vermonters marched down State Street Sunday, headed for the steps of the Statehouse and a noontime rally to celebrate health care reform.

The Health Care Is a Human Right Campaign is overjoyed that the Vermont Senate passed H202 last week. The bill that moves the state towards a single payer health care system.

"It’s a celebration and it’s also a call to action that we know that this is just another step — Many steps that are going to have to happen before we get to our ultimate end where health care is a human right for all Vermonters," said Peg Franzen with the Vermont Workers’ Center, the group that sponsored the event.

The rally drew hundreds from all corners of the state — a crowd that crossed generations. "It’s really beautiful to know that people actually are — in a generation that allegedly is so apathetic — it feels good to know that people are getting together. It feels even better to be a part of it," said Drusilla Roessle, a University of Vermont student.

[…] "It is also an indication and a movement of how far we have to go. We still have a long way to go. We have to fight several amendments that have been put into the bill. So this is kind of a celebration and a push," said Walter Carpenter, with the Vermont Workers’ Center.

"It’s a big hurdle, but there’s still a lot more to do. I didn’t really have any doubts about Vermont. We need Vermont to set the example for the rest of the country so we’ve got to keep the momentum going, keep the pressure on so that it happens right in Vermont and we do this right so the rest of the country can follow suit," said said Daniel Filstein, a UVM Student.

And they hope that momentum is in play on Monday, when a legislative panel meets to mend the differences in the single payer bill. One small step to celebrate here, many more to go.

Hundreds Rally For Health Care In Montpelier
Randy Gyllenhaal, WPTZ, May 1, 2011

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Hundreds of Vermonters hit the streets in Montpelier to show their support for universal health care. They marched from City Hall to the statehouse Sunday afternoon.

"You have been leading this struggle for universal health care," shouted organizer Kate Kanelstein to the crowd as they made their way through downtown Montpelier.

This rally comes on the heels of the state senate passing a bill that would put Vermont on the path towards single-payer, universal health coverage. The governor could sign H.202 this week.

Some of the participants thought the bill didn’t go far enough. A last minute amendment would exclude illegal immigrants, including many who work on Vermont farms, from being covered by the new plan.

"If there are people that aren’t covered because of their documentation, then that means it’s not universal at all," said Hilary Martin.

Many of those marching on Sunday said the bill is good progress, but it’s not perfect. […]

2,000 at Rally Say ‘Healthcare Is a Human Right’
by Eesha Williams, Valley Post, May 1, 2011

In what could be a model for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the nation, Vermont is poised to enact single-payer health care. On May 1, more than 2,000 people, including a large contingent from Brattleboro, marched on the Vermont statehouse.

The march was part of a movement that has earned the support of Vermont governor Peter Shumlin, and the state legislature. […]