On Labor Day weekend, hundreds of people gathered at Vermont’s first People’s Convention for Human Rights to discuss the human rights crisis in their state and beyond, and to create a vision and movement for a society that respects, protects and fulfills human rights. The Convention concluded with the signing of a Declaration of Human Rights for Vermont.
Organized jointly by the Vermont Workers’ Center and several social and environmental justice organizations, the People’s Convention also served as the first Northeastern convention of the Human Rights at Home Campaign. A parallel human rights convention took place in Austin, Texas, and video messages of solidarity were exchanged between the two states. The Human Rights at Home Campaign seeks to build connections between human rights struggles across the United States and create unity among diverse communities and organizations in their struggles for social justice. People from Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire, and Quebec also participated in the People’s Convention, along with NESRI staff.
The People’s Convention brought together participants engaged in different struggles, ranging from health care to housing, from education to work with dignity and the right to a healthy environment. Since its launch in 2011 the Put People First Campaign, led by the Vermont Workers’ Center, has worked to connect communities and organizations across issue areas, with a view of building a unified “movement for the people and the planet.” At the People’s Convention participants identified common root causes of the many problems facing communities, and put forward structural solutions grounded in a shared human rights vision.
The People’s Convention for Human Rights offered a stark contrast to the convening of powerholders at the Democratic and Republican national party conventions. Instead of perpetuating inequitable policies that promote private gains over public goods, the People’s Convention created a space for articulating an inclusive vision for structural change that puts people first.
The People’s Convention closed by ratifying a Declaration of Human Rights for the state of Vermont, drafted with the input of over 400 hundred individuals and 40 organizations that took part in community consultations across Vermont. The preamble of the Declaration includes the following passages:
“We have gathered as this people’s convention because we see that existing political and economic systems are failing to satisfy their human rights obligations, and we are suffering.”
“We hold in our hearts a vision of true democracy. It is a vision of a society in which everyone enjoys a life of dignity, with healthcare, healthful food and a home in a healthy environment. It is a society in which everyone has an education that allows them to fulfill their potential and their desires, with meaningful work and adequate leisure. It is a society in which all decisions that affect our communities are made by and for the benefit of the people — a society which values the common good of this and future generations over private gains. Our vision of true democracy is a vision of a society in which the principal role of governments is to satisfy the needs of communities by respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of every person. “
“Here, in Vermont, we have gathered because we understand that power holders do not recognize our rights. Our rights must be won through struggle.”
“Our strength, like the strength of our communities, derives from solidarity among all people, which means that we recognize our shared humanity.”
“Therefore we have gathered here in Vermont with a shared vision of social justice and a strategy for accomplishing our goals, ready to engage in the work that we have to do.”
“Now, embracing our shared humanity, we commit ourselves to this unified struggle for our rights, and we call upon every person to join us in this one movement for people and our planet.”
Download the full declaration here or below.