Put People First Rally Highlights Strength of Human Rights Movement in Vermont

Watch the highlights of Vermont's large May Day march and hear how a member of the Put People First campaign describes the growing unity among the many struggles for our human rights.

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — More than 1,000 activists highlighted their visions of social justice Wednesday at a May Day march through the city and rally on the Statehouse lawn that featured lived music, speeches and lots of red T-shirts.

Speakers at the event labeled Put People First promoted the rights of immigrant farmworkers, the need for universal access to health care and other topics.

Traditionally, May 1 is celebrated internationally as the day of the worker.

‘‘We are trying to build the community we would all like to live in, where peoples’ needs are all being met, whether that be housing, whether that be food, access to transportation,’’ said Sandra Schlosser, a volunteer with the Vermont Workers Center who helped organize the rally.

Organizers also called on Vermont legislators, who met inside the Statehouse while people rallied on the lawn, to take action on various issues.

The Workers Center asked that lawmakers pass a budget that ‘‘meets the needs of the people.’’ Some of their criticisms of the Legislature include proposals to cap the welfare-to-work program, inadequate citizen participation in the state budget process and what they see as a too-slow process to implement the first-in-the-nation single-payer health care system.

Schlosser recognized that Vermont is far ahead of many states on social issues but said residents need to support similar efforts elsewhere.

‘‘Even though Vermont probably is leading the way in a lot of those areas it’s something that isn’t just happening here, it’s something that’s happening all over the United States. And it is really exciting,’’ she said.

About 1,500 people attended the rally, Schlosser estimated. The Montpelier police did not have an independent estimate of the crowd size.

Others at the rally included Alberto Madrigal, 22, from Tabasco, Mexico, who has been working on a Vermont dairy farm for the past 18 months.

He spoke in favor of an effort by a group called Migrant Justice to legalize driver’s licenses for farmworkers in the country illegally. An estimated 1,500 immigrants work on Vermont’s dairy farms.

‘‘I'm involved with Migrant Justice to fight for my rights and to reclaim our dignity as human beings that we are,’’ he said. ‘‘We are struggling for our licenses for a better day for us and for you.’’