Remembering Vermont Human Rights Leader, Peg Franzen

The human rights movement has lost a powerful leader in Peg Franzen, former President of the Vermont Workers' Center.

Ms. Franzen exemplified the power of people to effect real change in the world. She led Vermont’s Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign to its breakthrough achievement of passing the country’s first state-wide universal health care law. Under Ms. Franzen’s leadership, the Vermont Workers' Center grew into a statewide human rights organization and a national movement leader.

NESRI is proud to have worked with and learned from Peg Franzen, and we look forward to honoring her on Human Rights Day, December 10, for reigniting the movement for universal, publicly financed health care in the United States.

Please join us at that event.


Read media coverage and the VWC press release below.

Burlington Free Press:
Social justice advocate Franzen dies at 74
Leader in Vermont peace and health care movements remembered for 'profound impact'

Burlington, Nov. 12, 2013

Peg Franzen, a social justice advocate who helped found the Vermont Center for Independent Living, the annual walk that raises money for homeless shelters in Burlington, the Peace and Justice Center and served as president of the Vermont Workers Center, has died. She was 74.

Franzen, of Montpelier, died Saturday of cancer. She had focused in recent years on the campaign to establish health care as a human right and to create a universal health care system in Vermont.

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Burlington Free Press:
Peg Franzen, social justice advocate with many accomplishments, died Saturday

In recent years, you would find Peg Franzen in the Statehouse cafeteria or in the House Health Care Committee room or Senate Health and Welfare. Day after day, she monitored the deliberations over health care reform.

Saturday, Franzen’s long career pushing the social justice envelop in Vermont ended, cut off by cancer.

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Press release published in the VT Digger:

Honoring Vermont Human Rights Hero Peg Franzen

Nov. 12, 2013

MONTPELIER – This past Saturday, one of Vermont’s fiercest fighters for human rights, Peg Franzen, passed on after battling cancer. Ms. Franzen has been a key leader of the Vermont Workers’ Center and the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign over the last decade. She had a long career working for disability rights, social and economic justice for over 30 years before joining the Workers’ Center. Over the last five years of her life, she was a driving force for the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign and played an instrumental role in the push for universal healthcare in Vermont with the passage of two landmark laws, Act 128 (2010) and Act 48 (2011).

“Peg Franzen’s legacy is enormous. She has profoundly impacted the lives of thousands of people. She showed what it is to be a real leader in every sense of the word. Peg never wanted to be in the limelight. She wanted the focus on the broader collective of people taking action together. In that way Peg was an example of the kind of leader we can all aspire to be,” says James Haslam, Executive Director of the Vermont Workers’ Center. “We gave her a promise that we will keep our eyes on the prize for realizing universal healthcare, and building a movement for all our human rights and real democracy. She showed us how we can change the world.”

In 1979, Ms. Franzen co-founded the Vermont Center for Independent Living, which has since grown to a statewide organization with offices and members across Vermont fighting for disability rights. She also co-founded the Peace & Justice Center in 1977. When she was working for the Committee for Temporary Shelter in 1989, she started the COTS Walk, which now raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the state’s largest homeless shelter. When Ms. Franzen joined the VWC in 2002 she began working on our VT Workers’ Rights Hotline. She went on to serve on the Workers’ Center’s Coordinating Committee as an At-Large member, Treasurer, and from 2009 – 2013 she was the President.

During that time Ms. Franzen was a lead spokesperson for the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign, which was started in 2008 to change what was politically possible in healthcare reform. She acted as the eyes and ears of the grassroots network in the State House. Since its creation in 2011 with Vermont’s breakthrough universal healthcare law, Ms. Franzen served on the Advisory Committee for the Green Mountain Care Board.

Under Ms. Franzen’s leadership as President, the VWC experienced explosive growth in statewide capacity and membership and has become a national leader in grassroots human rights and workers’ rights movements. Ms. Franzen had been set to be honored on Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) in New York City by the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative and Poverty Initiative for her leadership on building the human right to healthcare movement in Vermont, which has served as a model for other states sparking new grassroots campaigns in Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Ms. Franzen is survived by her spouse Joyce Werntgen (also a leader for disability rights and the Workers’ Center), ex-husband and friend Herbert Franzen, daughter Lisa and son Matthew, son Michael and wife Kerry, grandchildren Alex and Heidi Franzen, step-grandchildren Samantha, Christopher and Shawn Neste; and stepsons, Kurt, Neal and Eric Werntgen and their families. She was predeceased by her son Robert in 1989. There will be a celebration of Peg’s life on Sunday, December 15th at 1 PM at the Old Labor Hall in Barre, Vermont.