From Celebration to Solidarity: An Evening in Honor of Vermont Human Rights Leader Peg Franzen

On December 10th, Human Rights Day, we honored Peg Franzen, a community leader who made an incalculable contribution to growing the movement for health care as a human right.  Over a hundred of us gathered at the Church Center of the United Nations to watch the inimitable Laura Flanders of GRITtv lead us through a lively exchange with organizers from the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaigns in Vermont, Maine, Maryland and Pennsylvania.   We walked away convinced that this is a fight we will win state by state until we shift the national conversation and change what’s politically possible. 

The seamless dialogue between these cutting-edge organizers highlighted their commitment to human rights values and vision, and to putting people at the center of the struggle.  We heard about the critical role of community leadership and were inspired by stories about Peg Franzen.  Without leaders like Peg, the breakthrough in 2011, when the state of Vermont committed to establishing a truly universal publicly financed healthcare system, would not have happened.  We heard about powerful moments, such as when Peg barged into a legislative committee room, wearing her red Vermont Workers’ Center T-shirt as part of the People's Team, to inform the committee that the sponsor of an anti-immigrant amendment to the Green Mountain Care bill had withdrawn his support for the discriminatory measure.  Sharing that news by holding up a cell phone with a text message, she helped make history as Vermont moved forward without excluding undocumented immigrants.  Although we lost Peg Franzen to cancer on November 9th of this year, we were able to hear her inspiring words via video, as she explained how this victory was driven by a campaign grounded in values and principles, such as universality and equity, rather than a focus on technical policy fixes.

On this special evening, we became part of the stories and connections shared between these four extraordinary campaigns.  We renewed our commitment to support these leaders by spreading the word about this innovative organizing model for making health care a human right and public good in the United States.

We were enlightened by many eloquent speakers, including James Haslam of the Vermont Workers’ Center, DrewChristopher Joy of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, Sergio Espana of United Workers in Maryland, Nijmie Dzurinko of Put People First, Pennsylvania, our own Anja Rudiger at NESRI, our brilliant moderator Laura Flanders, and those who gave moving tributes to Peg Franzen: Kate Kanelstein of the Vermont Workers’ Center, Mari Cordes of the Vermont Federation of Nurses, Paul Cillo of the Public Assets Institute, Colleen Wessel-McCoy of the Poverty Initiative, and Sarah Bigney of the Maine AFL-CIO.  Joyce Werntgen, Peg Franzen's life partner who generously came from Vermont to accept our tribute to their family moved us with her remarks, and Reverend Liz Theoharis of the Poverty Initiative, with whom we co-hosted the event, concluded the evening with words of inspiration.

Below please find three videos that were part of the evening's program.  


U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders Celebrates the Vermont Workers' Center


Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield Celebrate the Vermont Workers' Center


Peg Franzen Tribute Video – Human Rights Day, December 10th, 2013


Below is a set of photos from the evening.