Raising Expectations After the Elections: The Role of People’s Movements


For grassroots groups and communities fighting for justice and human rights, elections are reminders of how much the political process fails to ensure people’s rights to meaningful participation and accountability, and how it results, more often than not, in inequitable, exclusionary policies that stick to what’s considered politically possible. That’s why collective action to deepen democracy starts, not ends, on Election Day. By growing people’s movements that give voice to everyday injustices, NESRI’s partners and allies hold elected officials accountable, build people power, and raise people’s expectations for the possibility of a just society. The Vermont Workers’ Center’s Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign is such a movement, and their post-election press release below illustrates a path to human rights.

Vermont Workers’ Center calls on political leaders to hold the line on healthcare

Following yesterday’s elections, the Vermont Workers’ Center and Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign are calling on elected officials to recommit to Act 48, which lays the groundwork for a publicly-funded, equitably financed healthcare system that provides comprehensive care for all Vermont residents.

Dozens of Workers’ Center members canvassed at polling stations across the state yesterday, speaking with community members about their experiences with the ongoing healthcare crisis in Vermont.  A major theme brought up by voters at the polls was the need to go beyond the Affordable Care Act and the Exchange, which have led to even more barriers to care for many Vermont residents.

Elizabeth Jesdale from Berlin, VT was one of the many who agreed to participate in a mass photo project with people taking portraits illustrating the path Vermont should head towards universal healthcare. Jesdale, a longtime union food service worker, chose the path to treat healthcare as a “public good”, and that our system must include “all people, all care”.

“It seems like we’re at a crossroads in Vermont — are we going to continue with another version of the same healthcare system which is geared to make a few people a lot of money, or will we move forward with one which is actually focused on providing care to our communities?” said Jesdale. “As a union activist, I’m dedicated to looking out not only for me and coworkers, but to make sure that all working-class people have dignity and respect. It’s time to leave behind this system which treats our health as a commodity, and make sure that everyone gets the care we need, when we need it.”

Over the next few months, the Shumlin Administration and the Green Mountain Care board are expected to release proposals for healthcare benefits and financing.  The Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign is organizing to ensure that these proposals articulate a system which is financed through progressive taxes, and which covers all health needs, including dental, vision, and reproductive care. The campaign has developed a position paper laying out a detailed financing package including income taxes on earned and unearned income, combined with a progressive payroll tax on employers only, with exemptions for the smallest businesses.

“The election might be over, but democracy doesn’t end on Election Day. With powerful interests opposed to changing a healthcare system that stuffs their pockets, thousands of people across Vermont must be engaged and taking action together for us to win the kind of universal system that we can be proud of and our communities truly need. Vermont is going to be the first state – but the first of many, and for us to make sure we eventually have a great universal health system it’s important that we get it right,” said James Haslam, Executive Director of the Vermont Workers’ Center which has coordinated the Healthcare Is a Human RIght Campaign since 2008.

“If we are able to draw any lessons from this election, it’s that people are demoralized by a political system which consistently fails to provide for our fundamental human needs,” continued Haslam.  “Only by building a powerful people’s movement and organizing to change what is politically possible will we be able to reinvigorate democracy and win real victories for economic justice and human rights in Vermont.”