In a gathering reminiscent of the Occupy movement that swept the nation last summer, Vermont’s unions, rights groups and other liberal activists gathered in Montpelier Tuesday for a May Day rally.
The rally, organized by the Vermont Workers’ Center, kicked off at Montpelier’s City Hall and police closed off Main Street and State Street as the crowd of around 500 marched to the Statehouse.
Speakers from a variety of causes spoke out from the steps of the Statehouse into the sea of red signs that read “Put People First.” Activists took the microphone to talk about health care, environmental conservation, student debt relief, migrant workers’ rights and early educators’ rights.
Speakers called for increased government assistance with education, child care, health care and land preservation for Native American tribes – all “basic human rights,” according to the speakers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and environmental activist Bill McKibben also gave speeches at the event.
Sanders’ speech, in keeping with the spirit of the day, touched on a wide range of liberal issues, including health care, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the top 1 percent (drawing boos from the crowd), and the child-care workers union bill currently in the Statehouse.
After voicing his disgust with the top 1 percent of Americans, who he said take up most of the new income created in the U.S., Sanders commended the crowd for taking the democratic process into their own hands.
“What we are saying today is that that is not what America is about,” he said. “We do not want to continue having the dubious distinction of having the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth. We need to pass real tax reform and make sure that all people in this country can live in dignity and with justice.”
Sanders also brought up the “war on women” being waged in Washington right now, encouraging men to stand up as well.
“It is terribly important that at this key moment,” he said, “men stand with women and make sure that we do not lose the gains that women have struggled for for the last 50 years.”
McKibben followed Sanders later in the rally with a short address, but the strongest words on the environment came from Sanders: “It is a moral disgrace that America is not leading the world in cutting back on carbon emissions and helping to reverse global warming,” he said.
The crowd hadn’t shrunk after standing for nearly two hours on the Statehouse lawn, despite 40 degree temperatures.
“Dang, where’s global warming when you need it?” McKibben joked as he took to the microphone.
Both Sanders and McKibben encouraged Vermont to lead the nation in renewable energy, mentioning that the industry could provide well-paid jobs that promote long-term economic growth for Vermont.
“We very much need the state Senate tomorrow to take up this bill that puts a big renewable portfolio standard together and moves Vermont quickly, not slowly, toward job-rich renewable energy,” McKibben said.