Hundreds rally in Montpelier for May Day labor event

About 500 people gathered on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier on Tuesday to celebrate workers rights. Photo by Kate Robinson

About 500 people gathered on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier on Tuesday to celebrate workers rights. Photo by Kate Robinson

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.

Taylor Dobbs

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  • Providing education, health care, etc. is not “government assistance.” These are the FUNCTIONS of government — to provide, with taxpayer money — the services necessary to life.

    It’s not about “disgust” with the 1 percent — it’s about govt. policy that does not ask them to pay their fair share.

    Finally, this event not “reminiscent” of Occupy events of the fall. May Day actions took place yesterday across the country as part of a coordinated day of protest, kicked off by Occupy several months ago.

  • Al Salzman

    The banks are made of marble / with a guard at every door
    And the vaults are lined with silver/Vermonters sweated for!

    A struggling dairy farmer/ Worries the milk price he’ll get
    Won’t cover his expenses / and push him deeper into debt!

    Shumlin won’t ask the wealthy/ to pay a little more
    He’d rather balance the budget/ on the workers and the poor.

    The banks are mad of marble/with a guard at every door
    The vaults are lined with silver/ Vermonters sweated for!

    Families are evicted/with just the clothes upon their backs
    Their mortgage was a phony/robo-signed by Goldman Sachs!

    A wounded Iraq veteran/without a job to pay his rent
    Is sleeping by the highway/ in an army surplus tent!

    The banks are made of marble/with a guard at every door
    And the vaults are lined with silver/Vermonters sweated for!

    The corporation bosses/outsourced my job away
    To a worker ‘cross the ocean/at one tenth of my pay!

    If you farm organic/You may very well be sued
    For not bowing to Monsanto/growing franken-food!

    The banks are made of marble/with a guard at every door
    And the vaults are lined with silver/Vermonters sweated for!

    We saved the bankers asses/taxpayers paid their bail
    forget about a bonus/ throw the greedy bums in jail!

    An elderly college graduate/with a whopping student debt
    Turned ninety last September/hasn’t yet paid off her debt!

    The banks are made of marble/with a guard at every door
    And the vaults are lined with silver/Vermonters sweated for!

    Politicians fool the voters/expecting to get thanks
    Most are bought and paid for/by corporations & the banks!

    Big oil speculators/thinking we’re a bunch of chumps
    Drive up the prices/and gouge us at the pumps!

    The banks are made of marble/with a guard at every door
    And the vaults are lined with silver/Vermonters sweated for!

    A weary Vermont farmer/plowing his field of loam
    Can hear the auction hammer/knocking down his home!

    So all you legislators/ ‘neath the Golden Dome
    Do something for the people/before you travel home!

    The banks are made of marble/with a guard at every door
    And the vaults are lined with silver/Vermonters sweated for!

  • Jay Moore

    Exactly. In fact, yesterday’s May Day march and rally in Montpelier was partly organized by the Occupies in Vermont, and we had our 2nd statewide General Assembly with Occupy people present from Rutland, Burlington, the Upper Valley, the NEK, and here in Central Vermont following the above on the steps of the State House to plan for our next actions.

  • David Van Deusen

    Vermont First Nation/Abenaki Leader Calls for Establishment of Tribal Forests and the Creation of a Popular Front of Peoples’ Organizations!

    May 1 Speech: Luke Willard, of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe,
    Vermont Sierra Club & Our Forest Our Future Campaign
    Put People & The Planet First Rally-Montpelier, 2012

    (The following speech was given by First Nation/Abenaki leader Luke Willard at the Put People and the Planet First Vermont May Day demonstration in Montpelier. This rally, largely organized by the Vermont Workers Center, made history by being the largest weekday demonstration in the long history of Vermont’s Capital City. Despite rain, cold, and a grey sky, and despite the fact that Montpelier has a population of only 7800 people, 2000 Vermonters marched to demand that the needs of the People and the Planet be valued over cooperate greed. (*Crowd size was given by the Vermont Workers Center who had counts conducted during the hight of the rally).

    In Addition to voicing support for Abenaki Rights, the rally called for healthcare for all, the right of all Vermont workers to form a union, justice for migrant farm workers, and more. 37 peoples’ organizations including the Occupy Vermont, Rural Vermont, VT AFL-CIO, 350 Vermont, the American Federation of Teachers, Vermont State Employees Association, United Electrical Workers, Industrial Workers of the World, International Socialist Organization, Red Cover Collective, and the Vermont Progressive Party endorsed the rally.)


    Hello Vermont Workers, Farmers, Environmentalists, Abenaki, and Revolutionaries!!!

    My name is Luke Willard. I’m the Chairman of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, a Firefighter and Rescuer, and I’m a Conservation Organizer for the Vermont Sierra Club and the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe in the Northeast Kingdom. Just over a year ago, I was here to celebrate the state recognition of the Nulhegan, of which I am a member, and Elnu Abenaki tribes, and I’m very happy to report that I will be here again six days from now to celebrate the state recognition of two more tribes… the Koasek and the Missisquoi!

    As a Conservation Organizer, it is my job to work at the grassroots level to encourage communities to create their own Town and Tribal Forests. We call it the OUR Forests OUR Future initiative… and we do not stand alone! So I give a shout out to the Vermont Workers Center, the AFL-CIO, 350 Vermont, and many others.

    So what is Our Forests Our Future? My people have known for centuries that the land we walk upon is a gift. From this land, my people were able to meet their every need while maintaining the health and beauty of the land we call N’dakinna in the Abenaki language. Today, most know it as the Green Mountain State… Vermont. Unfortunately though, this gift has been taken for granted.

    Greedy corporations, self interested out-of-staters, and even some Vermonters who have traded in their birthright for real or imagined swollen bank accounts, do not see the majestic mountains, and miles of forests. They do not see the herbs of spring, the bounties of late summer, and the colors of autumn. They do not hear the ripples of a mountain stream, the call of the loon, or the wind as it dances with leaves of a giant Vermont maple. They do not benefit from growing organic vegetables or the blessing of a deer or moose who sacrifices itself to complete the circle of life. They only see potential development, dollar signs, a place to put their pollution, and an investment in vacation home development for the wealthy who reside in lands far south of these green and rugged hills. These people, the enemies of Vermont’s working families, only hear what they want to hear. They only see the alleged benefit from the gain of elitist non-productive economic and political power, and they seek to exchange that which could serve the community, for the destruction that can only result from their personal gain. This is the challenge set before us as we, today, declare that a healthy and vibrant forest, a clean and sustainable environment, is a basic birth right of all Vermonters!

    My people, the Abenaki, also know that this planet is changing. Our climate is changing. But as we adapt to these changes, it is necessary for us to lend a hand to our four-legged friends so that they may adapt to our changing environment by establishing forested migration corridors particularly in the northeast so that animals have a safe route from the spine of the Green Mountains to the vast forests of northern New Hampshire, Maine, and Quebec. We propose doing so through the creation of a mosaic of new town and tribal forests!

    But let us not forget the two-legged creatures… you and me. Moms, Dads, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, and our greatest resource… our children. In exchange for our stewardship… yours and mine… Town forests and tribal forests can provide clean air to breath and clean water to drink. They can also provide essential food and medicines that haven’t been poisoned by synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and genetically modified organisms… Firewood for the disadvantaged and/or elderly… Cooperative maple sugaring… and a place for teachings our children the simplicity of sustainable living and stewardship!

    Last year, over 1500 people signed our petition for the creation of new town forests. These petitions were delivered to the Governor and leaders of the Vermont General Assembly. We are pleased to report that this year the Governor is supporting increased funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Fund. This year, though, we are circulating a new petition… one that will demonstrate Vermont’s overwhelming support for Tribal Forests! It is our intention, this summer, to deliver this petition to the Governor, and to work with the administration to secure the first true and new Abenaki forest in over 200 years!

    After 400 years of oppression, genocide, eugenics, and the near eradication of our culture and our people, it is time that the first Vermonters, the original Vermonters, the Abenaki, win back a meaningful piece of what was once all ours! We demand tribal-communal lands that we can hunt, fish, gather wood, and medicine. We demand a return of those tools of nature which were stolen from us generations ago. We do not stand before you today asking that we be become a ward of the state. No my fellow Vermonters; we stand before you today to demand that we be allowed the resources to not only safeguard our environment, but also to take care of our own people!! We are here today to declare that the time has come to establish Abenaki Tribal Forests in the Great State of Vermont!

    Let me be as clear as I can… We do not seek acceptance or recognition from a federal government which is marred in blood, war, imperialism (both abroad and at home), corruption, inaction, and failure. We do not seek rights to gambling or other vices. We simply seek to work with the State of Vermont in setting aside lands which we can preserve in its natural state, and work according to our traditions; those which predate 1492 and 1791. We seek a place in these Green Hills that we can, again, call our own!

    And here, we know we are not alone. We have been working with the Vermont Sierra Club and others represented in this crowd today to achieve these goals. We understand that our battle will only be won through a grand and united Popular Front composed of all those individuals and organizations who are gathered here today in solidarity! And in turn, we, the Nulhegan Abenaki, look forward to working with you to see that Vermont Put’s People and The Planet First!

    So, as the sun goes down over this failed empire of greed, we, the Abenaki people, the People of the Dawn, reach out our hand in friendship to all Vermonters; be they the sons and daughters of the Green Mountain Boys, the grandchildren of Quebecquoi immigrants, or more recent arrivals. Together we are Vermont Strong and together we will win!

    When I step down from this podium, I will have one goal and that is to collect your signatures showing your solidarity and support for the Abenaki people, tribal forests, preserving our environment and all those who inhabit it.


    *If you are a Vermonter, please go to the below link and sign the petition in support of Abenaki Tribal Forests!

    *If you live in Vermont, please go to the below link and download an Abenaki Tribal Forest petition and have your friends, co-workers, families, and neighbors sign!

    • Patrick Cashman

      Just to make sure I understand this initiative; Mr. Willard is advocating the use of public funds to purchase land that would then be gifted to a particular sub-set of Vermonters? That would seem directly counter to Article 7 of the Vermont Constitution; “That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community, and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single person, family or set of persons, who are a part only of that community…”

      I also have to wonder if his involvement in this initiative which would directly benefit himself while sitting as the chairman of a state commission at a minimum violates the intent of Governor Shumlin’s Executive Order No 3-53 on Executive Code of Ethics. From section II of that order “Thus, an appointee shall take all reasonable steps to avoid any action or circumstances, whether or not specifically prohibited by this code, which might result in: … (5) Using public office for the advancement of personal interest; (6) Using public office to secure special privileges or exemptions”.

  • Wendy Wilton

    Isn’t Bernie a 1% er?

    • Jason Farrell

      “You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a President encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent—and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent—you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.”

      “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.”

      – Mitt Romney, January 11, 2012 on “The Today Show” with Matt Lauer.

      I’d encourage you to follow Mitt’s advice, Wendy.

      Find a “quiet room” in which to speak of your desire to divide our country. Reject your impulse to engage in class warfare. You know, I think your question is about your envy of Senator Sanders and I’m not even running for President, for Pete’s sake!

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