Ellen Schwartz: A political revolution in Vermont

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ellen Schwartz, who lives in Brattleboro and is president of the Vermont Workers’ Center.

On Town Meeting Day, 115,000 Vermont residents came out to support Bernie Sanders, propelling him to a resounding Democratic primary victory in every Vermont municipality. Nationally, Bernie’s campaign message of tackling inequality by taking on the “billionaire class” is resonating with voters from Michigan to Colorado, as is his political platform of fighting for universal public goods like higher education and health care, a $15 minimum wage, and racial, gender and environmental justice.

Unsurprisingly, Bernie’s insurgent progressive vision is facing serious pushback from the Democratic Party establishment, which has focused its energy on attacking his plan for a universal health care system that treats health care as a human right. From CNN to The New York Times, we’re told that Bernie’s proposals just aren’t economically feasible, that it would be too great an economic shock to treat health care as a public good as so many other developed nations do.

If this argument sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same one Gov. Peter Shumlin used last winter when he abandoned Vermont’s move toward public financing for universal health care — which by his own estimates would increase net incomes for 93 percent of Vermont families by reducing their overall health care costs. Why would a governor unilaterally drop a plan that benefits nine out of 10 people in our state?

 Despite the confusion about health care in the public narrative, the outpouring of support for Bernie’s campaign shows that the public is ready to take profit and inequity out of health care.


From Washington to Montpelier, the political elite understand all too well that equitable financing for universal health care requires raising revenue from those who can afford it through progressive taxes on income and wealth. For politicians who count big corporations and the wealthy among their advisers, this presents a choice: raise taxes on powerful political insiders or continue with the agenda of “austerity,” which is cutting or privatizing public goods and driving record inequality.

We know which choice our current governor has made. But what about those candidates riding Bernie’s coattails who are currently running for statewide office? Will they have the political courage to address the crisis of inequality by following through with equitable financing for Vermont’s universal health care system?

One way or another, when the current candidates take office in 2017, it’s likely that many of us will still be struggling to meet our health care needs as we wade through the insurance-based system, with its differential tiers of coverage, deductibles, co-pays, and excluded care. Despite the confusion about health care in the public narrative, the outpouring of support for Bernie’s campaign shows that the public is ready to take profit and inequity out of health care.

What will it take to bring Bernie’s political revolution home to Vermont? People respond to Bernie’s campaign because he lays out true aspirations — rather than the continued litany of settling for what is deemed politically possible. It’s no coincidence that his platform echoes demands advanced by independent social movements like Fight for $15, Not1More Deportation, and Healthcare Is a Human Right, and by activists for racial justice and climate justice. It’s also no coincidence that he mentions the “millionaires and billionaires” in every speech. He is clear that his vision puts him at odds with those who profit from the status quo.

Whether Bernie is able to move his agenda within the Democratic Party remains to be seen, but I hope that his campaign ignites candidates in Vermont to have the courage to pull back the curtain on the austerity myth and say what so many people already know: that what stands between us and livable wages, universal health care, affordable child care, racial justice, gender justice, and a planet inhabitable for the future is, quite simply, political will.

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  • Eddie Fisher

    Ellen Shwartz, Simple one sentence answer ….. Who gets to pay for it All ? All the free nationalized whatever ? When did it become right to expect something everyone else has to pay for .

    • Paul Donovan

      If we went back to the tax rates of the 1950s, we’d have plenty of money.

      • Randy Jorgensen

        Those rates were mostly in place to pay for the war. Which should have been done for the last one as well.

    • Lee Russ

      “something everyone else has to pay for”—-???? Everyone pays and everyone gets the benefits.

  • Kim Fried

    Ellen, you better hope that the present Montpelier political “elite” have nothing to do with future health care or we will experience the same failed, mismanaged system that the citizens of Vermont are “attempting” to live with right now.

  • Craig Powers

    Ms. Schwartz…please put up a true Progressive candidate for Governor and see what happens! Oh that’s right…Progressives cannot win the governorship based solely on its own ultra lefty left platform. Need more evidence…your savior (Bernie) just had his butt handed to him Tuesday, running on the same unsustainable ultra left platform.

    The VWC and the Progressives were responsible for voting in Shumlin in 2010. You tried to play rainmaker and were cast aside at a later date. One would think you had learned from past mistakes. Guess not…

    Keep dreaming about having others pay for everything you deem is a “right”.

    • Lee Russ

      “ultra lefty” “savior (Bernie)” “keep dreaming” Nothing like a reasoned debate.

      In the same vein, try getting an “ultra righty” elected governor on an ultra righty platform.

      And in universal, publicly financed healthcare, everybody pays, not “others” and everybody gets benefits–kind of like Medicare.

      • Craig Powers

        Reasoned debate?

        Squawking every five minutes that most of our country’s ills should be blamed on millionaires and billionaires is reasonable? This is nothing more than populist class warfare used to whip up anger and jealousy against many successful people (and organizations) who have worked very hard. It really is time that the VWC, and other “social justice” organizations, look inward and help their members to finally help themselves and stop blaming some phantom “rigged” system. All I ever hear from them is the blame game. It is always someone else’s fault that success could not be achieved. All the tools to succeed in life are there Mr. Russ. Why so afraid to admit that those tools are working for many in our country?

        I agree that Universal healthcare should be a goal. What should not be a goal is having a small percentage of the population pay more based on some kind on income test. That is what your organization has consistently lobbied for since the healthcare is a human right campaign was launched. If everyone pays the same (nice and fair), that would be fine…but every time your pen goes onto paper, you advocate for progressive taxes to finance your new system. Maybe on national level that could be achieved but the evidence for a state based system showed it would have wrecked our economy and imploded under its own weight in less than 5-10 years. Still the cries for making the “rich” pay come forth.

        For the record, I would not support an ultra-righty governor for VT.

  • Ed Fisher

    Bernie Sanders Ideologies ARE the reason for the demise of the middle class ! The very things he “stands for ” , Letting the middle class pay for it all ! The welfare-entitlements bubble is about to burst and with it goes the remainder of the middle class ! Reality shows that about eight more years and there won’t even be a middle class .. Want to reclaim middle class standards , Fire the Bern ! In Vermont the only middle class left over has been that of those feeding at the public troth . .Teachers , university professors , the state employees , welfare , Could somebody point out other middle class jobs in Vermont ? ………. That’s just what thought .