Because of the need for a variety of strategies to address systemic economic problems, the Peace & Justice Center has three distinct, yet interconnected programs – the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, Vermont Faith Communities for a Just Economy, and the Vermont Workers’ Center. Each program has its own organizing agenda and we work together on a common legislative agenda.
Here are some highlights from our efforts in 2001. As a result of hundreds of people involved in the community campaign supporting workers at Berlin Health & Rehab Center (the first private nursing home to unionize in Vermont), the State of Vermont is beginning to implement staffing standards for the nursing home industry. Livable Wage Resolutions passed at eighteen town meetings in March 2001, with about 10,000 voters considering the issue. Over 400 people attended Burlington’s first annual Labor Day Weekend Parade and Picnic 2001. In January 2001, public and private employees joined together at a statehouse rally that drew 250 people to support Green Mountain Power workers who were on strike and VT State Employee Association employees’ negotiating a contract. Both unions won contract settlements with the help of the VT Workers’ Center community campaigns. Vermont State College support staff launched a livable wage campaign and, with community support from the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, won wage increases up to 35% for the lowest paid workers, as well as reduced health care costs and more. Over 900 people across Vermont attended workshops offered by the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign on livable wages and economic inequality. Vermont Faith Communities for a Just Economy made presentations to over a dozen congregations, educating 250 people of faith on livable wage issues. And Vermonters sent 600 postcards and made over 150 calls to U.S. Senators in support of increasing the federal minimum wage $1.50 per hour. The Vermont Livable Wage Campaign printed a full-page advertisement advocating for this legislation.
The Racial Justice & Equity Project continues to make strides towards improving race relations in Vermont. The Project assisted about 30 people of color with job placement services, advice on how to handle workplace harassment, and advice about career development and job openings. One of the biggest barriers to the economic advancement of people of color in Vermont is access to jobs due to existing hiring practices.
The Project is working with a number of local employers to help recruit job applicants of color. Enlightened employers such as Verizon and Key Bank understand that in today’s multi-racial world, their employees must be representative of this reality.
We also continue to educate elected officials, school administrators and the media about the growing problem of racial harassment in our schools. To date, several hundred copies of the report on the problem, published by the Advisory Committee in Vermont for the US Civil Rights Commission, have been distributed around the state.
Our newly reenergized Peace & Human Rights Project works to connect Vermonters to global issues, through education, statewide and regional coalition building, demonstrations, and advocacy. This past year has focused on the campaign against National Missile Defense – known as the Vermont Campaign Against Star Wars. The campaign has identified the local and global dimensions of the issue and has developed a strategic plan for mobilizing Vermonters.
Since the terrorist attacks on September 11th and the subsequent military response against Afghanistan, the Peace and Human Rights Project has been the center of a lot of organizing activity. For over 3 months, we organized daily silent peace vigils, with 20 to 100 people regularly in attendance, to be a witness to the desire for a non-violent resolution to the conflict. We are collaborating with other global justice groups to mobilize a coordinated community response. And we are working on an alternative news resource book to connect US policy, defense plans and alternatives to war with the September 11th attack. Together with our Racial Justice & Equity Project, the Peace & Human Rights Project has reached a larger community, including high school students and teachers. The collaboration of these two projects has enriched and broadened the focus of the campaign and the response to the attack.
2002 was another whirlwind year for the Peace & Justice Center. After the devastating events of September 11th 2001, Vermonters looked to the Center and Store as never before. Throughout the year, many relied upon the PJC as a source of comfort, a place where they could stop by and discuss current affairs, a place where those who wanted to take action could come to meet and strategize. As bombs began dropping in Afghanistan, Vermonters looked to us for leadership in voicing dissent over our government’s response to the terrorist acts, and for an alternative view to the one-sided information the mainstream media provided.
Historic changes also occurred within the Peace & Justice Center. After 12 years of vision and leadership, Ellen Kahler made the decision to leave the Center to attend the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Chris Meehan started her tenure as the Executive Director of the Center in May after having worked in the anti-hunger field for over seven years.
Throughout this eventful year, many in our community realized just how important it is to concentrate on the interconnectedness of the PJC’s core issues of economic and racial justice, and peace & human rights. Issues of war, militarization, racism, workers’ rights, globalization, and classism are so closely intertwined.
Over the past year, the PJC’s core projects continued to work on social justice issues, locally and globally. Striving to improve the working conditions, wages and lives of low-income Vermonters, advocating for people of color, and mobilizing individuals to take action on issues ranging from racism in our schools to war were key areas of focus for the Peace & Justice Center this year.
Here are a few of the important accomplishments of the year: a successful conference on race and racism was held; the Peace & Human Rights Project organized the participation of Vermonters in the April 20th demonstration in Washington, D.C., where up to 100,000 people marched; the Burlington City Livable Wage Ordinance required that year-round city employees and employees who work for businesses that contract with the city be paid at least a livable wage; Forty-five livable wage activists gathered at “Making Our Voices Heard: The 3rd Annual Livable Wage Skill-Building Conference” in Rutland, VT. The conference featured keynoter Jen Kern, national livable wage organizer, and Vermont school support staff and health care workers; Phase 7 of the Vermont Job Gap Study was released; the Justice for Healthcare Workers Campaign was launched.
The PJC organized a day of reflection and celebration held to commemorate the first anniversary of September 11th. PJC connected with community groups and local schools to create peace prayer flags that were hung in Battery Park to spread a message of peace through the world. Local musicians, speakers, and over 200 community members came together to support our prayer for peace; the PJC quickly organized 300 people to demonstrate against the war during a visit to Burlington in September from Vice President Dick Cheney; and we successfully organized against a state resolution in favor of National Missile Defense. Also during this year, the Peace & Justice Store broke their sales record again while continuing to provide alternative, meaningful products and educational materials that foster cooperation, equality, and a sustainable society.
Burlington Anti-War Coalition meets regularly to strategize about what the next steps will be in response to a potential war with Iraq. PJC coordinated three buses down to DC – a total of 10 buses went from Vermont in January. In February PJC coordinated six buses to NYC (part of the twelve that went from Vermont) – the largest peace protests in the world occurred on February 15th. US attacked Iraq on March 20th.
- Successful march in Burlington on 3/22 with 4,000-5,000 people in attendance.
- PJC sponsored “Iraq & the Media” presentation at St. Michael’s College.
- PJC coordinated several groups to do a “sit-in” at Senator Leahy’s and Jeffords’ offices in early April. There were twenty-six people total – representing people of faith, professionals, parents, grandmothers, activists. Unfortunately, both Senators voted in favor of the supplemental war funding. Burlington Free Press did not cover it which prompted the group to do a “die-in” at the Free Press. It made the front page of Seven Days.
The PJC also issued a formal position statement on the impending War on Iraq.
PEACE & JUSTICE CENTER STATEMENT: Feb 2003 – NO WAR AGAINST IRAQ!
We oppose the impending U.S. led war on Iraq, which threatens to inflict vast suffering and destruction, while exacerbating rather than resolving threats to regional and global peace.
We oppose this war, whether waged unilaterally by Washington or by a UN Security Council coerced into endorsing an attack on the people of Iraq.
We agree that the threat of terrorism is real, but a war on Iraq will subsequently further destabilize the world and threatens the safety and security of the American people.
Low and middle-income people and families will bear the brunt of this war. The majority of US military personnel who will fight and die in this war will hail from these families. War funding will take billions of dollars away from domestic programs like education, health care, and social welfare which will disproportionately harm low and middle-income people.
We believe that the approaching war on Iraq will not bring democracy to the Iraqis. Instead, its aim is to expand and solidify US political, economic, and military power in the Middle East, and protect multinational oil interests at the cost of tens of thousands of civilian lives.
We support the Iraqi people’s right to self-determination and governance, and we recognize the current Iraqi administration, under Saddam Hussein, does not allow this. We encourage a democratic resolution, not a military one.
People in the United States can aid in this effort by building a strong peace movement and working to ensure that our government pursues a consistently democratic and just foreign policy.
Negotiations, inspections, and international diplomatic solutions have not been exhausted. Hence any military attack by the US violates the UN charter in spirit and in fact, and undermines the very basis for international law.
The alternative is a truly democratic foreign policy, which we support. Such a US policy can be realized by:
· Renouncing the use of military intervention to extend and consolidate US imperial power;
· Withdrawing US troops from the Middle East;
· Ending U.S. support for corrupt and authoritarian regimes;
· Taking multilateral verifiable steps toward renouncing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and vigorously promoting international disarmament treaties;
· Ending US sale of weapons and US sponsored military training all over the world;
· Supporting national self determination;
· Ending cruel sanctions;
· Abandoning IMF/ World Bank economic policies that bring mass misery to people in large parts of the world; and,
· Initiating a major foreign aid program directed at popular, not corporate needs.
A US government that carries out these policies will be in a position to honestly and consistently foster democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere.
End of position statement.
Minimum wage legislation passed. A $.50 increase took effect on Jan. 1, 2004 and then in 2005 another $.25 increase took effect. This brought the minimum wage to $7.00 – the fifth highest in the nation.
Phase 8 of the Job Gap Study was released in early December. Phase 8 included a two-page section on jobs, livable wages, poverty and race for the first time in Job Gap history and there was also a two-page section on gender.
The Burlington Anti-Racism Coalition (BARC) was created with a three part strategy: legislative, action, and study circles. The AWARE march occurred on January 15th in Montpelier with 100 people marching and 150-200 present inside the statehouse for a hearing on anti-racism/harassment legislation in schools. The Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held another round of hearings on February 14th to complete an update on their racial harassment in schools report.
The racial profiling group of BARC had a letter sent out from the Mayor of Burlington to Church Street merchants asking merchants to sign a pledge regarding racial profiling. Seventeen merchants signed the pledge.
Vermont Workers’ Center became independent of the PJC and became their own non-profit organization.
The year 2004 was the Peace & Justice Center’s 25th year!
In the spring, the PJC was a major organizer of The Another World is Possible Conference. Over 160 people attended the three-day conference. Guest speakers included: Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange and founder of Code Pink and Zia Mian, scholar from Princeton University; on the War at Home – Nancy Brown, Military Families Speak Out, Shujaa Graham, former Black Panther and death row survivor, and Amhed Shaki, Council on Arab-Americans and editor of International Socialist Review; on Building Another World, Betty Burkes, WILFP – National and Juan Carlos Vallejo, Colombian scholar in exile in the US.
The Vermont Livable Wage Campaign launched a new educational program for high schools based on the popular “Teaching Economics As If People Mattered” national curriculum. Eight high school teachers took part in piloting the curriculum during the 2004-2005 school year.
In September, VLWC organized a gubernatorial candidates forum focused on workers’ rights and livable wages. Over 400 Vermonters attended. Both candidates for Governor participated in the forum and fielded several questions on livable wages, health care, affordable housing and economic development.
In 2004 the Peace & Justice Center issued its first position statement on the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Click here for a history of the discussion this generated.
In January, the PJC co-organized the first Mountaintop Film Festival in Waitsfield. The film festival featured several human rights, peace and social change films.
With the advent of Hurricane Katrina and the enormous impact this disaster had on the Gulf Coast, the Peace & Justice Center issued a position statement on the US Government’s handling of the crisis.
PEACE & JUSTICE CENTER STATEMENT: Hurricane Katrina
The Peace & Justice Center (PJC) works on the intersecting issues of economic and racial justice, and peace and human rights. We have been deeply saddened by the reports of the loss and suffering of so many people resulting from this Hurricane and the response of the local, state and federal governmental systems in place to aid and protect people in such a serious and important time of need. The PJC offers our condolences to the survivors of the Hurricane.
PJC would like to reemphasize the lessons presented by this calamity:
Ø The poor, people of color, and people with disabilities (some of our country’s most vulnerable peoples) were disproportionately disregarded by the following: the federal government’s failure to respond in a timely and efficient manner and to provide appropriate aid and evacuation assistance; the federal government’s failure to address the known and fragile condition of the levees; the federal government’s failure to adequately fund the Flood Control budget, from which $71 million was cut in New Orleans last year alone.
Ø The Hurricane uncovered the economic, social, and racial inequities and injustices that continue to exist within our nation.
Ø Billions of dollars are spent on the war in Iraq and increased funding is designated for military/anti-terrorism homeland security resources at the expense of adequate preparation for natural disasters.
Ø We lament the hundreds of thousands of lives drastically and forever altered by the destruction and violence of the Hurricane and its aftermath, and by the level of response from the local, state and federal government.
Ø We recognize the unity and generosity of all residents of the State of Vermont, the United States, and the world, in the rebuilding of the survivors’ lives.
Ø We recognize that many of Vermont’s residents have been, at the very least, affected by this situation due to the impact on the price of gas and heating oil. Many more of us will feel the effect during the heating season, according to the preliminary winter fuel projection by the government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA estimates that we will spend 34% more for heating oil this winter than last, 52% more for natural gas, 16% more for coal, and 11% more for electricity. This will be a difficult winter for many low-income Vermonters.
Therefore, we want the following:
Ø Stop funding the war in Iraq and devote more national resources to protecting people from natural disasters, ending poverty, racism, and other economic and social inequities in our country.
Ø Provide the basic necessities to survivors of the Hurricane, including food, water, housing, and health care.
Ø Vermont’s policymakers and community leaders to address the underlying economic, social and racial injustices that exist, and that led to so many lives being disregarded.
Ø The state and federal government to respond to the anticipated crisis this heating season in Vermont by providing additional funding to programs that provide heating and fuel assistance to low-income Vermonters.
Ø The federal government to heed global climate changes predicted by almost all weather researchers and to take the necessary steps to adequately address this serious issue.
End of position statement.
The following years’ history can be read in the Annual Reports.