4/18 The Drive Towards Justice continues: Getting legislative support for Driver's Licenses through grassroots action

An atmosphere of positive energy and a sense of organized chaos coated Room 10 of the State House on Wednesday, April 18th as more than 60 migrant workers, farmers, and community allies gathered to celebrate passing S-238, the study committee on drivers licenses, as a significant step towards building a movement for drivers licenses for all Vermont residents next year.

We kicked off the morning with a teach-in and constant revolving door of legislator visits who had been flooded with notes from constituents invited to come join us.

While first time attendees participated in the teach-in, seasoned workers and community allies met with legislators seeking to drum up support for a driver's license bill next year. And it worked! We moved several new legislators to declare that they would fight with us until we had a victory!

During the teach-in, Abel Garcia, farmworker leader from Craftsbury, shared that a driver’s license would allow him to see his family more often. “My son lives 50 miles away but I’ve only visited him a few times”. Senator Baruth and Senator Kittell highlighted that he and his colleagues were moved to support the migrant workers’ plight upon hearing Danilo’s personal testimony of being in a farming accident and going without treatment because he couldn’t drive to a hospital. Natalia Fajardo of Migrant Justice explained the importance of the day, emphasizing that many more legislators need to be moved, like Senators were, in order to build the necessary support to pass a driver’s licenses bill and to embrace migrant workers as neighbors and community members. Farmer Phyllis Bowdish explained that her farm worker employees are like family to her. Rev. Will Burhans complemented, “this is an issue of human rights for my congregation”. Secretary of State Chuck Ross closed off the panel sharing how crucial migrant workers are to Vermont’s agriculture.

We then broke into regional groups and role-played how to win over legislator support with farmworker leaders acting as spokes people for each group.

Charged with the mission to ensure that every decision maker understand the need for driver’s licenses for migrant workers, Migrant Justice members filled the cafeteria halls and tables to talk with legislators over lunch. This was the first time many Representatives heard directly from migrant workers and also the first time many up-and-coming migrant worker leaders shared their personal stories to garner more legislative support. One representative downplayed the importance of a driver’s license by telling a farm worker that charity could work instead of justice, “I can give you a ride when you need it and so can church groups”. He responded “Will you be willing to drive me at 5 am? I want to be independent.”

Our actions and presence at the State House made such an impression on the legislative bodies, that we were introduced by Republican Rep. Yantachka of Charlotte on the House Floor and recognized by all Representatives present. (See video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyOalQRK6jE)

This inspiring day ended with a victory rally at the State House steps, celebrating our accomplishments but staying mindful of the long road ahead. This summer and fall we need to build a movement to debunk misconceptions about immigrants, solidify public support, and seize this opportunity for Vermont to advance human rights for all. Please join us on May 1st, help us organize trainings this summer, and continue to shape public debate until we ensure that all our neighbors have equal human rights to freedom of movement in VT

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