Vt. Activists Join National Campaign to Target Poverty

In capital cities in more than 30 states Monday, demonstrators called for a new national focus on ending poverty, saying it is immoral to allow tens of millions of Americans to remain stuck and suffering.

In Vermont's capital city, Montpelier, activists temporarily shut down busy State Street in front of the Statehouse, demanding an end to poverty and what they termed systemic injustices that keep people down — such as racism and gender inequality.

Police set up detours for traffic while the protest took over a crosswalk on State Street.

"People are taking a stand and saying we can't be silent any more," said Amanda Sheppard of the Vermont Workers' Center. "Poverty has gone on too long, and we can't keep fighting the poor — we have to fight poverty."

Their call was part of the national Poor People’s Campaign, which aims to revive the unfinished work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The issue of income inequality is fresh again in Vermont, with Republican Gov. Phil Scott now considering whether to veto or authorize a bill passed by the legislature that would raise the minimum wage in the state to $15 an hour by 2024, along with additional legislation to create paid family leave policies for many workers.

"I feel strongly this would have unintended consequences that wouldn't be good for Vermont," Gov. Scott said Monday when asked by necn affiliate NBC 5 News about the minimum wage bill.

Scott has been critical of the proposals, saying he doesn't want new burdens on taxpayers.

The governor also has said he worries that small business owners simply won't be able to shoulder additional costs.

"When they have to compete against tax-free New Hampshire, that'll put a lot of businesses out of business," Gov. Scott warned.

Demonstrators at the rally in Montpelier encouraged the governor to authorize the minimum wage and paid family leave legislation.

"There are many people in Vermont who are working one, two jobs and yet still are not able to meet the basic human needs of their family," said rally participant Bishop Tom Ely of the Vermont Episcopal Diocese. "This is not about people being lazy. This is about people not having enough money to live in this state."

After more than 45 minutes, the demonstrators cleared State Street without any problems, allowing normal traffic flow to resume.

The group also pledged to keep up the fight for what they see as economic justice, and related causes of racial and gender equality and environmental protection.

Other actions are planned in Vermont communities over the next several weeks as tie-ins to the national Poor People's Campaign, an organizer said.

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