Members from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative have been speaking out in a powerful series of statements on what it means to organize a people’s movement that is grounded in human rights and that actively works to dismantle racism and other systems of oppression. Many of the pieces were a direct response to racist, anti-immigrant narratives that Donald Trump and others are spreading, narratives that promote hate by abusing very real fears and struggles that so many people in the U.S. are facing in an economy designed to concentrate profits instead of meeting human needs.
- “Answering This Moment: Poor White Folks & Organizing in Maine“: Drawing on their family’s struggles as poor white people, a member of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center takes a powerful stand against racist narratives blaming refugees and people of color for poor white communities’ very real struggles, and challenges white organizers in particular to build trust in poor white communities by getting to know people not from a place of judgment, but with humility, empathy and “a practice that seeks to move and be moved, on all sides.” They close by posing ten strategic question for our movements.
- “Rejecting racism and uniting for our human rights“: In an op-ed widely published in Vermont papers, Vermont Workers’ Center member Avery Book reflects on the struggles of poor and working class people like his father, and concludes, “we must reject the divide and conquer rhetoric, and come together all across Vermont to fight against the billionaire class for a Vermont and world where every person’s human rights are met and we all can thrive.”
- “Refuge, Reason and Resolve“: In response to alarming hostility to refugees from Syria in her home state, Put People First! Pennsylvania member Nijmie Dzurinko honors the severe struggles that poor and working class people in Pennsylvania are facing, and says, “We have to ask ourselves, are the Syrian refugees the source of these problems? … The only way to get what we need is to stop blaming each other and come together. By doing this, we can begin to understand how we got here and what we need to do to change it.”
- “Organizing Our Whole Selves”: VWC member Jonathan Kissam and PPF-PA member Karim Sariahmed reflect on the strategic questions posed by the organizers of the Single Payer Strategy Conference in the fall, and argue that to win universal, publicly financed health care, we need to project a big-picture moral vision, we need to build relationships, and we need to organize whole people.
- “Bernie Sanders can talk universal health care, but we have to make it happen”: In response to renewed national attention to universal, publicly financed health care brought by Bernie Sanders’ run for president, NESRI’s Ben Palmquist argues that the only way to win is by building a people’s movement with a bold moral vision—a movement led by thousands upon thousands of deeply engaged, organized, and politicized grassroots leaders.
- Statement of solidarity from the Southern Maine Workers’ Center: “At SMWC, we believe in the value and importance of racial justice organizing that is multi-faceted, multi-racial, and that makes a direct call to white people to participate in dismantling white supremacy. There are moments in our lives when we must declare ourselves on the side of racial justice, on the side of human rights… But conversations and invitations are not enough. We must also be pushing for solutions from power-holders.”
- Statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter: In case you missed it, in late 2014 the Vermont Workers’ Center and its partners in the Vermont Human Rights Council issued this statement of support for Black Lives Matter.
The Southern Maine Workers’ Center’s new Springvale Organizing Committee is continuing to establish itself and build its presence in York County. The Organizing Committee is planning its first potluck and story share event this month.
Since launching its Healthcare Is a Human Right survey in December, SMWC has already collected 400 surveys, well on its way to its goal of 1,000. SMWC members launched the survey in December by fanning out to seven coffee shops in ten different towns to survey people, and on February 20th members will be heading to public libraries around the state for a campaign event called “Book It to 1,000 Stories.” The event is part of SMWC’s push to meet its 1,000-survey goal before the summer, when it plans to produce a human rights report on health care in the state. Please share the online survey link with anyone you know in Maine.
SMWC is also strengthening its partnerships with other organizations in the state. At the January 30th HCHR member meeting, the members met with Portland Needle Exchange to strategize together on how to organize with folks who are experiencing addiction, and with the partners who serve them. The meeting was part of a new strategy to use member meetings as a way to build relationships and develop strategic partnerships with other organizations. SMWC is also teaming up with Maine AllCare to lead a workshop at this year’s Maine Quality Counts Conference on the power of storytelling and surveying in developing health care reform strategies and solutions.
Put People First! Pennsylvania (PPF-PA) hosted a weekend-long strategy retreat in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania to make plans for 2016. Members from of all of PPF-PA’s working teams and local organizing committees attended the retreat along with partners from NESRI and the Kairos Center. Through a series of meetings and planning sessions, the group set goals and timelines for the year, tackled strategic questions across teams, deepened its commitment to grassroots fundraising, and studied economic structures and historical struggles for justice to inform the HCHR campaign.
PPF-PA has submitted comments to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department requesting that the Department hold public hearings and take a number of other steps to bring transparency, accountability and public participation to the process by which the Department approves insurance premium increases each year. The Department approved premium increases of up to 27% for this year. The premium increases were based on requests made by insurance companies, but the Department did not hold any public hearings or offer the public meaningful way to participate in the process.
In the months ahead, PPF-PA will be hiring new organizers in Central and Southwestern Pennsylvania, building out organizing committees, rolling out new base building strategies, advancing its leadership development and leadership across difference projects, meeting with legislators, producing a report, launching a new round of its health care survey and more.
The Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) is using a new survey to connect with people around the state. The survey asks people about health care, their experiences in the workplace and encounters with discrimination. Early findings are revealing that people in Vermont are still struggling to access their health care, and that people’s health care struggles are tied up with low pay, lack of respect on the job, and the high cost of housing.
VWC is working with its allies on the Vermont Human Rights Council to build towards a second People’s Convention and Just Transition Assembly April 30 – May 1. The convention will bring together hundreds of people to discuss how to align efforts and build towards a common vision for human rights and ecological stewardship in Vermont. The Vermont convention is one of a series of conventions happening around the country. VWC partners and allies from other states are encouraged to attend.
This Friday, the VWC will be supporting a black-led day of events at the State House to mark Black Lives Matter Day, which Vermont is recognizing on February 12 by proclamation of the governor.