Pennsylvania has joined Vermont, Maine and Maryland in the fight for universal, publicly financed health care. At its first annual membership assembly, Put People First! PA, an organization of people uniting to meet their fundamental needs and win human rights, voted to launch Healthcare Is a Human Right as its first campaign.
Richard Gibson, a Philadelphia student who attended the assembly, explains how crucial an issue health care is: “I don't even know where to begin. People can't afford it. I don't have health care myself. I can't go to the hospital because I'm afraid of getting a bill. I would be even if I had health insurance. It's just a monumental issue.”
Put People First! PA (PPF-PA) was founded in 2012 by a group of long-time organizers deeply rooted in the state of Pennsylvania. The founders were moved by the Vermont Workers’ Center’s use of human rights principles as the foundation for all its work and by its deep commitment to community organizing. PPF-PA, like organizations in Vermont, Maine and Maryland, is committed to addressing the broad range of human rights issues in its communities, but also recognizes that the health care crisis unifies people around a vision for satisfying human needs through public goods.
Keon Liberato, a PPF-PA leader, explains that this commitment to organizing is not simply a campaign tactic, but a core part of PPF-PA’s vision. “If we want to make any significant changes in terms of social justice, we've got to do it ourselves,” says Liberato. “More than anything else it requires lots of on-the-ground meeting people face-to-face and door-to-door in order to build relationships so people can work together in order to articulate what a socially just society would look like.”
Over the past year, PPF has begun doing just that. Starting with a Martin Luther King Day launch and mass meetings in Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, PPF-PA has been building a base of grassroots leaders and people are responding. Facing challenges meeting their fundamental needs but excited about the power of collective action, people have come together to form Organizing Committees. Set up and run by locals, these Organizing Committees are the backbone of the organization. In twice-monthly meetings, leaders come together to plan outreach to their neighbors and actions in their communities.
Gibson says that he’s found this approach refreshing. “Usually it's talk, talk, talk, but with Put People First it's listen first. You take everybody's experience into account and then you come to a consensus on what works for everybody.”
PPF-PA, like organizations in Vermont, Maine and Maryland, is committed to addressing the broad range of human rights issues in its communities, but also recognizes that the health care crisis unifies people around a vision for satisfying human needs through public goods. Liberato explains, “What I like about Put People First is it's not a single issue organization. We're starting with healthcare – but it's about building a social justice movement including housing, education, and other things we all need.”
NESRI congratulates PPF-PA and its leaders across the state and invites you to get involved.