Building a Poor People’s Movement for Our Right to Healthcare
Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative News Bulletin
The Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative is a coalition of people’s organizations working state by state to win universal, publicly financed health care and build a society that puts people’s needs ahead of profits. Check out our website for more info, and subscribe to this newsletter here.
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This week we’ve been hit with an onslaught of bad news. Thousands of immigrant children are still detained and separated from their families, and the Supreme Court has validated Trump’s Muslim ban and attacks on unions and workers. But news and history aren’t just things that happens to us: they are things that we can shape and create. People’s movements are as important now as ever. All over the country and around the world, people are taking collective action to challenge injustices, proclaim our values, grow democratic institutions, and shift power from self-serving corporations and individuals to everyday people. Here’s the latest news and history we’re creating in our Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns for universal, publicly financed healthcare and an economy and society that put people ahead of profits.
Poor People’s Campaign
Fifty years after the original Poor People’s Campaign, we have joined with allies to launch a new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC). In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights leaders led the Poor People’s Campaign to demand a real war on poverty, full employment, guaranteed wages, and affordable housing. Today poverty, joblessness, the shortage of affordable housing, and the denial of healthcare are as urgent as ever.
Put People First! Pennsylvania (PPF-PA) has taken a leading role in Pennsylvania’s Poor People’s Campaign, turning out members to all six days of action at the State House during the PPC’s 40 days of action in May and June, and culminating in a march on Washington on Saturday, June 23.
At a June 4 rally in Harrisburg, PPF-PA member Tammy Rojas spoke about her inability to afford dental care—and her consequent development of advanced periodontal disease—because access to dental care is not always covered through Medicaid or private insurance.
“Things must change now,” said Tammy. “We need universal healthcare now. There is no reason why in the richest country we should suffer—or worse, die—simply because we lack the funds for the care we need.”
In Vermont, the Vermont Workers’ Center led a 200-person Medicaid March in St. Johnsbury in Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom region. The march is part of the Workers’ Center’s growing presence in the Northeast Kingdom and its statewide push to protect and expand Medicaid.
Read more: For more photos, videos, and on-the-ground the reports from Harrisburg, St. Johnsbury, and Washington, check out Put People First! PA’s and the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Facebook pages.
At the same time as the “Medicare for All” movement for universal, publicly financed healthcare grows across the country, our existing publicly financed healthcare systems are under attack. The Veterans Administration is being threatened by privatization, and poor and working-class people who rely on Medicaid are facing a systematic assault. Eighteen state governments are currently pursuing “work requirements” and other measures designed to push people off of Medicaid, and several states’ proposals have already been approved. Billed as an effort to incentivize supposedly lazy people to work, these measures are in fact the continuation of a decades-old effort to shrink public programs by blaming poor people for structural poverty, and doing so in a way that creates mistrust and division between communities by labeling Black people, immigrants, and poor and working-class women as undeserving. (For more on this history, see NESRI’s recent report, A New Social Contract.)
In Maine, though voters voted 2-to-1 in November to expand Medicaid, Governor Paul LePage is refusing to implement the expansion and is simultaneously seeking federal permission to impose work requirements, asset disqualifications, premiums, co-pays, lockout periods, and burdensome paperwork requirements in order to push people off of Medicaid and make it difficult for new people to enroll. The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is fighting back. As Maine Equal Justice Partners prepares a lawsuit to challenge the validity of LePage’s proposal in court, the Workers’ Center will be organizing Medicaid enrollees, their families, and allies to resist the attacks and build power to win an expanded, more robust Medicaid program for poor and working people in Maine.
In Pennsylvania, Put People First! PA is raising a nonviolent Medicaid Army hold power-holders accountable to defending and protecting Medicaid. PPF-PA is also working with allies to demand that the State reinstate adult dental benefits, which it stripped from Medicaid through an administrative decision in 2011. As PPF member Tammy Rojas said in her speech in Harrisburg, “We will no longer accept the lie that our teeth are a separate part of our body and have nothing to do with our overall health. … We need a comprehensive adult dental benefit in Medicaid now.”
Read more: Put People First! PA published a Statement on Attacks on Medicaid and SNAP and Erie, Pennsylvania, resident Colten Osborne shared a personal testimony, “What work requirements for SNAP and Medicaid would mean for me.”
Movement Building with Our Allies
While many of our members marched on Washington with the Poor People’s Campaign on June 23, Tammy Rojas and Laile Wilson from PPF-PA and Ben Palmquist from NESRI traveled to Minneapolis for the Single Payer Strategy Conference, where they joined allies from Healthcare NOW!, the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, National Nurses United, and many other organizations. Tammy, Laile, and Ben teamed up with PNHP New York Metro, the Campaign for New York Health, and Democratic Socialists of America to present two workshops on strategies for building a multiracial, feminist, pro-immigrant, pro-poor movement for universal healthcare. Ben also facilitated a panel on building deep, strategic partnerships between labor and community organizations. He was joined by speakers from PNHP New York Metro, the California Nurses Association, Health Care for All Oregon, UE, and the Workers’ Education Society.
In Portland, Maine, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center is helping lead a campaign to push the city to require employers to provide paid sick days to Portland workers. The effort bridges the Workers’ Center’s Healthcare Is a Human Right and Work with Dignity campaigns, and is bringing the Workers’ Center into coalition with Equality Maine, Maine State Nurses Association, MaineTransNet, Maine Women’s Lobby, Portland Outright, Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America, and the South Sudanese Community Association of Maine.
Meanwhile the Vermont Workers’ Center has been working in solidarity with nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC), the state’s largest employer, who are organizing through the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals to implement safe staffing ratios as well as living wages and safe working conditions for nurses and all hospital employees. In June, 94% of voting UVMMC nurses elected to authorize a strike if necessary when their contract is up on July 9th. As the Workers’ Center recently reported, “Hospital management, however, is so far refusing to budge – despite running $38 million over budget last year and paying $10.7 million to their top 15 executives alone.”
Read more: Notes from the Single Payer Strategy Conference are available on the conference’s wiki site.