Authors Note: Over the past summer, I became a member of Put People First! Pennsylvania, an organization that is dedicated to organizing working class citizens across the Commonwealth. The organization is currently focused on a “Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign,” and I am happy to announce that I am a volunteer for their Media and Communications team. I will be assisting the organization with writing blogs on healthcare issues in Pennsylvania, social media outreach and other tasks. You can become a member (which you should) by clicking on the following link. Here is my first article for Put People First! PA
While I was an intern in Harrisburg during the Spring 2013 semester, my friends from the Occupy Harrisburg movement told me about Put People First! Pennsylvania. At the first meeting I attended at the Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, I found myself talking about a personal situation where I stood up for myself or someone else. Even though I wasn’t expecting to, I ended up sharing about myself and learning about the other people there. Over the next three months, I became a believer in the organization because no one else in the state was looking at organizing working class people in rural and urban Pennsylvania. Most of the other organizations I was accustomed to were geographically focused on their region, usually Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.
This summer I became a member and got involved with the Media and Communications Team. A couple of months later, I was granted an amazing opportunity to travel to Vermont with Put People First! PA organizers Alia Trindle, Eliel Acosta and new Put People First members Eboni and her mother Selena. The focus of our trip was to support the Vermont Workers Center at a crucial moment in their struggle for implementation of Green Mountain Care – the universal health care system that they were able to establish because of their grassroots Health Care is a Human Right Campaign. We were joined by members and organizers from Maryland and Maine’s Health Care is a Human Right Campaigns.
The Vermont Workers Center began organizing their Health Care is a Human Right Campaign in 2008 and didn’t go public with the campaign until May Day 2009. With a few years of dedication to base-building in counties across the state, the Workers Center was able to build a grassroots campaign and pressure their public officials to take up this initiative. By 2012, they reached their goal and Green Mountain Care was signed into law by Governor Peter Shumlin and would go into effect in 2017.
As someone living in Pennsylvania, I and many others look at Vermont as this “utopia” where people get what they want when they want it, but within the first hour of our strategy session that preconceived notion was turned on its head.
During one of our strategy meetings, Matt from the Vermont Workers Center gave a brief background on their campaign and then proceeded to explain the challenges of implementing Green Mountain Care in 2017, which is when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows states to innovate their own health care systems. Members from the Workers Center began to explain how Senator Shumlin took up the health care in 2010 as an ambitious politician seeking higher office. During his tenure, Governor Shumlin could be compared to Governor Tom Corbett with his cuts to public education and other health care systems and this had organizers worried that in order to fund Green Mountain Care Governor Shumlin would take funding from other public programs.
The rest of the day focused around communications and canvassing. At the end of the day, our group, which consisted of 20-25 people, helped Workers Center organizers by making phone calls for health care meetings and town halls throughout the state. Our group made close to 775 phone calls in a two hour period and had at least 75 to 100 people commit to attending their local meetings. On the second day I was there, we were paired up with volunteers from the Workers Center and went door-knocking throughout the Burlington region. Our goal was to gather petition signatures asking the governor and the Vermont legislature to come up with a responsible plan for the implementation of Green Mountain Care.
I have had over a month to reflect on this trip and what I am thinking and writing now were a lot different than what I was thinking in the heat of the moment. At the time, our marathon session with 20 to 25 people crammed in a room talking about this issue seemed like a bunch of gibberish and people throwing different ideas out in the open to see what would stick, but looking back on it, this was an extremely enlightening experience because meetings and strategy sessions like this is how organizers and members with the Southern Maine Workers Center, Maryland’s Health Care is a Human Right Campaign and Put People First! Pennsylvania make this campaign an actual reality.