Author’s Note: Over the summer, I became a member of Put People First! Pennsylvania to volunteer with the organization’s Media and Communications Committee. Currently, the organization is working on a Health Care is a Human Right organizing campaign that is working to bring universal health care to Pennsylvania. You can become a member by clicking here.
During his reign as a Railroad Baron in the mid 19th century, Jay Gould was quoted saying “I can pay one-half of the working class to kill the other half,” and with the financial role millionaires and billionaires play in modern day divide and conquer politics, that statement cannot be truer. At the second annual Put People First! PA membership assembly, one of Saturday’s breakout sessions revolved around combating divide-and-conquer strategies along racial lines within the working class. Event organizers invited Hazelton, Pennsylvania native, and University of Dayton professor, Jamie Longazel to give a detailed economic history dating back to the Lattimer Massacre up through the racial tensions of the mid 2000’s.
Before Longazel’s presentation, Put People First! PA field organizer Eliel Acosta invited Vermont Workers Center‘s James Haslam to speak about Vermont legislators – mostly moderate and conservative Democrats – trying to exclude undocumented workers from the state’s universal health care system. According to Haslam, the exclusion of undocumented dairy farm workers from the universal health care legislation was an issue the Vermont Workers Center staff and volunteers were preparing for and it was an issue that the organization was willing to risk the outcome of the campaign on. The Vermont Workers Center and the Migrant Justice Center were able to stave off the eleventh hour attack against undocumented workers, and that force of solidarity between the two organizations have made the Migrant Justice center one of the largest regional organizations helping migrant dairy farm workers.
After the presentation, the room split up into groups of four to five people talking about divide and conquer strategies. Our group raised interesting points that included the assimilation of Latinos and Hispanics into white culture by declaring themselves “white” on the latest census count and how white people should react and build bonds of solidarity with those living in Ferguson, MI and other areas that have witnessed the police killings of unarmed black men and women.
The audio clip below begins with the assembly singing “Which Side are You On” and then moves into the presentation of Hazelton’s untold history of racial tensions.