March to End State Violence; Fight for Human Rights, Aug 5, 2020

On Wednesday August 5th, 2020 Put People First! PA’s Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee called for a “March to End State Violence: Fight for Human Rights”. The purpose of the event was to hold all power holders accountable to ending state violence in all its forms and to refocus our community’s attention on fighting for our basic needs as our human rights. We called for an expansion of Medicaid to all, cancellation of the rents, reopening of closed hospitals, ending the deadly conditions in Lancaster County Prison, stopping police violence and an end to gentrification. The event was co-hosted by the Party for Socialism and Liberation- Lancaster, Unapologetic 717, Lancaster County Homeless Union, and the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. 

Despite the nonviolent nature of our action, there was a heavy police presence from the very beginning, following us throughout the march from a distance. Near the end of the march outside Senator Scott Martin’s office and across the street from the Lancaster City Police station, officers decided to approach and instigate us, which resulted in an escalation of the tension between the police and us and the impromptu decision of one of the protestors to engage in a spontaneous act of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience (NVCD). Two other protestors followed suit in solidarity. We want to underscore the fact that a nonviolent action that was against state violence was met by the state’s chief instrument of violence against us.

We endorse the demand that has already been put forth to drop all charges of those arrested  on August 5th, Jessica Lopez, Dylan Davis and Tiara Wolf. If the police had not come over to agitate these protestors would not have felt the need to engage in the spontaneous NVCD action by sitting in the road which then led to their arrest. We are also demanding the charges be dropped on Sabrina Espinosa, a nonviolent protester that was arrested in early June 2020 during the BLM protests in Lancaster, PA. 

The arrests that took place that day are an example of a common tactic used by the state throughout history to squash, divide and conquer, or co-opt a revolutionary social movement. We need to understand the role of police within our system. They are an instrument wielded by the ruling class to protect their capital and they are the enforcers of laws put in place by elected officials for the very same reason.

We must not allow ourselves to become distracted by their tactics and intimidation. Our march was a powerful action, boldly demonstrating the unity of the poor and dispossessed across all lines of division. We must remember what we were marching for and demanding that day from ALL levels of government and elected officials: end the war on the poor, end state violence in ALL its forms, and meet the needs of the people, our human rights! (Full list of Covid-19 demands) https://www.putpeoplefirstpa.org/coronavirus/ (Media Coverage of Action)https://www.penncapital-star.com/civil-rights-social-justice/weve-seen-the-devastating-effects-of-gentrification-lancaster-protest-focuses-on-housing-equity/

Protests alone are not a strategy, they are not the end of our struggle. They are a tactic and part of a larger strategy in the movement to end poverty and all the interlocking injustices. If we want to win against this system of oppression then we must get organized and develop into clear, competent, committed and connected leaders, across all lines of division. If we want to fight against actions of the police, we need to organize against the Powers That Be because that is for whom the police work. In order to win we must take down the whole system of oppression, not just a segment. 
If you’re interested in organizing for systemic change in the movement to end poverty and all the interlocking injustices sign up here to get involved and join us for our upcoming nation wide tactic, our Medicaid Marches which will take place the week of September 28.

Photo from Put People First! PA action in Johnstown

Recently, three incidents of state violence against people in need of healthcare have wracked Pennsylvania. Residents in physical and/or mental health crisis need medical attention, not police violence. These are only the most recent examples of our for-profit healthcare system discriminating against poor people, unhoused people, and Black people. To get involved in the fight for Healthcare As A Human Right and against state violence, go to www.putpeoplefirstpa.org

Philadelphia: On July 12th, an immunocompromised resident from the James Talib Dean (JTD) encampment on the Ben Franklin Parkway was sent from the medic tent to Jefferson Hospital because he was experiencing high fevers, nausea, vomiting and dehydration. The patient entered through the emergency department and was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of norovirus, a highly contagious and potentially fatal pathogen with symptoms matching that of the patient’s. The primary care team at the hospital was made aware that the patient was homeless and had been residing in the encampment.

Despite the diagnosis, the patient was discharged by the hospital to the street with no assistance for self-quarantine planning and given only bus tokens. This demonstrates an extreme lack of care for the public health of the citizens of Philadelphia.

Allentown: On July 11th, Allentown police officers held their knee on the neck of a man in medical distress outside of St. Luke’s Hospital Sacred Heart Campus. The Lehigh Valley Coalition for Equity is calling on on the DA to re-open the investigation, release the body cam footage, and release the names of the officers involved in the incident.

Johnstown: On June 17th two Johnstown Police Department officers brutally beat a 60 year old man suffering from a mental health crisis. Put People First! PA has organized a number of recent actions on state violence and is taking action again on August 1 to call on city officials to:
1. Create public health alternatives to policing in Johnstown
2. Hold the officers involved in George Corson Jr.’s beating accountable
3. Release the names of the officers who killed Elip Cheatham in 2012
4. Protect our human rights during the Covid19 pandemic, including the right to healthcare and housing

Right now – sign the petition to release the names of the officers who Johnstown officers who killed Elip Cheatham in 2012! bit.ly/Justice4Elip

Frances Gilmore

MontCo Healthcare Rights Committee co-coordinator Jacob Butterly responded to a last-minute request to help organize a rally in Norristown on Saturday, July 11th, to protest the privatization of the city’s sewage and wastewater treatment.  Requests came from Norristown Opposed to Privatization Efforts (NOPE) and BuxMont Democratic Socialists of America, both of which had tried since May to persuade the City Council not to approve the purchase agreement with AQUA America. Instead, the city rushed the deal through with virtually no public awareness.  The rally was part of an attempt to build public awareness and gather signatures on a petition that could send the deal back to the drawing board.

Speakers pointed out that the parent company of Aqua America has been aggressively buying up water utilities and now owns them in 8 states, and is the second-largest water utility in the country.  Aqua typically raises rates up to five-fold over pre-privatization rates.  

Jacob Butterly put privatization in a broad frame. “Corporate takeovers are part of the same system,” he said, “that drains our economy with endless wars, militarizes the police, and shrinks budgets for basic human needs, such as housing, healthcare, and education.  Corporations, accountable only to shareholders, are in effect waging economic war on the poor.” 

We did not gain enough signatures to overturn the deal, but our allies are planning to continue the fight with a ballot initiative in the fall.  Our HRC made several contacts among attendants, and formed a potential alliance with the two co-hosting groups.

Barbara White

On July 9th, the Campaign Team led 33 PPF-PA members and friends in a deep dive into the nature and importance of a Public Healthcare Advocate (PHA) for Pennsylvania.  Achieving legislation to create this statewide office is one of our two medium-term campaigns. PPF-PA conducts this campaign to organize our communities, develop leaders and hold power-holders accountable to our policy vision.

Nijme started off with background on how PPF-PA decided on this goal.  Her recent internal Facebook post explains:

Four years ago around this time we won the first ever public hearing on rising insurance premiums. Through a concerted campaign targeting the PA Insurance Department, we pressured using a petition, meetings with officials, call-in days, partner letters and other tactics.

Then the following year, we won not just one hearing, but statewide Town Halls as part of the rate review process. Across the state we received local press about how residents were calling for universal healthcare.

We learned that there is no one at the state level who fights for our healthcare rights, but insurance companies, hospital systems and other healthcare companies have lobbyists who have our state agencies on speed dial.

These successful campaigns which brought about more transparency, accountability and participation in the rate review process helped us sharpen our focus on building the Nonviolent Medicaid Army and the fight for a Public Healthcare Advocate!

Then PPF-PA Legislative Coordinator, Barbara White, explained how we’ve built momentum in the past year through our legislative visits.  HRC members have had 25 legislative visits, gaining full support or openness to the PHA from most Democrats, and some Republicans we’ve visited.  In the course of this campaign, many members have learned to develop briefs about the legislative records and campaign contributions of legislators, and detailed agendas to lead the legislators through our platform and goals, so our visits are well informed and carefully structured. The process has helped develop leadership among members, build relationships with legislators and teach us about how state government works.

PPF-PA Campaign Team Co-Coordinator, Borja Gutierrez, then led the group through the newly revised background document on the PHA (https://docs.google.com/document/d/14Q_xQ0DJh1u5bbPRMnjGQvN1aIwdoe3dxgTYVlsH-pY/edit) highlighting major issues, some of which are still under discussion, including:

  • The PHA would have power to investigate, prosecute or mediate violations of laws or policies, and should be in relationship with the state attorney general’s office;
  • The PHA would have broad power to “repair harm” caused by pre-existing or new situations;
  • The PHA would communicate between the eight agencies which have some jurisdiction over healthcare, but which currently don’t coordinate or communicate with each other.  This could be all important in emergency situations such as the pandemic;
  • PHA legislation would create a Community Advisory Board, including stakeholders such as PPF-PA, to lift up the needs of poor & dispossessed working class people in PA.

Then followed group discussion of concerns, such as funding models, relationship to the AG, and how this campaign could dovetail with defunding and demilitarization demands, for state police and state prisons, and those funds could go to the PHA.  Barbara explained that the Campaign Committee is working to step up the legislative campaign with more trainings on legislator briefs, and more legislative visits. 

Finally, small breakout groups met to try to figure out how the PHA would address specific  situations hurting people in Pennsylvania. The small groups discussed:

  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do to advance the organizing around the cancer cluster in Southwest PA (and water and land contamination that poses a public healthcare threat)?
  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do to advance the demand to release prisoners during COVID19?
  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do to defend undcoumented people who are experiencing a health crisis when they are threatened with deportation?
  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do about closed hospitals?
  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do to advance the fight to restore the adult dental benefit in Medicaid?  
  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do to protect workers during the COVID19 crisis/the re-opening?
  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do about the opioid crisis?
  • What would the Public Healthcare Advocate do to advance the fight for housing as healthcare?