A parent watching real life Hunger Games play out

By Jen Frank, Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee

Submitted as a local Letter to the Editor

Covid-19 has affected all aspects of life and community.  But, in reality, such a disaster has exposed the shortcomings of our country and painted a picture of our society as it functions today. Unfortunately, that picture is not pretty.  The virus (and the inappropriate handling of the pandemic) has dismantled the “taken-for-granted” structures in society. It has exposed social fragmentation and differentiated the value placed on certain lives and not others. 

Throughout this crisis, marginalized groups have been pitted against one another to serve the interests of the power holders. The divisiveness in society is amalgamated by stark divisions around those willing to wear a mask for the safety of others and those who believe individual liberty and autonomy are paramount. As a result, millions are out of work and at risk of homelessness, while another segment of the population has seen their fortunes skyrocket.  

As a parent, it has been disheartening (to say the least) to watch school boards and administration play street hockey with the lives of our children and teachers. It is like a real-life episode of the Hunger Games playing out in real time. Power holders are using children to test out the risks of a return to “normal,” without the security of proper safety protocols.  

As we all scramble to protect our families, our livelihoods, our health, and our children, we also need to review what the on-going pandemic has exposed in our society. We must re-evaluate if this is who we really want to be, as a country. My hope is that such a revelation might pave the way toward more inclusive, collectivist, and holistic approaches to healthcare and community.

City increases funding for police, Cuts essential services

By Larry Newbury, Montgomery County Healthcare Rights Committee

When the pandemic started, I was working two part-time jobs, one of which I no longer have due to the pandemic. The job I lost was a grant-based job I had with a local non-profit through the Philadelphia Office of Adult Education (OAE). As a result of the multi-month lockdown, the Philadelphia budget was drastically altered due to lack of tax revenues. One of the drastic alterations that Mayor Kenney made was the complete elimination of the Philadelphia OAE. The complete defunding of this service to the residents of Philadelphia was a devastating blow to the thousands of poor and immigrant communities hoping to make a better life for themselves.

If the Mayor was making cuts to the budget across the board, this action might have come with more understanding. But, if you have been paying attention to Philly politics, you are probably aware that there was controversy over the proposed increase in the police budget to the tune of fourteen million dollars. Only after much pressure from multiple fronts did the Mayor decide to redirect those funds. However, rather than direct those funds toward sorely needed social services, the Mayor decided to direct the funds in a manner that still funds the police, though it is through a backdoor method.

My job loss was a real blow and caused me personal distress. However, I still have my other part-time job, and thankfully my spouse is still fully employed. This experience has been incredibly eye-opening and transformative for me. Like many others, having my life downgraded as the result of a political decision has motivated me to be more engaged with political issues. If there is one positive outcome from my job loss, it is that it has reinvigorated my desire to continue to pursue work in social justice. I have come to an undoubting realization of our precarity in the U.S. system of political economy.

Organizing for human rights as a nurse, during a pandemic

By Priyank Jindal, Philadelphia Healthcare Rights Committee

When I was a kid, the community college near me was offering free LPN classes, so my mom enrolled and got her degree, eventually going on to get her RN. I remember her graduation vividly.  I saw women with their families proudly beside them and I, too, was so proud of my mom. Growing up, it meant a lot to see my mom practice her independence and go to work everyday. Later, both my sister and I followed in her footsteps to become nurses. 

At the beginning of the pandemic I saw myself, my coworkers and my peers putting our lives at risk to do our jobs. I also saw how the interests of capital and big business were put before the lives of people in such a concrete way. The world has the resources to make sure that everyone has medicine, food, and housing, but the economic system we live in doesn’t care. Our current system is based on extracting profit from us to make a select few very wealthy. These conditions have always existed, but the pandemic highlighted them in an unprecedented way. I have seen the brutality of a system that left imprisoned folks to contract COVID and die with no health precautions, evict people in the middle of a pandemic, and workers forced to leave their jobs with no union protection due to lack of PPE. As much as I was enraged I also felt helpless about the power we had as a group of dispossessed people to change these conditions. 

I have been involved with activist work since I was young – working for immigrants’ rights or working with youth. Once I became a nurse I found it harder to plug into organizing work, so it’s been several years since I’d been involved in a mass-based organization. Then, a  friend sent me Put People First! PA’s (PPF-PA) Statement and Demands on the COVID-19 Pandemic. The demands were very clear, comprehensive, and resonated with my own feelings of anger and helplessness. I started looking into the organization more and really liked PPF-PA’s orientation towards organizing the unorganized. I also felt that, as a nurse, it was my responsibility to use my position to organize my peers and coworkers around the conditions we were facing. 

It’s important to build strong organizations that are based on the needs of everyday working people. In times of crisis, like the pandemic, these organizations can provide us with a way forward that continues to build political clarity and political power of the dispossessed. We don’t have the vast resources of capital, but we do have the power of the masses. The current system is based on exploitation of our labor and it is a parasite that is dependent on us to survive. The only way we will harness our power to defeat the current socioeconomic system is to organize. Separate we are weak, but together, united in our actions, we can exert our power and overthrow the current system that dehumanizes us all. This is why I joined Put People First! PA. 

Always Forward, Never Back!!!

Harder than Surviving Cancer, My First Year Teaching Virtually

By Farrah Samuels, Philadelphia Healthcare Rights Committee

If anyone had told me that teaching online as a first year teacher during a pandemic would be harder than surviving a rare form of stage IV cancer, I would’ve laughed them right outta’ town! As a teacher, I never thought of myself as an “essential worker” until the start of this school year. Now, teachers are expected to work no matter what, without hazard pay nor accolades, and we get blamed for everything!

If teachers don’t teach, there’s no future, and we just can’t afford to stop making that investment. That in itself is a crisis and a public health emergency- a generation of youth with no voice nor the know-how to wield the power of their words. Thankfully, I haven’t had to work in dangerous conditions, yet, though it took the Philadelphia School District (SDP) a minute to get its act together. This was only because of SDP meetings with community leaders, advocates, teachers, and families that lasted into the wee hours of the night with almost 100% advocating for virtual learning . Many teachers are struggling, however; we are busting our asses to teach your children well, and our spirits are dying and crushed everyday! We are breaking down and crying as we look at each other on screens, becoming “Zoombies,” and try to maintain some sense of community.

In the small ways I’m able, I continue to advocate for PPF-PA, COVID-19 PPE and the health care we all need and deserve, while I am spending seventeen hours daily lesson planning and trying to maintain my sanity. In my spare time, I barely hold together a consulting practice, recently focused on helping homeless shelters in Philadelphia apply for COVID-19 funding that they desperately need to help our most vulnerable “street citizens.” But I am lucky. I haven’t had to get a COVID-19 test yet, and have been able to stay relatively comfortable in my homemade kitchen office/ makeshift classroom. My “estranged” husband (who’s currently staying with me due to the pandemic), however, has been in and out of the hospital and recently diagnosed with pneumonia. He has had repeated COVID-19 tests, trying to figure out what ailed him. I visited him several nights at Jefferson Hospital in dire fear every time I walked into the hospital doors, masked and armed with prayers. Hospitals are breeding grounds, but what do you do when you love someone and you don’t want to leave them to face the horrors of an illness alone?

As much as I love, care and would die for my PPF-PA comrades, out of respect for the work, I decided to take a semi-sabbatical from my coordination duties. I tried to hold it together, but I have no spare time as a first-year teacher, trying to connect to our kids through “ Hollywood Squares” on screen, with increasing demands from administrators who say they “get it” and talk about “grace,” and self-care like they are hills to die on, but then don’t actually offer any. How do I remain committed, competent, caring, and connected when I am burnt out and have no time for the beloved community that has helped to keep me going in these last five years of my life? I’ll be back in quiet seasons, in the summer, when the weather is nice, the sun is shining, my little feeble garden is growing, and school is out. But even from the periphery, I’m still as committed as ever to fight for the world we all deserve to live in, where healthcare is a human right.