Felicia Lance
by LaMetta Davis

Remember Felicia Lance with smiles for all the joy through all the years. She came to Put People First! PA’s Leadership Institute and the Membership Assembly last year. She was about to become a regular member. I bless the memories within my heart because I can’t see or hear her. I know she is nere though. She parted this Earth, but she will forever be in my heart.

Willie Handley
by Ben Fiorillo

Willie Handley was a beloved member of our PPF-PA family. He made you feel good when you talked to him; like you were right where you were supposed to be. Willie was an elder who chose to be hopeful, when he could have been cynical. He was a teacher who used his own experiences of racism and poverty to help us understand history and shed new light on our struggle today. Willie moved us, with a gentle spirit and fierce words. The following is an excerpt from a speech he gave last year:

“Most people today in this society, in the information age, don’t have no feelings. I don’t want you to leave here unless you feel me. If you feel what I feel, then you’ll be able to pass it on to someone else…Dr. King was talking about 40 million poor people in America. Right now, we have possibly 140 million poor people in America today. The bad part of that, they don’t know they’re poor. Our job is to bring them into the leadership here…With Artificial Intelligence there’ll be 240 million people by 2040 out of a job. Unless we change some things there’s not gonna be no jobs for America’s poor people. There’ll be no white jobs, no Black jobs…I have a dream that I want 5 million people, and we’re gonna go to Washington and shut it down. Once we shut it down, no one is going to be able to move. They gonna call Reverend Barber, they gonna call the people in the different organizations. They gonna ask them what they need… I want you to be able to go out here and next time I see, my question is to you, have you recruited anybody for the march? Every one of you is a soldier and we need more soldiers like you.”- Willie Handley

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.

I’m on the Side of the Earth

lyrics by John Peacefire

There’s so many more of us than there are of them.
So many of our kin are just born into this mess.
I don’t know why the police aren’t on our side.
I don’t know why we’re not all on the same side.
I’m on the side of the earth
I’m on the side of the earth.
There’s so many more of us than there are of them.
So many of our kin are just born into
This mess and all the things they obsess with
And they are truly lost
But I’m on the side of the earth
Livin’ on a shoestring income
I’m on the side of the earth
Askin’ myself how come
How come the police aren’t on our side?
How come we’re not all on the same side?
I”m on the side of the earth
There’s so many more of us than there are of them
So many of our kin are just born into this mess
So many things left unaddressed by our education
And I really realized
I wish there were no sides
When you got rising coastal city tides

// johnpeacefire1.bandcamp.com \\

Today’s world 

by Jennina Rose Gorman

Today’s world was turned upside down and I found out on Facebook.  
Today I learned I’d never again “See you around” 
So bright, talented, kind- you had “what it took” 
Taken from this world too early, you were supposed to do so much more…. 
I expected someday to see you on the big screen, you would’ve dazzled us all 
You are the second that I went to college with, that left,  shaking me to my core 
It wasn’t supposed to be YOU! You were the best of us…you weren’t supposed to fall. 
Today I learned I’d never laugh with you again, or act with you again, my heart is on the floor 
I found out on Facebook.  
So busy making a living, I’ve forgotten how to LIVE.  You had so much talent, you could convey so much in a single look…. 
You are gone too early, you had so much to give….. 
To all my friends near and far,  know that I love you and support you in every endeavor 
Please make the time to check on your friends often, even those who seem destined for greatness – maybe ESPECIALLY them… And forgive my clumsy tribute,  I am not that clever.                

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.

Within Put People First! PA, singing is a growing practice of our organization that deepens our collectivity and solidarity with one another. As we struggle together to end the systems of oppression that we live under, we are creating a collective identity of our class that is rooted in the struggle, and as with all identities, a culture that will reflect it. It warrants our study and attention to think and be intentional about the art and the music that colors this culture as much as the norms and practices we’re making a part of it. And as we draw on a long history of lessons and experiences from the struggles of poor folk who have come before us, we too have a long history of music and art to look back on. 

I’ve had the good fortune to sing ‘Which Side Are You On’ quite a few times now. Probably the most memorable was during the 40 Days of Action, in 2018 on the relaunch of the PPC:NCMR. We chose it for our moral-fusion direct action during the 5th week, focused on the ‘Everybody’s Got A Right To Live,’ week – the right to unionize, to living wage jobs, income and housing. We had to sing for almost forty minutes, thundering through the gaudy halls of the state capitol building, as the cops were hesitant to make arrests that week. But as we hollered on and on, drowning out any other noise, the line of division between us and them became clearer and clearer. As Florence Reese herself said on many occasions, the gun-thugs and scabs were workers too – and they knew damned well which side they chose. 

Florence understood that there was a war on workers, a war on the poor – she saw it firsthand in the hollars of Harlan County, Kentucky. Her husband was a coal miner, Sam Reece – a good union man and a lead organizer throughout his life, and her father and grandfather had both been coal miners. They knew firsthand the horrors of the company bosses, the mines, and the poverty that was forced upon them. From 1931-1939, through the Depression, Harlan County erupted in violence as the United Mine Workers came to assist the miners in their struggle when the company bosses cut their wages. At the height, almost 6,000 men idled on strike, with barely a thousand scabbing – but hundreds of outside gun-thugs were hired on by the company to protect them, each deputized by Sheriff J.H. Blair – who informed them to act with impunity to harass, beat and terrorize the striking men and their families. 

Just as the UMW was setting in, in 1931, Sam stepped up to be one of the first major local organizers. The company ordered J.H. Blair himself, along with a number of deputies to raid Sam’s home and have him killed or beaten so badly he wished he had been. Thankfully, Sam was warned ahead of time, but Florence and their children were at home unawares when Blair and his men broke down the door and ransacked the house, striking her and terrorizing the children.

When they left, she went inside and found the calendar they had ripped down off the wall, on which she wrote the titular song. Sam may have lived, but many other men died in confrontations with the gun-thugs and J.H. Blair, including Harry Simms. After the National Guard was called in, which broke up the long-standing strike and killed dozens of men, the UMW abandoned Harlan county and the National Miner’s Union (the NMU, here out) moved in. Openly a part of the Young Communist League, they revitalized the strikes and established robust soup kitchens and aid programs to sustain the strikers. Harry Simms was only twenty years old when a deputy murdered him in broad daylight. The clergy in the hollar turned on the strikers too, denouncing the NMU as anti-religious communists and the Red Cross, which at this point had been neutral in the affair, began to exclusively provide aid to the scabs. 

The song survived the strikes and the war in Harlan County, as did the Reeces. Florence would end up traveling and singing as a poet and folksinger, recounting the lessons from the strike and highlighting that there is no such thing as neutral in the war between workers and capital.

“My songs always goes to the underdog – to the worker. I’m one of them and I feel like I’ve got to be with them. There’s no such thing as neutral. You have to be on one side or the other. Some people say, ‘I don’t take sides – I’m neutral.’ There’s no such thing. In your mind you’re on one side or the other. In Harlan County there wasn’t no neutral. If you wasn’t a gun thug, you was a union man. You had to be.” -Florence Reese.

The song has gone through what is colloquially called the “folk process,” – a fancy way of saying that folks forgot some of the words after learning it and just wrote up their own verses. If you dig hard enough, you can find all sorts added to it. It’s been made into death metal, jazz and everything in between. Here’s the words that I fiddled with, which frankly I changed to make it focused less on being about chiding the men into being brave, and more about our class. Learn it and sing out, friends!

Which Side Are You On?

Chorus – repeat after verses
Which side are you on, ooh?
Which side are you on? (repeat both lines)

Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can?
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you take a stand?

My momma was a worker
She’s in the clouds & air
And when I’m with the union
I know that she is there

My daddy was a miner,
And I’m a miner’s child,
And I’ll be with the union
While out enemies run wild!

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be in the union
Or a thug for J.H Blair

Don’t listen to the bosses
Don’t listen to their lives!
Us poor folk don’t have a chance
Unless we organize!

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.

by The Community Care Team

Put People First! PA members struggle daily to meet basic material needs. We choose between paying for prescriptions or our utility bills. We ask ourselves is the priority next month’s rent or putting food on the table this month? PPF-PA’s Community Care Team is developing a Community Care Fund to support members through challenging times. Here’s an excerpt from the DRAFT PPF-PA Community Care Fund Policy. To find out more, contact Farrah at farrahmsamuels@gmail.com.

Purpose: 

The following policy is being developed  in accordance with the PPF-PA Community Care Team’s Mission of coordinating and providing a system of social support and care to PPF-PA members by…

  • Helping members get through stressful and difficult periods in their lives; and
  • Aiding members in meeting their emotional and material needs

This policy is intended to articulate a process by which individual PPF-PA members can solicit requests for material support within the organization to help them meet their material needs. Examples of material needs include but are not limited to: rent/ housing payments, utilities assistance, medical bills, and transportation needs. Material support requests are intended to support the needs of recent or current “active” leaders within the organization as described in PPF-PA’s leadership development path document. More specifically, applicants shall have been active in a PPF-PA leadership role for a minimum of 3 months.

Material support requests should not be regarded as charity but rather as a way of sustaining and advancing leaders within the organization so that they can continue to participate in PPF and make meaningful leadership contributions. In no way, shape or form is Put People First! PA trying to assume the role of a social service provider. Nor do we believe that organizations providing services can or should take the place of the state.

Short and Long Term Strategies for Establishing a Community Care Fund:

In the short term, material support requests should first be channeled through the local Healthcare Rights Committees or HRCs (by way of the HRC’s Community Care Team representatives and/or the HRC coordinators) before being elevated to the statewide Community Care Team. This is designed to build the capacity of local HRCs and to encourage maximum benefit from local relationships and community affiliations and resources. Requests should only be brought to the statewide Community Care Team when it is determined that further promotion and coordination across the organization is necessary to meet the need.

As a longer-term strategy, the PPF-PA Community Care Team is working towards establishing a statewide permanent Community Care Fund that members can draw upon as needed. The PPF-PA Community Care Team is currently identifying individuals outside of PPF-PA who can make significant financial contributions to this fund and share our commitment of supporting and retaining grassroots movement leaders. Once a permanent fund is established, the statewide PPF-PA Community Care Team may assume responsibility for the intake, processing and tracking of material support requests from members across all HRCs.

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This content originally appeared in Put People First! PA’s semi-annual newsletter, The Keystone. The Keystone is a great introduction to Put People First! PA, our work, and our community. It’s all written by our members for our own communication and education, and for supporters and new relationships to get to know us better. Each issue features reports from our work, news about our victories, stories about the health care system and the other issues affecting our communities, and poetry and artwork. Check out past and present editions here: Newsletter Archive.