NEPA member reflects on racism, divide and conquer of immigrants

By Rose Yanko, Northeast PA Healthcare Rights Committee

I come from a small town in Northeast PA (NEPA) and grew up on a property with several houses on a 15-acre lot.  My father was born to an immigrant family in a nearby town. The town was a wonderful little web of many different languages and cultures. Since that town was so close to our family property, we remained friends with everyone and frequented my grandparents’ bar.   Like mostly everywhere in NEPA, they were coal miners in the past and many worked at the coal company right down the road which is still open today.

At the bar, elders frequently told tales of struggle and strife. They took any job they could get such as cigar factories and coal mining, where if you were killed at work, they dumped your body on your porch. I heard the struggles of immigrants who could not speak English until their new neighbors befriended and helped them. My ancestors wouldn’t have survived here without the people who accepted them – though surely not everyone did.

As I read the most recent articles along with the comment sections in the local news regarding Hazleton and the Covid-19 pandemic, I wonder how many of my peers have forgotten the struggles of our own ancestors as they turn around and point fingers at the Latinx community now.  Our proud ancestors stood together across racial, religious and ethnic lines to lead the working class struggles of the time and fight the exploitation of the bosses. People died because of exploitation back then, too. 

A story comes to mind from a 90-year-old woman I cared for in her home. When she was a child at home with her mother; when she heard what sounded like roaring thunder.  A majestic, uniformed Hanover policeman was at her door. He asked if her neighbors were home but she told him she did not know. The policeman knocked on her neighbors’ door and asked for the man of the house. The wife answered and went to get her husband.  When the husband approached the door, the policeman clubbed him in the head.  As his body dropped to the porch with his kids and wife screaming, the mounted policeman rode off.  All because the neighbor was fighting for safety and rights in the workplace as a coal miner.  He was a Polish immigrant. And that was his bitter end.  Despite attacks and intimidation by police in the service of wealthy bosses, workers continued to fight for and won greater rights and protections for coal miners.

Today, a problem that I have recognized is that most Latinx people within Hazleton, work essential jobs with low pay. The global corporations that own the factories, plants and logistics centers – subsidized by our tax dollars – are not providing these workers with Personal Protective Equipment. They can’t just stay home because many have families. So people are getting sick and dying because of corporate exploitation and greed. I compare this to the struggles of immigrants from days gone by.  Have we forgotten already?  

A stand must be taken by the people against the corporations that are the root cause. We must defend the people falling victim to racist narratives. With Put People First! PA, we have a vision for how to get through this crisis that includes all working people and offers real solutions to keep our families and communities safe. We have a Healthcare Rights Committee in Northeast PA and everyone is welcome to get involved.

Member fights to give community access to facts

By Paul Ricci, Johnstown Healthcare Rights Committee

I have created an online database for my home county, Cambria County. I have tracked cases, testing and deaths in the county since the first case was reported here on March 23. The sources for these numbers is the Johns-Hopkins online database for the national numbers and the state department of health for state and local numbers. Case and testing data are available down to the zip code. I have been posting regular updates to the case and testing numbers and announcing them on local Facebook groups. The feedback to these updates has been positive.

Access to the facts provides a clear picture of what is around us. The best way to counter fear mongering and misinformation is with facts that can be independently verified. 

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.