With support from the statewide Base Building team, we identified in the Spring of 2019 that the Southwest Philly Healthcare Rights Committee (HRC) was not becoming a political center of gravity in our region, even after several years of work. The HRC played a key role in winning our first ever public hearing on rising ACA insurance rates in 2016, garnering hundreds of petition signatures, and mobilizing and testifying at the hearing. However, turn-over of leaders and staff as well as an over-reliance on staff led to a decline in the vitality of the HRC.

Over time, we came to recognize that the HRC was missing key practices that have strengthened our committees in other areas. The practices of successful HRCs include: 

  • Taking advantage of the organization’s internal democracy by having members participate on statewide teams, calls, and planning bodies;
  • Engaging with the campaign plan to grow, build members’ leadership, and win victories;
  • Carrying out sustained base building and door-knocking work to become an organized force in our communities.

In Philly, PPF-PA members had been wrestling for a few years with our organizational structure, and how to best engage people with teams and HRCs. Since several PPF-PA members unconnected to an existing HRC lived in Philly, we decided that it made sense to expand from having a neighborhood-based HRC, to a city-wide one. The new Philadelphia HRC officially met for the first time at the end of May 2019.

Pivoting to the establishment of a Philly HRC was the right decision. We have since taken action against healthcare profiteers around the closing of Hahnemann University Hospital, which was the main hospital serving those on Medicaid/welfare insurance in Philadelphia. We have made new connections by base building and have deepened our relationships with our strategic partners in the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. We have stood up to local health insurance giant IBX, demanding that one of our members receive the healthcare he needs. Twice a month we meet together, collectively plan the work of our committee, and engage in political education.

Through the transition to a city-wide HRC, we have begun to accelerate the development of leaders in the Philly region. The biggest victory we’ve achieved through this transition lies in our deepened clarity about the need for our HRC to connect with statewide work, engage with the campaign plan, and consistently base build. Through the city wide committee, the core group of leaders in this region is more connected than before, and more committed than ever to the task of building a center of gravity in Southeast PA for our statewide struggle for healthcare as a human right.

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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 Political Education Leadership Development (PELD) Team

Put People First! PA is building the power of the Pennsylvanian poor and dispossessed through uniting across difference and taking action together. In the struggle for our basic human rights, we come up against the most powerful groups in our society, who profit from our poverty and hold onto their power through our disunity and disorganization. We have a strong opposing force that we have to defeat and overcome if we’re going to win.

This means that we have to be smart about how we organize: That our best intentions aren’t enough. Fighting against an enemy means that we have to learn about where they’re strong and where they’re weak; we have to know where our own strengths and weaknesses are, how we get stronger, and how we can make our enemy weaker.

We know that our basic strength is in our numbers: there’s far more of us poor and dispossessed people than there are people in the ruling class. We also know that our numbers are only really a strength if we’re organized. This means we have to learn how to organize ourselves in a massive way, across differences.We learn about all of these things – who we are, who our enemy is, our’s as well as our enemy’s weaknesses and strengths, how to organize, get stronger, and build our numbers – in many different ways.

We learn them through studying history and theory, and actively applying what we’ve learned to the present. We look closely at other efforts to organize the poor, and we study and reflect on our own work, activity, and history as an organization.

All of these ways that we learn what we need to know are connected to each other, and they rely on us actually taking action together.

There’s no way for us to really know what it’ll take to organize massively and across differences besides going out and trying to do it. There’s no way for us to really know how far we’ve built our strength, or if we’ve correctly identified our enemy’s weaknesses, except by actively struggling for our rights.

That’s what it means when we say “struggle is a school.” We make our struggle a school when we draw lessons from our organizing. We make our organizing stronger by reflecting on what we’ve done in light of what we know from our own experiences, from our study of history, politics, the economy, and lessons from other efforts to organize among the poor. 

Through all of these efforts taken together we elevate “struggle is a school” from a concept, to a reality of our organizing that is inherent in all actions taken through organizing. That way “struggle is a school” becomes an active part of our organizing culture, so that we are constantly assessing where we were in the past, so we know where we stand in the present, and can take constructive and educated steps moving forward.

Making our struggle a school means learning from our successes, and failures, our victories and shortcomings. That means having the maturity and the discipline to be honest with ourselves as an organization, and the wisdom to know that we’re in a long process with many steps and stages to it. Making struggle a school isn’t limited to just learning about how to plan better actions, or how to get better at running meetings or knocking on doors or meeting with representatives, though those are all important parts of it. It’s also taking the time to reflect on what we’re learning about our enemy and what it’ll really take to defeat them: What it’ll take to build an organization that can last and can win.

A necessary part of making our struggle into a school is taking the time to collectively evaluate the things that we do as an organization. Evaluation means more than asking what went well and could be better in the future. It also means drawing political lessons from our work: Lessons about what we need to do to strengthen the unity, organization, and leadership of our class in the face of the determined and sophisticated opposition of those in power. Below are some general questions and guidelines for doing evaluation as part of the practice of making struggle a school:

  • What were the goals of the activity being evaluated? In what ways did and didn’t we accomplish those goals and why? Were they the right goals and/or was this right kind of activity for advancing our organization’s strategy?
  • What did we learn about how to build mass, politically independent, organization of the poor today?  
    • What Leadership Across Difference challenges came up during the preparation for the activity and the activity itself?
  • What did we learn about how to lead across difference?  What did we learn about the ruling class’s strengths and weaknesses? What did we learn about our class’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • How can we apply what we’ve learned?

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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.

Put People First! PA está construyendo el poder de las personas oprimidas y desposeídas en Pensilvania por medio de la unión a través de las diferencias y al tomar acción juntos. En nuestra lucha por los derechos humanos básicos, nos enfrentamos a los grupos más poderosos de nuestra sociedad, aquellos que se benefician de nuestra pobreza y se aferran a su poder fomentando la división y desorganización en nuestras comunidades. Debemos derrotar a una fuerza opositora potente si queremos ganar.

Esto quiere decir que debemos ser inteligentes sobre la forma cómo nos organizamos: nuestras buenas intenciones no son suficientes. Luchar contra un enemigo significa que debemos aprender dónde están localizadas sus fortalezas y sus debilidades; debemos saber dónde están nuestras propias fortalezas y debilidades, cómo nos podemos fortalecer y cómo podemos debilitar a nuestro enemigo.

Sabemos que nuestra principal fortaleza está en los números: somos muchos más los pobres y desposeídos que las personas en las clases gobernantes. También sabemos que nuestros números son una fortaleza únicamente si nos organizamos. Esto quiere decir que tenemos que aprender cómo organizarnos de manera masiva, a través de las diferencias.

Aprendemos sobre todas estas cosas – quiénes somos, quién es nuestro enemigo, nuestras fortalezas y debilidades, así como las de nuestros enemigos, cómo organizarnos, cómo fortalecernos, cómo incrementar nuestros números – de diferentes maneras. Las aprendemos al estudiar historia y teoría, y aplicando intencionalmente lo que aprendemos a nuestro presente. Esto lo hacemos observando de cerca otros intentos por organizar a los pobres y al estudiar y reflexionar sobre nuestro propio trabajo, nuestras actividades y nuestra historia como organización.

Todas estas formas de aprender estas cosas están conectadas y dependen de que nosotros efectivamente actuemos juntos. No hay manera de saber qué demandará el que nos organicemos masivamente y a través de las diferencias si no salimos y lo hacemos. No hay manera para realmente saber qué tanto nos hemos fortalecido, o si hemos identificado correctamente las debilidades de nuestro enemigo, excepto cuando luchamos activamente por nuestros derechos.

Eso es lo que quiere decir que “la lucha es una escuela”. Hacemos de nuestra lucha una escuela cuando extraemos lecciones de nuestra forma de organizarnos; y fortalecemos nuestra organización cuando reflexionamos sobre lo que hemos hecho a la luz de lo que ya sabemos gracias a nuestras experiencias, de nuestro estudio de historia, política, economía y de las lecciones de otros esfuerzos por organizarse entre los pobres.

A través de todos estos esfuerzos juntos elevamos el concepto de “la lucha es una escuela” y lo convertimos en una realidad de nuestra organización, inherente a todas las acciones emprendidas. De esa manera, “la escuela es una lucha” se convierte en parte activa de nuestra cultura organizativa, de manera que constantemente evaluamos dónde estábamos en el pasado, dónde nos paramos en el presente y tomemos pasos constructivos e informados para movernos hacia adelante.

Hacer de nuestra lucha una escuela significa aprender de nuestros éxitos, fracasos, victorias y deficiencias. Esto quiere decir tener la madurez y disciplina para ser honestos con nosotros mismos como organización y la sabiduría para saber que estamos involucrados en un proceso largo con muchos pasos y etapas.

Hacer de la lucha una escuela no está limitado a aprender cómo planear mejores acciones, o cómo mejorar nuestras reuniones, o ir de puerta en puerta o conocer a representantes, aunque todo esto es parte importante del proceso.También quiere decir tomar el tiempo para reflexionar sobre lo que hemos aprendido sobre nuestro enemigo y qué será necesario para derrotarlo: qué será necesario para construir una organización que se sostenga y que gane.

Una parte necesaria de hacer de nuestra lucha una escuela es tomar el tiempo para evaluar colectivamente las cosas que hacemos como organización. Evaluar significa más que preguntar qué salió bien y qué se puede mejorar en el futuro. También significa extraer lecciones políticas de nuestro trabajo: lecciones sobre qué debemos hacer para fortalecer nuestra unión, organización, y liderazgo de nuestra clase enfrentando la oposición sofisticada y determinada de aquellos en el poder. Enseguida listamos algunas preguntas generales y guías para evaluar como parte de la práctica de hacer de la lucha nuestra escuela:

  • ¿Cuáles eran las metas de la actividad siendo evaluada? ¿De qué maneras se lograron o no estas metas y porqué? ¿Fueron las metas correctas/ fue esta la acción necesaria para avanzar la estrategia de nuestra organización?
  • ¿Qué aprendimos hoy sobre la construcción de una organización de los pobres masiva y políticamente independiente?
    • ¿Qué desafíos alrededor del Liderazgo a través de la Diferencia surgieron durante la preparación de la actividad y la actividad misma? ¿Qué aprendimos sobre liderar a través de la diferencia?
  • ¿Qué aprendimos sobre las fortalezas y debilidades de la clase gobernante? ¿Qué aprendimos sobre las fortalezas y debilidades de nuestra propia clase?
  • ¿Cómo podemos aplicar lo que hemos aprendido?

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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 am Kim J Altland, I was born one-half of a set of conjoined twins. My brother failed to develop fully. I have had over 50 reconstructive surgeries.

At 18 my doctors asked if I wanted disability, I said no. I believed the lie, “If you work hard and you try your best, help would be given.” Therefore, I went to work knowing I could not give 40 or 50 years of service like my grandparents. I tried to pay ahead. I joined the fire service and helped with local political campaigns. As I worked, people praised me for not taking the easy way out and going on disability. 

In 2011 my health started deteriorating and I looked for the help I believed would be there. I applied for disability and was denied. Subsequently I reapplied. After 7 years, I still have no disability. Because the judge felt when I chose to work it proved I was not disabled. Somehow, magically my ongoing conditions where irrelevant and being over 50 had no affect on them.  

I sit in my house unable to participate in life or be of some benefit to society, I developed depression adding to my health problems. 

If I had any type of help, I could have spent the last 7 years being productive, not a burden to my family and friends. Funny how not one person who had praised me for not getting disability wanted to help in any way when I could not work.

All too often, people with medical problems are pushed off. We are viewed as not being worth any effort or help, and this makes blaming us for not being productive easy. We must put an end to this cycle of abuse and neglect.

Years ago Will Rogers said “Let this country get hungry and they are going to eat, no matter what happens to budgets, income taxes or Wall Street. Washington must not forget who rules when it comes to a showdown.”

Far too long we have been hungry for an end to Racism, Militarism, Poverty, and Environmental Destruction. We stand here today together. This is a non violent protest of Ideas, Faith and Justice. This is not an Army of violence, guns and bombs.

In our unity we are stronger than they are. We will bend like the reed in the wind. We will be heard like the thunder rolling across the sky. They will be toppled like the Oak in the storm.

We must remember that healthcare is a human right, and more it is a necessity. Without healthcare, all we have left is pain suffering and death.

For this reason healthcare is like the air we breathe and the water we drink.

It is a necessity it must be provided equally and fully to all people. It is time we demand the help we need not just for ourselves but also for the good of our families, our children and our communities.

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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.