The Community Care Team is continuing our weekly virtual-social events through the month of April:

Movie Nights (Thursday Evenings)
Join to enjoy a movie and optional discussion! We will alternate between “Family Movie Nights” featuring kid-friendly fun films, and movies with a political education theme. Feel free to include your household for these free screenings! This works best for those with video call capabilities, so please reach out if you have questions about how to connect through your smartphone, tablet or computer. If you have questions or movie suggestions, contact Stacey Padilla at staceadilla.pads@gmail.com or Jacob Butterly at Jsjb.cwrite@gmail.com.

April 2nd at 6:30pm: Family Movie Night — “Ratatouille”
April 9th at 7:30pm: TBA
April 16th at 6:30: Family Movie Night
April 23th at 7:30pm: TBA
April 30th at 6:30pm: Family Movie Night

Video Potlucks (Fridays 7:30-9pm)
Join a casual call to make or eat dinner in community. You can share recipes, show off culinary skills (or lack thereof!), do the dishes, or just enjoy a relaxed environment with friends. This month we are experimenting with different forms of virtual entertainment, like including group singing and video charades! If you have any questions or suggestions for activities, contact Stacey Padilla.
Fridays, April 3rd, 10th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th

Both events are hosted on our PPF Zoom Line:
Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/5483957623
Meeting ID: 548 395 7623
You can download the application here: http://zoom.us/download#client_4meeting
Join from Telephone:
Dial: +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll) or +1 408 638 0968(US Toll)
Meeting ID: 548 395 7623
Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll): +14086380968,5483957623# or
+16465588656,5483957623#

Movie night from two weeks ago!
Image of PPF-PA's Community Care Fund Fundly page

Announcing Put People First! PA’s Spring Into Action Fundraising Campaign! PPF-PA recently established a Community Care Fund to support the material needs of our coordinators & active members during this crisis – lost wages, rent, utility bills, food, childcare, & other basic needs. Donations go directly to our fiscal sponsor, United Workers.

To donate, please visit: fundly.com/put-people-first-pa-community-care-fund.

Help us spread the word and meet our goal of raising $10,000 by sharing with your networks!

I’m a laid off union worker, my healthcare is not guaranteed

by Amalia Kalisz Tonsor

How are you being affected by the pandemic? Below is a personal reflection from Amalia, a PPF-PA member living in Pittsburgh who was laid off in mid-March. In the past two weeks, 830,000 Pennsylvanians have abruptly found themselves without a job or income following the statewide shutdown of everything but “life-sustaining” businesses. As of last Friday, the number of new unemployment claims filed since the shutdown surpassed the total for all of 2019 (Inquirer.com 3/31/20).

PPF-PA believes our healthcare and our livelihood — shelter, food, water, education — can’t be tied to our ability to make a wage or not. These are human rights everyone deserves. For more information on how PPF-PA is responding during this crisis go to: www.putpeoplefirstpa.org/coronavirus .

I live in Pittsburgh and work as a union member in the entertainment industry. Our union works on a contract basis, meaning that if an entertainment producer wants to work in Pittsburgh, they must negotiate a contract with the union and then hire from our local talent pool. Before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, I was hired on a production that planned to work in Pittsburgh through June or July. As I write this on March 16, the entire local crew of this production has been laid off indefinitely, without pay or continuity of benefits. During a wild time of unprecedented closures and work stoppages across our city, the country and the world, this disruption is felt in solidarity with millions of people whose livelihoods are impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as those who were already struggling to get by in this unjust economy. 

In the midst of a pandemic, when we most need assurance that health care will be available and affordable, our healthcare system continues to fail the vast majority of people. There have not been sufficient tests available even for those with comprehensive health insurance plans. Millions of poor and working people who are uninsured or underinsured have been laid off or told to stay home, without income to pay out of pocket for testing or emergency treatment, let alone to sustain the costs of preexisting health conditions or normal medical care. Undocumented people have been explicitly excluded from insurance programs and may already be afraid to seek medical care. People locked up in jails, prisons and detention centers are living at high risk of exposure without adequate health care. These conditions are compounding health risks to already vulnerable communities, and this virus is revealing the precarity of our healthcare system even for those like myself with insurance through our employers.

Poster from the 2019 PPF-PA Membership Assembly "You only get what you're organized to take!"

Union healthcare plans are often held up as proof that the status quo is working for working people. But what happens if we’re not working? In addition to lost income, these layoffs are impacting entertainment workers by cutting off employer contributions that would have subsidized our health insurance. Every union manages healthcare differently, but for us, our coverage is not guaranteed by our membership. It’s the production companies that hire us who are actually paying into our insurance coverage, so if they decide we are not working, both our livelihood and our healthcare is at stake. Here’s how my union healthcare works: The union has negotiated options with an insurance company so that members may enroll in select plans. The union sets up a health benefits account for each member, and productions that hire us then pay a certain amount into an individual’s account for each day they are employed on that production. That means if a member works enough days, they can accrue enough employer contributions to cover the cost of their insurance premium. Under this system, both our jobs and our healthcare are dependent on producers choosing to film in Pittsburgh, so there are huge tax incentives offered to coax the industry to come here. (While this makes our jobs possible and brings a lot of business to the Commonwealth, the producers also benefit greatly, as it costs much less to work here and they are subject to less regulation than in California or New York.) The individualized nature of a benefit based on counting a person’s “days worked” means that if for any reason I am not working for an extended period of time, there is no safety net for my insurance coverage. If I don’t get hired, or the state tax incentives have been used up for a while, or if we have all been laid off due to COVID-19 – then there are no employer contributions coming into my health benefits account. If there aren’t enough employer contributions, I am responsible to pay out of pocket for my premium of $502 per month, and I can only pay out of pocket without working for a certain period before losing coverage all-together. For perspective, the best coverage option costs $1,775 per month for an individual, and $3,919 per month for a family– that’s $47,028 for the year on a family plan.

I have only been working in the entertainment industry for a few years, and I am deeply grateful to the generations of workers who have taken great risks to make my job possible and to get us where we are. I am grateful for the health insurance I have, and for the folks in my union who are tirelessly available to help members advocate for their benefits. As I write this our union leaders are busting ass advocating for our members during this national emergency. This is not a critique of the union; it’s about the ways our options are limited under a system designed to profit corporate insurance companies. This is about how unions fit into the bigger picture of our dysfunctional healthcare system, and the ways that system penalizes working class people– even those of us who do make a living wage and can get lulled into thinking we’re doing fine. We are not guaranteed continuity of our healthcare benefits, while the productions that employ us are given tax breaks to work in PA, where our labor is comparatively cheap. Our union leadership is currently fighting to have entertainment workers recognized and included in the coronavirus relief packages that are being crafted in Congress. But why are we asking who is deserving of relief? The calls from all corners of society right now to be seen by the hands holding the purse strings is indicative of the enormous inequities in our society, and of the ways we allow ourselves to be divided. Whether or not this or that sector of the economy receives government support, the underlying denial of our human rights persists. In this disruption of the day to day, may we have a chance to see more clearly how we are connected. May the precarity we are experiencing in this moment help us to realize how vulnerable all working class people are – even those who consider themselves middle class – under a system that is held in place by keeping people sick and poor. May these circumstances lift up that another way is possible, that there are realistic alternatives to this system of disaster capitalism in which some individuals continue to profit off of the suffering of others. As we practice “social distancing” and stretch into bizarre new forms of collective care, may the strain on our social fabric be a felt reminder of how intricately we are held together. May we find creative ways to take care of each other, and may this instability shake us toward the necessity of universal healthcare.

by Nijmie Zakkiyyah Dzurinko, with edits and contributions from Iaan Reynolds and Borja Gutiérrez

Every day it is more apparent that the world is both ripe with possibility and on the brink of destruction. We are living through an ecological collapse and we are at the beginning of a global pandemic. 

The planet will survive in some form – but human beings have to come together before it is too late. 

Millions of people around the country and the world have been waking up to the realities that 1) the economic and political system is currently organized around the needs and interests of a ruling class of billionaires, 2) the needs and interests of the billionaires are not the same as the needs and interests of everyday people, and, 3) it doesn’t have to be this way. As we wake up to these truths, millions of us are beginning to seek clarity about how to change things.

Put another way: there is a fundamental divide between those who own and control the natural resources and political and financial structures of our society and those of us who do not, and must work to survive, or otherwise starve and die.

Put People First! PA Leadership Institute in York, 2019

Not only must we work or perish, but the work we have to do often destroys our bodies and harms our planet and communities, only to profit those who live off of our labor. Instead of using our skills, talents, creativity and brilliance to solve society’s problems and make life better for all people and the planet, we are forced to do mind-numbing, body-breaking and planet-killing work for the profits of a select few. 

We don’t need a conspiracy theory to explain this – it’s playing out in front of us every day on the news when talking heads repeat their talking points about a “strong economy” while at the same time 700 people die every day in the U.S. from poverty. When schools have to be kept open despite the spread of the Coronavirus because students have no other place to eat. When medical fundraisers are keeping GoFundMe in business. When there are six empty homes for every unhoused person, but no one working full time at a minimum wage job can afford a two-bedroom apartment in any county in the country. 140 million people – or 43% of the U.S. population cannot afford a $400 emergency bill. The number of people imprisoned by the state has grown eightfold in the last 40 years, and 66% of those in cages are people of color. 

To top it all off we are at the beginning of a COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus) pandemic. You can’t stay home if you don’t have a home. You can’t wash your hands if your water is shut off. You can’t pay for more than a week’s worth of food when you have no savings. You can’t protect your loved ones if they are locked away in prisons or detention centers. You can’t “shelter in place” when you have to flee domestic abuse. You can’t stay safe unless EVERYONE has healthcare.

And the majority of us believe that healthcare is a human right. We believe that education is a human right. That housing is a human right. That we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop fracking and shift to renewable, clean energy. Raise wages. Cancel debt. Shut down prisons and detention centers. Move from a war economy to one based on meeting human needs that provides for all. Recognize the caregiving work done by millions of mothers and caregivers. Not only do we believe these things but we know they are necessary – and possible. 

This is evidenced by the tens of thousands of people in 40 states and D.C. that have come together around a moral agenda to fight the evils of systemic racism, poverty, militarism, ecological devastation and the distorted moral narrative of white supremacist Christian nationalism through the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. 

It’s evidenced by the millions of us activating around this election.

Yet, there is an ongoing, concerted campaign of voter suppression targeting young people, poor people, Black, Indigenous and other people of color. There is a distorted media narrative telling us who is and is not “electable” and that the “experts” talking about the “strength” of the economy every day know better than we do. A narrative that tries to convince us that there really aren’t millions of us, and that the things we need – things in the best interest of the whole of society and not just the super-rich – are somehow “divisive” and unrealistic, while immediately injecting $1.5 trillion into the financial system to salvage capitalism.

Since they are tools owned by and beholden to the ruling class, the major political parties and media conglomerates will try to suppress any attempts on the part of the poor and dispossessed to structure society around our own needs. That’s why a coordinated assault on any semblance of democracy was launched at the first suggestion that the billionaires’ “right” to infinite profit be curtailed. Those who run our society will stop at nothing to confuse, undermine and divide the multi-racial working class. History has proven this to be true, time and time again. 

But it’s too late for the oligarchs. The scales are dropping from our eyes. We are recognizing that it is not simply enough to have ideals and energy, that we must recognize what we are truly up against: an entire system that puts profits before people.

Participating in elections is important! But elections alone won’t solve our problems. It’s time to move into Politics.

Medicaid March in Lancaster, 2019

Though they are related, Elections are only a part of Politics.

It’s in the interest of the ruling class to limit our understanding of Politics to Elections. They pour billions every election cycle into the illusion of conflict. TV ratings soar, as pundits and the two mainstream parties carve up our communities before our eyes, dividing us by geography, race, age – all the identities we’re told make us fundamentally different. This is Politics, they tell us, presenting us with a false choice between bad and worse. The choice between two arms of the same ruling class is disguised as an exercise of our autonomy — an expression of our “free will.” They depend on us believing them, believing that Politics is all about the one day a year that we order off their menu. But we’ll never get what we need if we limit ourselves to what a few billionaires want us to think is possible. To structure our society around meeting our human rights, we need organization, unity, and the power to make our own future. That is Politics.

Politics is the process of uniting around our needs and learning to fight for them. It’s the process of identifying, developing and uniting everyday leaders. It is building permanently organized communities. We need organization of the poor and dispossessed working class in every county, in every state in this country, building a politically independent program across race, age, ability, religion, region, nationality, language, sexuality and gender 365 days a year. It is difficult work, but not as difficult as the future we are facing if we don’t organize now.

The biggest mistake we could make, as we face up to the reality of what is in store, is falling into disillusionment, cynicism and despair.

We are not naive or unrealistic. We have the vision, we have the numbers. We are 140 million strong. 

Put People First! PA Annual Membership Assembly, Pittsburgh 2019

We need organization. We need to advance from Elections to Politics. 

Join the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in your state. In Pennsylvania, join one of the militant organizations of the working class active in over 50 counties across the state. 

Nijmie Zakkiyyah Dzurinko and Borja Gutiérrez are co-chairs (as volunteers) of the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Nijmie is co-founder and co-coordinator (as a volunteer) with Put People First! PA and a member of the national steering committee of the Poor People’s Campaign. Iaan Reynolds and Borja are also (volunteer) coordinators within Put People First! PA