“Health and dignity for everybody — not just a few.” PPF leader Farrah speaks out

On January 26th while the Republican leadership was in Philadelphia, PPF joined thousands in the streets and demanded health care. Put People First leader and fundraising team member Farrah Samuels gave a speech. Watch it here and read the transcript below!

We believe that health care is a basic human right; not a privilege

We’re fighting for all of you as a statewide organization to promote health and dignity for everybody — not just a few.

So I want to tell you my story because I believe in the power of stories like most of you. I just beat cancer — stage four. I had two forms of cancer. I had surgery the day before the election and when I woke up, Dump was in the office. I cried tears of sadness instead of joy because dump was in the office and I stood to lose everything that I had fought for.

On April Fools Day 2015, I went to the doctor. He gave me a cruel joke: He said, “You got two forms of stage-four sarcoma; you’ve got three months to live.” I said, “Doc nah those must be some alternative facts; you gas lighting me right?”

Then I began to fight.

Before that, my family and I were already enduring hardships: death of family members who couldn’t afford insurance because they had pre-existing conditions, foreclosure, lack of jobs, a stint of homelessness in which we spent a month in a tent in Amish country. I’d had a big job! I had a bigly huge salary! I went from that to a salary of $5000 a year as an adjunct professor with a master’s degree. For three people to live off of, that’s not enough to survive — it’s not enough for anything. Then you’ve got that five month waiting people for those of us who are disabled. Even though they called me a “compassionate allowance” That basically means “we think you’re about to die, and we don’t care.” It’s like the people who make the disability decisions said, “We’re going to wait. We’re going to see if you get cured or you die, because we don’t want to pay you right now, even though you’ve been paying into this system since you were 14.”

So instead of my energy being focused on my fight, I had to beg for money everyday on GoFundMe. Who’s done that before? Too many families. Without the vital lifesavers of Medicaid — which threw me a life raft when I didn’t have shit — SSPI, the ACA/Obamacare, and the friends and family and people like you who gave me a dollar here and there so I could survive those six months.

My story’s still being written, and fortunately I’m here to tell it. For all the sarcoma and cancer patients who didn’t make it because they didn’t have what I have. (Thank you President Obama.) And I’m in remission today because I had Obamacare, because I had surgery the day before the election. And don’t think that timing does not matter. I’m grateful because the reality that it is that 43,000 people a year, could die from mass genocide and science that is guided by “alternative facts.”

The pillars of our safety net that saved my life and thousands and millions of others are being dismantled by officials who receive premium healthcare, sustainable salaries, pensions. They spit and laugh at us who want the same. We deserve the same. Financial ruin for families like us is brutal. my survival so far cost me $200,000, but luckily, because of ACA I’m paying a tiny piece of it. I’d be dead trying to pay $200k on a $5k salary. everyone deserves the right to live with a decent quality of life and the right to healthcare with dignity! So what’s the prie of a life? dont think that this sis any coincidence that the sun is shining right now, because it’s been raining for a week. Our city might be tainted right now, but it’s still the city of brotherly love. We need y’all to stand up right now and Put People First!

I’m almost done y’all

I was watching this movie; they said to exist alone is to survive unfair choices. So do I pay for my health insurance as a chronically ill person, or do I put food on my table to feed my family? It’s a choice none of us should have to make but too many do. I want to remind those legislators at the Loews that no one is immune and there is no backseat for crappy life circumstances. Illness does not discriminate. In the last month, our own PFFPA family lost two of its Johnstown members, across the state, because they didn’t have quality health care. My friends, we speak your name, Bella Oliveras and Tiffany Walker, and we will continue to fight and to resist in your honor. Our Put People First aim is this this year — y’all that know football, it’s football season — go on offense, go on defense, build your healthcare rights communities; look at the power of this group of people; hold your leaders accountable. Be creative, take action. Shout out to those last night who were dancing; I was with you in spirit.

Remember healthcare is a right not a privilege. And as Kendrick Lamar said, We gon’ be alright. But only if we stand together in solidarity and resistance of inhumane governance. Independent of political party or bipartisanship. So I’m inviting you to join me and PPFPA because we and you are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

And I want to say that with the current powers and the leaderSHIT that is, a revolution just may not be televised. So we got to make it live, and we got to make it alive. Will you fight for me? I will fight for all of you. Thank you.

Poem: “What it means to be a vibrant woman”

Johnstown member Isabella (Bella) Oliveras is a poet. She penned the following poem after the membership assembly in October, reflecting on the importance of women leaders in our movement, particularly the legacy of Mother Jones and Johnnie Tillmon, who Bella recognized as advocates and leaders. We read Tillmon’s 1972 essay “Welfare is a women’s issue” together at the assembly. Mother Jones is a key foremother in the legacy of movements and movement leaders that influence Put People First.

What it means to be a vibrant woman

To be bold and to stand up for what she believes in.

To dare to speak the truth and show respect where it’s due.

To be loved and be appreciated for who she is.

To know right from wrong.

To be a teacher and be a achiever.

To be a caretaker and to be a friend.

She’s a fighter, believer, lover and supporter but above all she’s a vibrant woman.

2016100695180653951476922304530Bella calls us to action, and she implores us to keep fighting until everyone has their basic needs met, including healthcare. Now, Bella is crowdfunding for a much-needed motorized wheelchair and healthcare. We can join together and help Bella get the care that she needs but that the current system won’t give her.

Bella is a veteran and a former nurse and paramedic. She has several chronic illnesses and health conditions, including carpal tunnel and asthma, which make her manual wheelchair difficult to use. Her GoFundMe reads, “Insurance will not approve Bella’s dire need for a motorized wheelchair despite a clear and justified case for it.” Bella also has “ongoing additional medical expenses and current needs related to wheelchair adjustments, significant dental work, and assistance with medical fees i.e. cost-prohibitive medication.”

To pledge your support to Bella, go to Help Bella Bounce Back!

Reflecting on My First PPF-PA Membership Assembly

By Farrah Samuels

10/5/16

I’m still riding high off the buzz I got from being at the 4th Annual PPF Membership Assembly (MA) — my first! I had no idea what to expect, but I’m incredibly grateful to and in awe of the organizers and members who made this an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Throughout the weekend, we talked in various discussion groups and through collective open forum about a concern many of us share: that we have a medical community, big pharma and legislators who are in it to make a profit, not to care for the people. I felt every word I heard of PPF members’ stories — many that were much like mine — made visible finally from their dark shadows via the unique, welcoming, and nurturing family atmosphere that PPF-PA provides. Over this weekend, I found a forum of like-minded individuals from all walks of life with a shared vision. And I was recharged, inspired, and invigorated to finally have found my tribe.

As I walked in, registered with Ben from Pittsburgh, and paid my dues, I heard the sound of some fierce music coming from another room at the Grace Methodist Church, luring me in. It was “Glory,” the poignant, Oscar-winning song from the Selma movie soundtrack. It was followed by some other liberation type tracks like those of my Marvin Gaye (yes, MY Marvin). PPFers were busy putting up signs, distributing supplies, and posing for my pics (thanks Maddie and Sheila), as other newer members from different organizing committees got to know each other and filled the seats. It felt like a really cool family reunion!

I met heroes, sheroes, and theyroes, who turned test after test into testimonies through guided group discussions led by volunteer group moderators. Collectively, we reviewed PPF-PA’s timeline of historical accomplishments and actions.  I’m grateful to those who shared stories with me and listened to mine. One in particular sticks out of one of our members who was a young teenager with sixteen siblings during the 1960s, when Johnnie Tillmon wrote her quintessential narrative on welfare, a guaranteed minimum wage for all, self-determination, gender equality and roles, etc. We read the piece aloud in groups reflecting on gender, identity, leadership, what has changed since the piece was written and what similarities exist today. And for a second, I felt a kindred spirit in Johnnie Tillmon just in reading the first paragraph and thinking of my current “situation.”

Through my conversations with others, I learned much that I will carry with me and spread to others. One example is the need to stop thinking of gender as simply binary or this or that. I don’t actually think that way, but I speak that way out of habit. And frankly, it can be insensitive and trivialize the lived experience of another person I care for. So I decided to pinch myself every time I forgot to use the pronoun, “they,” when referring to our family and friends who do not conform to binary gender norms. I also learned from the group I moderated and by observing the many roles members stepped up to fill, that leadership comes in many different forms and is not just the loudest lion that roars. I heard the rhythm of Carla’s drum during what I can only describe as an activist’s ideal revival moment put into a song in a musical intermission. Carla organized us as if we were a harmonious three-part gospel choir, with one group calling for freedom, another responding that it’s coming, and the beat of a collective human heartbeat going on in the background with every bang of that drum. It’s as if our own voices were pushing us forward with renewed strength and energy towards this freedom in its various forms.

During my assigned childcare shift in the playroom upstairs. We danced, played and I’m still picking traces of gold glitter off my face and out of my afro. I saw the future in the faces of our children, who will be ready to grab the baton when it’s time for us to pass it on!

I learned a couple really good dirty jokes from Bella and the feisty Mrs. Fletcher, who should definitely open a haberdashery and epitomizes who I wanna be like when I grow up. I made lifelong friends that feel closer to me than some I’ve had for years!

We were treated to a talent showcase and awards ceremony emceed by Terrence and Carla, while sharing a wonderful dinner together on Saturday evening. I was deeply moved and inspired by the great poets of our group, musicians, and sage voices of wisdom from award honorees like Danelle, Kim, and Anna and leaders like Phil, Willie and Gary. And I am grateful for the feeling of solidarity and the outpouring of love so readily given by everyone there. I particularly remember the warm, heartfelt, long hug I received from Munroe that still snuggles me in my dreams like a warm blanket these past few nights.

The greatest lesson of all from this weekend, is that when we work together for the greater good and lift each other up, we all win!

30059412996_3481ad88e7_k

My eyes light up now when I see one of your posts on Facebook, or see an incoming call or text from a close friend who was a stranger to me just a short time ago! I know I am now part of a collective consciousness and family that truly has my back 100% no matter what!

The PPF-PA 4th MA was rejuvenating, life-transformative, and fueled with much needed hope, and inspiration to keep fighting on many fronts. We are not just numbers or names on a page. We are a diverse, unique, strong, compassionate, loving, intelligent, energetic walking, rolling, and crawling (baby Elijah) force to be reckoned with. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for; and in the words of the great Sam Cooke, “I know a change gon’ come. Oh yes it will.” For me, it already has just by showing up and participating in the 4th Annual Membership Assembly. Thank you all for sharing yourselves with me. Hope to see or hear from you soon.

What is your favorite part of Put People First?

Put People First just came back from our fourth annual Membership Assembly in Harrisburg, PA. We spent the weekend discussing our campaigns, reflecting on what it means to be a member of PPF, sharing about gender power and gender oppression, and celebrating our victories and each other. We are invigorated for another powerful year fighting all across the state for our human right to healthcare!

Put People First is a multi-generational organization. Among the nearly 100 people who joined together in Harrisburg, 20 were children. These young people bring life and energy to our movement, and they help us stay grounded and remember what we’re fighting for. We are so happy for their presence and participation!

Azzare (age 10) has been to two membership assemblies. During our celebration on Saturday night, she talked to 26 different people and asked them each what their favorite part of PPF is. Thank you Azzare for your hard work reporting on this beautiful night! It’s so important for us to document the love and joy in our movement.

img_4192

What is your favorite part of Put People First?

“How wonderful the people are.” – Ben

“That everyone gets to participate.” – R.

“Everything!” – Bahjah

“Meeting people from all over Pennsylvania.” – Zack

“That we are so powerful together.” – Noah

“The people, the energy, the commitment.” – Rebecca

“Everyone can be themselves.” – Maddie

“I love that it’s people of all ages.” – Anna

fullsizerender-2

“I love the people, and everybody is so awesome!” – Menvekeh

“Being a big family” – Jacob

“The people.” – Kate

“Learning from other members’ stories.” – Ash

“How it brings people of different races, ethnicities, sexualities and religions together.” – Rick

“The people.” – Jamie L.

“Everyone I work with. Also, you can do it for free.” – Karim

“All the people.” – Danelle

“How it brings out self-respect and leadership.” – Sean

“Community.” – Mihir

“Family.” – Quinha

“The people.” – Jamie B.

fullsizerender-1

“Connecting with everybody.” – Alex

“The community.” – Suzi

“The unity, love, support.” – Laile

“The best people take care of people.” – Dan

“People’s humility.” – Maní

“Working with people of all ages.” – Clarissa

Check back soon for more from the 2016 Membership Assembly!!