Embodying Our Power at the IBX Tower

by Anna Cibils, Philly

I didn’t grow up going to protests or actions. For years after moving to the US I was in the process of applying for US citizenship, and so I learned that any expression of any kind of political opinion could cost me and my family the chance of getting permanent status. I also inherited the fear of governments as an immigrant and the daughter of Argentinian parents who grew up during the military dictatorship in Argentina.

When I joined Put People First!, this fear and aversion to protests was still very real for me. Despite this, through my process of political development in PPF, I have learned the importance of taking direct action. I was an active participant in the protest against Independence Blue Cross (IBX) health insurance company in Philadelphia on July 26, 2017.

The action was one of a series that we have held at the IBX headquarters in Philadelphia as part of our campaign to demand that IBX stop raising premiums on Obamacare plans. Our main demand of IBX this time around was for Daniel Hilferty, the CEO, to attend the Pennsylvania Insurance Department Town Hall in September, to answer to Pennsylvanians who are struggling to afford increasingly unaffordable IBX plans on the Healthcare Marketplace.

The action was organized quickly, but even in a short time the Campaign team and Media and Communications team ensured that the effort was collective — photos by Chris Baker Evens that as many PPF members as possible felt ownership over the action. The day before the action we had a sign-making party where we agreed on the final plan, which included testimonies, chants, and ending with a die-in. I volunteered last-minute to be an MC with fellow member Zack Hershman. I remembered the first time I did canvassing in PPF, I was paired up with Zack and he helped me get over my nerves of talking to people, so I knew I was in good hands for MCing.

The day of the action I actually felt excited, not my usual sickness. I’ve been angry for so long that channeling it at these companies isn’t a problem. As much as I would love to scream out from the rooftops all the ways I’ve been hurt by people in power, I’ve learned that anger on its own will not sustain us — while emotional intelligence is powerful, it must be combined with history to understand how our individual experiences fit inside a much larger narrative and fight. Our stories, relationships, and histories fuel this campaign.

The protest itself was impeccably organized and very moving, with testimonies from people all across the city and surrounding counties. The most powerful moment of the day for me was when several of our South Central PA PPF family joined us as we began the action. Having them there to support us made me feel deeply rooted in our work across PA — what we are facing is not just happening in Philly. The story is the same across our state: companies take advantage of politicians and bureaucrats to maintain an unjust system, where people’s ability to live is dependent on their ability to pay.

Here’s one of my biggest lessons from two years of being involved in this struggle: It doesn’t matter how many times the insurance executives and regulators lecture us that our demands are unrealistic because of markets and profits. It remains a fact that the government and insurance companies continue to prioritize profits over people. They have blood on their hands; we will not be silent. By the end of the action, I felt the importance of visibly embodying our power, our intelligence, our connectedness.

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