The week of September 16th, in three sites across Pennsylvania, Put People First! PA Healthcare Rights Committees (HRCs) and sibling organizations in the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival took to the streets to make the invisible visible and target healthcare profiteers. Every September, PPF-PA has a Week of Action in the lead up to the Statewide Membership Assembly. This year, we had Medicaid Marches in Johnstown, Lancaster and Philadelphia. The “Medicaid March” centers people who are on, need or are excluded from Medicaid in the fight to achieve healthcare as a universal human right for all people. The first Medicaid March took place earlier this year in Vermont, and we thank the Vermont Workers Center for giving us the inspiration!
The Medicaid Marchers called for:
- No added hurdles or cuts to Medicaid
- Full dental coverage under Medicaid
- A Public Healthcare Advocate for PA to fight for people’s – not companies – healthcare rights and
- A local demand based on the profiteers and conditions most affecting the area.
This year, we had over 150 marchers and the most statewide press coverage we’ve received since our Public Hearing victory in 2016. We gave out hundreds of flyers and recruited many new numbers to Put People First! PA’s Nonviolent Medicaid Army.
[Photo above: Sign reads “Save St. Joe’s Hospital in Lancaster, PA” alongside a sign that reads “Liar Liar IBX” showing the struggles for the human right to Healthcare are intertwined at Tuesday’s action in Philadelphia.]
Philadelphia Medicaid March
On Tuesday, September 17th at 5:30 p.m., the Nonviolent Medicaid Army of Put People First! PA and groups in the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, took to the streets of Center City Philadelphia during rush hour to call out profiteering in the healthcare system. The march began at Colliers Real Estate at 18th and Market and processed one block to Independence Blue Cross at 19th and Market.
Philadelphia’s march highlighted the closure and sale of Hahnemann Hospital, one of the main hospitals serving poor and dispossessed people on Medicaid and Medicare in Philadelphia. Recent reports show Colliers stands to profit over $70 million from the closure and sale of Hahnemann. The Medicaid Marchers called for the reopening of Hahnemann as a public hospital.
Marchers held up photos and spoke the names of family and friends who have been lost because of the denial of the human right to health in this country. The rally at Colliers ended with a singing of “Rich Man’s House,” as marchers made clear that we will organize and continue to build a movement to take back what has been stolen from us by those who profit from our pain, our illnesses, our misery, our death and our poverty.
After a moment of silence, the marchers then processed two by two with an 8 foot cardboard coffin to Independence Blue Cross one block away. Marchers chanted demanding a human right to health care, and Jacob Butterly of PPF-PA and the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival accompanied the funeral procession with the song “Motherless Child,” mourning our own loved ones and the many millions of people across our country who have died because they don’t have a right to health care.
At the headquarters of Independence Blue Cross, the main insurance provider for Southeast PA and a political powerhouse in the region, marchers again shared the names of loved ones lost and we held another moment of silence. Speakers shared their stories of having to fight to get the care they need and should have a right to. Jaamal Henderson of ACT UP Philadelphia spoke of his experience being a father of four and struggling to get the care he needed from Independence Blue Cross. “I’ve spent months in and out of the hospital not getting the care I needed,” he remarked.
We also highlighted two members who were not able to make it: Summer Mills and Yuri Ashford, two people denied life-saving dental care from Independence Blue Cross. The event ended with a song, again led by Jacob Butterly, and a call to all to get involved in this movement for our lives.
I got to the march early, right after work. I wasn’t totally sure which corner to wait on – a couple people saw my Put People First shirt & guessed “are you here for the march?” “Yeah….” They weren’t PPF members but had heard about the march from our outreach. We scanned around until we saw a group in red shirts & crossed the street together to the Colliers Real Estate building.
Our crowd gathered & things got started pretty quickly, staking our place on the sidewalk, chanting, singing, sharing stories into a megaphone. I was focused on passing out PPF flyers to any passerby who seemed at all interested. I’d been nervous about that but more experienced PPF members gave me encouragement & pointers, and I found that it was easier than I’d expected to make conversation with people. “Do you know about Hahnemann University Hospital closing? … Well we’re here because this real estate company right here is set to make 70 million dollars from that” – “70 million dollars?!” – “yeah, and, we’re saying that’s not right and that no one should make money off of people getting sick at all” – “okay, all right!” It was not very hard for people to agree that was wrong & it felt good to connect over that & get some email addresses. – Some people I just passed flyers to quickly & some hurried by nervously, avoiding eye contact (these were mostly people in nice suits and dresses). It was the end of the work day in the middle of Center City so there were so many people rushing by, seeing & hearing us & sometimes staying to join in.
It felt good to be taking up space like that – yelling together “all power to – THE WORKING CLASS” and about how angry we are that people are dying and that other people are profiting off it. It felt especially good to be taking up that space in Center City, where capital is so concentrated it’s like a tangible presence, shining off the buildings, glimmering in people’s fancy work clothes, glossing over all the suffering that it causes, menacing anyone who would dare to challenge it. That’s how Center City feels to me and it felt like we were scratching off the mask, revealing the ugliness.
Then we slowly marched two-by-two with a big cardboard coffin to Independence Blue Cross headquarters a block away. We were disciplined, in formation, and when Jacob Butterly started singing “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” the gravity of what we were marching for really settled into me. We took over the sidewalk and more people shared their stories in front of IBX. It was powerful to be there in our numbers, our noise and our truth.
-Beckett Koretz, Philadelphia HRC, PPF-PA
It felt strange, following the protest, speeches, and short march, to walk a few more blocks to my car and drive home. The sudden change in pace made it feel almost wrong to leave, as if I should have remained on the street longer. This feeling led me, on the drive home, to ask myself a number of questions in order to recapitulate what had just happened. These questions had an undeniably cynical tone. What did we just do? How many people were there? How many people saw? Did we have an impact on these people? What would this impact amount to? Did I do enough? Could I have done more? What was the goal behind our protest? What is the point of protesting, anyways?
I managed to stop the barrage of questions — or rather, to get a handle on them and think positively — when I changed my perspective slightly, asking myself what the protest could mean in my own personal development. This is when I really began to see things clearly. I realized that the Medicaid March was an experience of personal growth that will have lasting effects on me. This political action was different from any I had taken before. I thought about our chants and songs. In the past, when I have participated in protests, and it came time to chant or sing, I always restrained myself. Out of self-consciousness, shame (of what?), shyness, fear of standing out or of standing up. I am talking about chanting but not really letting go; chanting but remaining conscious of the volume of your voice, making sure it does not become too heard, too distinguishable, hiding in a crowd. This is what I always do, or always did, up until the Medicaid March. This time, I really let myself go. I didn’t care what my voice sounded like. The feeling was one of peace, and also confidence and strength. It was quite simple too. I just stopped caring about what my voice may sound like, or if it was too loud, or if I would know the right thing to say — and instead joined in with the group, letting myself be heard without caring what I sound like, and in the process relinquishing the self-defeating tendency to just blend in. Speaking against healthcare profiteers was what we were there to do, and everyone’s voice was amplified.
I think that this feeling of personal power is at the heart of what it means to take action together. As a new member of PPF, I am excited to open myself to the strength that comes with being part of a collective organization. I was moved not only by the amount of organizing that went into making this action possible but also by the number of spontaneous developments at the action itself. A woman elected herself to speak on the spot and she gave an amazing speech; after the action wound down, we ended up just hanging on the street for awhile, eating snacks and talking.
-Harrison Farina,Norristown HRC, PPF-PA