How Put People First says “yes” to universality

Read an excerpt from a workshop by PPF member, leader and co-founder Nijmie Dzurinko at the Philly Leadership Institute last month!

One way that a human rights framework is strategic is that when we talk of universality, it’s about opening up the space. We need healthcare for people who are locked up. We need healthcare for people who are undocumented. We need healthcare for people who are queer and trans. So if you say “yes” to universality, you are saying “yes” to that whole thing. And we can’t back down from that.

And so the human rights principles are very strategic because they allow us to say “Our class, of poor and dispossessed people has people from every race, from every ethnic group, from every gender, from every ability, from every part of the state, from every status, and we can’t be separated.” We are all part of the same class. We can build and bring in all those people, because we need all those people. Like Danelle said [in our Healthcare is a Human Right campaign video]: That there are more of us who need this, who are fighting for this, than there are people who are trying to prevent us from getting it. No one in this room is one of those people who are trying to prevent us from getting our needs met, we don’t have the power to do that, we don’t have the decision-making power, we aren’t in that place. If you are, please identify yourself!

We are not those people who are making those decisions, and supporting those systems, propping those systems up. We are people who don’t agree with that, and saying “You know what — just because you are doing that, that’s not an Act Of God.” Those are human decisions and human systems created by human beings. And we are all human beings, and we can change those systems. We can change those conditions. We can change those circumstances. And the more that we believe that, and stop believing that they are “Acts Of God,” that “the market” is some kind of unseen force that has different moods on different days and feels like different things. Those kinds of ideas cause us to not realize that we do have power to change systems, and to change those forces.

I also want to situate our work in the Black Radical Tradition of building multi-racial poor people’s movements that started in the foundation of this country, with things like Bacon’s Rebellion. It continued on through Reconstruction, it continued on through the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, through Fred Hampton and the Original Rainbow Coalition, through the Poor People’s Campaign, through the Homeless Union organizing in the 1980s, and it continues on through the legacy of Put People First. Those are the traditions that we come out of.

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