By Put People First! PA Base-building Team Coordinators Kristin and Harrison

What are Projects of Survival?

In September 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Black Panthers (BPP) as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”. For many it was thought that this statement was made due to their militant presence and guns but in actuality it was due to the work they did to organize in their communities through what they came to call Projects of Survival (PROS). 

Projects of Survival are a form of base-building that help our base meet our immediate needs while strengthening the organization and coordination of our class. The BPP organized within their own communities, met the needs they witnessed and used such opportunities to connect with and organize their base through ongoing political education activities. It is this organizing of the most impacted segment of society as well as their work to connect across otherwise uncrossable lines through the Rainbow Coalition, organizing the bottom,  that made them “the greatest threat….”. This led to their ultimate infiltration, leader assassination and incarceration and demise. 

In the late 1980s-1990s the National Union of the Homeless took up the practice of carrying out Projects of Survival (PROS) through their nationally synchronized housing takeovers in over 25  cities across the nation building a membership of close to 35,000 members at its height. Although they were able to win concessions in the name of multi-million dollar housing programs in a number of major cities across that nation, they too were infiltrated, undercut and by the late 1990 were in demise. 

What makes this type of organizing so dangerous to the power holders we are working to hold accountable? As PPF-PA works to carry out our Theory of Change and the Poor Organizing the Poor Model of Organizing it is our practice of moving beyond charity and mutual aid to carry out these PROS as a form of base-building that helps to meet our base’s immediate needs while strengthening the organization and coordination of our class. This is what makes our base-building centered around our practice of carrying our PROS across the state just as powerful, effective and dangerous. 

Why are we committed as an organization to PROS?

PROS take a more common response to need, such as charity or mutual aid, and builds them into organizing opportunities that protest the current conditions causing the ever rising need in our communities, provide us opportunities to base-build among those connecting with our PROS in the most need, provide leadership development for our existing and emerging leaders as they plan, execute and evaluate the effectiveness of each PROS and of course provides a means for us and our base to meet our needs in and call attention to the conditions and crises that exist today in an ever-growing environment of abandonment in the midst of great resource abundance! We engage with, agitate and organize our class, our base, into organization within Put People First! PA (PPF-PA) and the Nonviolent Medicaid Army (NVMA) to find other leaders amongst our base to join us while we build our organization and power to fight back against this “profit over people” society and win a society that PUTS PEOPLE FIRST.

How do we carry out PROS?

There are three main components to carrying out a powerful PROS:

  1. Go where our base is, where they get their needs met
  2. Create a space for such needs to be met
  3. Conduct organizing conversations to engage with, agitate and build relationships with our base across all lines of division, need and location (urban and rural). 

There are also three important phases of a powerful PROS:

  1. Plan – where do we go to meet our base? What need do we meet to strengthen engagement? What training does our membership need to fully engage in a PROS? What roles does each member play to ensure a successful PROS? How do we create space for leadership development throughout the process?
  2. Execute – Ensure folks have what they need to carry out their roles. Be flexible in adapting to the needs of the day. Ensure all needed materials are on-site.
  3. Debrief and follow-up – was our location sufficient to connect with our base? Did folks carry out their roles? Who did we meet and how were we developed? Were our organizing conversations effective? Did they encompass all components of an organizing conversation? Who did we connect to? Who will capture contact information for follow-ups? Who will follow up with each new contact? We have a rule in PPF-PA – no PROS is done until the follow up is completed.

In its heyday, the Black Panther Party had many survival programs – from pediatric clinics, to nutrition classes, to martial arts programs. Today, we have to be creative about all of the opportunities to organize our base around their basic needs. 

Most recently, we have turned Medicaid appeals into a Project of Survival. For years, we have been signing people up for state benefits like Medicaid and food stamps as a Project of Survival, developing trainings for our members and incorporating this practice as part of our People’s Clinics. Medicaid appeals are simply an extension of this practice of organizing around welfare benefits. 

Why Medicaid appeals?

We know that people are still being systematically and brutally cut-off Medicaid en masse. This is an opportunity for us to reveal our class-based healthcare system that is denying us healthcare and killing us every day. 

90 million people in this country are enrolled in Medicaid. That is a huge portion of the 140 million! When we are base building, bringing up the Medicaid cuts is a huge advantage in being able to connect with our base. Many people will have direct experience with being cut-off, and this is a great segway to invite them to take action with us. 

Appeals give us concrete action to take in response to the Medicaid cuts. By organizing around these cuts through tactics like appeals, we are making the invisible visible. The ruling class is spending millions on cover-up campaigns to make it seem like the Medicaid cuts are over, touting false solutions like marketplace plans as an option for the millions of people who were cut.   

Every day we meet another person who was cut off Medicaid. We know that this is going to keep happening to our people, and when it does, they will not know where to turn. That’s where we come in: we can organize people through these crises, showing how their personal healthcare struggle is connected to the class struggle. 

Everyone has a legal right to appeal. We can take advantage of this as a base building tactic. Because people are going to continue systematically losing their healthcare, it is extremely useful to have a way to take immediate action that is also a means to build and deepen a relationship with someone.

When someone tells us they have been cut-off Medicaid, we tell them about their right to appeal and encourage them to let PPF-PA help them file. If they agree, we give them a 1-page document about what to expect. After someone gets a notice from the welfare office saying that they no longer qualify for Medicaid, we help them fill out a Fair Hearing Request form and submit it to their County Assistance (welfare) Office. The welfare office will process their appeal and eventually give us a hearing date. During the hearing, a member of PPF-PA can go to support someone as they talk with a judge and caseworker to explain why they think they should still have Medicaid. Regardless of the judges decision, we continue to fight for this person to get healthcare! 

So far, we helped 9 people file appeals – all of whom had a favorable ruling out of the 55 favorable rulings statewide. That is a big impact!

Leave a Reply