Friday, May 12, 2017

What lobbying for healthcare coverage for all children in Oregon taught me today

Photo from Causa

I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a lobby day today sponsored by the Latino Health Coalition. We were lobbying and rallying for SB 558 and HB 2726. It's really pretty simple: healthcare is a human right, and all children should be entitled to exercise this right and receive healthcare. I learned and relearned a few important lessons.

The Latino Health Coalition can put together a large and effective gathering and build political power.

The Coalition can put together a well-organized lobby day and work successfully from a united-front perspective.

The Coalition has some of Oregon's best organizers and can attract into their orbit some of the kindest, most politically sophisticated and focused people in this state. The Coalition is especially effective in raising up young people, women and working-class people.

The Coalition knows the power of the human story and the power of organized people and can put both to work for social justice.

Many people who I have known for several years have compelling and tragic stories relating to their work as farmworkers and industrial workers and not having had healthcare. I had not heard these stories until today. The Coalition built much of their work today on the lived experiences of "ordinary" people who are really extraordinary.

I was reminded of the courage of the working class and the youth as I heard these dramatic stories and saw people sticking to the program. Their determination to see this struggle through is strong. This is a civil rights movement in its means and in its desired ends.

We face a danger of being used by liberal political forces and then being cast aside. It was hard to get real commitments today from elected officials and their staffpeople.

The politicians---and I mean politicians from both parties, and especially Senate President Peter Courtney---place money and budgets and bipartisanship before human beings and human needs. We get told to work for and elect Democrats, we do that and then these Democrats tell us that bipartisan support is needed; it's a frustrating circle, and perhaps intentionally so.

If you're showing up as an ally to people-of-color-led struggles, bring your humility along and listen. Take a strong and vocal position as an ally after others have spoken. Don't take the air out of the room. Never apologize for being a radical.

Solidarity activists do best when we learn some kindness and remember the extraordinary power of the women, the youth and the working-class.

Where the white working-class is a majority in Oregon we have a special responsibility to organize our communities and coworkers to support and vote for candidates who identify with a full immigrant rights agenda and to support people of color candidates who run on a program of broad democratic rights and inclusivity; we need to split the racist opposition to social progress. Where we are not the majority, we have a responsibility to join coalitions and united fronts and work for multigernerational and multiracial working-class leadership. We need a working-class political party with multiugenerational and multiracial leadership, citizens and the undocumented, union members and the unorganized, LGBTQIA+ and others.

Immigrant rights are human rights, human rights are democratic rights, democratic rights are the first bulwark against the reactionaries, the struggle against the reactionaries is the university of the working class, and we depend upon intersectionality and struggle to build a new and better world. The Coalition gave me a much-needed taste of that better world today.

Another local white anti-racist and labor activist who attended today had this to say:

Well said. The stories from two young Latino activists in my group, both undocumented, were outside of my lived experience. They were powerful and courageous in their self-description as undocumented, and the personal stories they told, both from farm worker families. Fortunately, Jaime led our group in such a way as our (mostly) white participants left the powerful statements to those youth, and avoided sucking the air out of the room.

It was refreshing to hear Paul Evans start off the meeting with a strong statement of advocacy for the bill, with obvious disdain for anyone who would stand in the way. He clearly understands that the Latino activists who worked their community to support him were the reason for his success, and he is unapologetic about supporting their interests, and has adopted their frame and then some. He frames health care for all as a national security issue (e.g. the easy spread of biological diseases among an unhealthy population) and dares those who have never worn a uniform to challenge him on national security. A champion.

Compared to Brian Clem, who did not meet with us, and had a mealy mouthed staff person give lots of excuses how Brian was not in a position to move anything, not his committee, and so on.... But will wait until the bill is on the floor for a vote to pay attention to it. "Probably would support it then, but I can't speak for him."

Then of course we met with staff for Tawna Sanchez, the only indigenous peoples member of the legislature, who is a co-sponsor and champion. Who we elect is important. We need champions, not just party loyalists.

Another local activist said:

Health Care For All!!! Cover all Kids Day at the State Capitol drew more than 100 to urge passage of Oregon HB 2726, and SB 556 which would provide health care coverage to ALL Oregon children, including those who are undocumented. In Oregon 17,000 such children are uninsured. People came from all over Oregon to urge passage including folks...from The Dalles and Hood River. That's a 3-hour drive each way. What's more impressive is (a) group...drove 8 hours from Ontario to attend today's sessions. I hope lawmakers they visited had their thinking caps and listening ears on.

Photo from Sarah Rohrs

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