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Fighting for healthcare in coal country, with Gary Zuckett


The healthcare battle in the Senate has honed in on a few wavering “moderate” Republicans, many of them from states that are heavy users of Medicaid–and the ACA’s Medicaid expansion–for health insurance coverage. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is one of those, and despite the state’s reputation as being the center of Trumplandia, Gary Zuckett of West Virginia Citizen Action Group says that people are ready to fight to keep their healthcare–and maybe even to make it better.

Like you said, we are sort of labelled as Trump Country now and we have voted for the Republican candidate ever since George Bush II got elected. It is easy to paint in broad strokes like that, but I would also remind folks that in the Democratic primary last year, the State of West Virginia went for Bernie Sanders. So there is a hunger for a populist message here in West Virginia. Unfortunately, our current president and his false populism appeal to a lot of people.
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We have been painted as a backward regressive state and I think that is unfair. One of the things that we saw after the election was a total insurgency of people coming out of the woodwork wanting to be active. Newly minted activists and people that had been active in their youth and maybe are now retired and decided, “Well, I better get back into this because times are rough” and pulled together. There are Indivisible groups in most of the counties in West Virginia now. There are women’s huddles from the Women’s March that are still meeting here in West Virginia on a regular basis and talking to each other. We, out of this office, helped organize a sister Women’s March to the one in D.C. We had somewhere between 3,000-4,000 people show up at our state capitol, which blew everybody away, including us.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Getting through to the Senate to defeat Trumpcare, with Jaron Benjamin


Networks of activists around the country have been training in protest tactics for months; this week they put them to use in Washington, D.C. 80 were arrested bringing their message to members of the Senate, soon to vote on a proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act and slash Medicaid funds. Jaron Benjamin of Housing Works was one of those arrested and has been one of those providing training to groups around the country on how to reach their members of Congress when said members don’t want to be reached.

The day was pretty moving. And I think it was probably as impactful for people that participated as it was for people that saw it on the news. I didn’t expect that. When you get 150 and 200 activists, however many people we had in the room before we went to the Capitol, and a lot of these folks have either participated in protests or, since we had people from 21 different states, you would assume that people were already feeling as many feelings as they could feel, because everybody in that room is dedicated and committed, but one of the themes that I noticed when I talked to people after being released from cuffs was that we all got way more emotional, not only throughout the day but during the demonstration than we thought that we would. It turned out that we were more angry about this attempt to take away healthcare from millions of people than we possibly knew, and we cared more and we were moved to tears more during the protest.
The day started off with about 150 folks getting together and just talking about why we were together and then going over the scenarios, figuring out which constituencies would be able to go and have a demonstration at which offices at one time. To the untrained eye it was chaotic but to a lot of us it was democracy in action.

Up at Truthout.
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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Shutting down white supremacy in Charlottesville, with Laura Goldblatt and Mimi Arbeit


The Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. The people of Charlottesville were ready. Over 1000 people showed up to counter-protest the Klan, rejecting the violent white supremacist history that the Klan sought to evoke. Laura Goldblatt and Mimi Arbeit are two organizers who helped put together the mobilization that massively outnumbered the white supremacists and made sure that the headlines would read that the city rejects the glorification of the Confederacy.

LG: I think today people in Charlottesville showed up in an act of community of self-defense when the city showed that they would not defend us, nor would the police. In that sense, we celebrated our strength as a community and our ability to stand with each other and provide some measure of safe space in the midst of a really hostile moment.
People showed up at the park early in the day. People started with prayers and more and more people gathered. There was music. There were people with signs. There was this beautiful crane installation of a thousand cranes because cranes are a Japanese sign of solidarity. It is believed that if you fold a thousand cranes, you will be granted a wish. So, people embedded in the cranes their wishes to end white supremacy.
There were thousands of people there. It was a really moving show of the community coming out despite the fact that the city had officially discouraged people for coming and instead organized a variety of alternative events. Then, the police provided safe passage for the Klan to enter the park. They violently removed protestors who were standing at the entrance that the Klan had intended to use in order to prevent them from entering and from endangering our community. Police brutally removed those protestors, but nonetheless, activists remained chanting at the Klan and lingered long after following the police as the police, again, provided safe passage to the Klan back to their cars.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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ADAPT and resist, with Bruce Darling


Disabled activists have been leading the charge to save Medicaid from GOP cuts, from Fairbanks, Alaska to Orlando, Florida; from Portland, Maine to Phoenix, Arizona. Bruce Darling is a longtime activist with ADAPT, the disability-rights group that has fought for decades for the right of people with disabilities to live in and be treated equally in the broader community. Now those hard-won rights are at risk as the Republicans aim to cut over $770 billion from Medicaid, the service that pays for home care attendants, medications, wheelchairs, and lifesaving equipment for millions of Americans. Bruce joined me to talk about ADAPT’s fight against “Trumpcare.”

For us, what this bill will do is…disabled Americans will die. Others will be forced into institutions and increase this terrible feedback loop because institutions are more expensive. With capped funds it will drive more money to the institutions, making less money available for healthcare and services and supports in the community, so more folks will die and go into institutions. We wanted to people to see it is the equivalent of basically being dragged off; the way they saw it on the news, that is actually what happens, even now with the Medicaid program as it is. This will just make it far, far, far worse.
…We wanted to highlight that using language that we thought, or hoped, Republicans would understand. There isn’t an asterisk on the Constitution that says “Except disabled Americans.” We should have a birthright of life and liberty. Medicaid is the thing that actually pays for and supports our lives and our liberty in the community. So cutting that is actually cutting the lives and liberty of disabled Americans. It is killing disabled Americans. We really wanted to drive that point home.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Healthcare for the heartland, with Jesse Myerson


After the election, Jesse Myerson wanted to build something in a place with little progressive infrastructure. He found himself in Bloomington, Indiana, where alongside Kate Hess Pace and a handful of other Hoosiers, he is helping to build Hoosier Action. Many of its earliest actions have focused on fighting Medicaid cuts on the state and national level. He’s also the host of a podcast that, like Interviews for Resistance, aims to spotlight organizers from around the country and the work they are doing.

A lot of this organizing is based on having long one-on-one discussions with people, what their lives are like, what they are interested in, what they are concerned about, what they are afraid of, what they are angry about, what they are hopeful for and growing relationships that way. That is both on the doors and ideally in follow-ups after people get knocked or called. Those stories are important in the actual day-to-day organizing, talking to people and letting them know who you are and finding out who they are. As a kind of public expression, really what we hope to do is to mobilize people with that, but that ultimately that mobilization should turn into becoming a dues-paying member, coming to monthly member meetings, joining a team and taking on work. That can be going and knocking on doors, it can be doing data entry, it can be helping to promote issues or taking on a shift at the farmers market or at a county fair, flyering or taking petitions, but ideally it is not a high temperature sort of organizing such as you and I saw at Occupy Wall Street where it is lots of marches, lots of heat, lots of intensity.

Really, that emotional heat is being channelled into really well-functioning systems that people can take on discrete amounts of work that make sense with their working lives and their family lives, but that they can see serving to proliferate the organization.

Up at Truthout.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.