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Work requirements for Medicaid and other attempts to dismantle healthcare, with Rebecca Vallas


Children’s healthcare was a bargaining chip in the latest showdown in Congress, but with the government shutdown over for now, Republicans are planning more healthcare cuts. Much of this will happen on the state level, as the Trump administration has given states the green light to impose restrictions on Medicaid that include work requirements–the same kind of work requirements that helped destroy the program formerly known to most people as “welfare.” Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress joins me to talk about the unending attacks on healthcare, why calling things “welfare reform” is wrong, and how to challenge the attacks on these popular safety net programs.

I think the first thing that we need to do is learn from 2017, where we actually saw Medicaid’s overwhelming popularity across party lines be what stopped Republicans from being able to unilaterally repeal the Affordable Care Act and dismantle our healthcare system. It was Medicaid that saved the ACA. I think the lesson to learn from that is, for starters, Medicaid and nutrition assistance and affordable housing and more, all these programs that help families stay afloat when they fall on hard times or when wages aren’t enough, they are incredibly popular programs.
Rather than talking in the Republican talking point terms about these programs being for “the poor” or sort of following their lead that this is about some other, we need to be talking about and thinking about these programs as for all of us when we need them when our wages aren’t enough, when we lose a job through no fault of our own, when we end up needing to care for a sick loved one or when we get sick ourselves. The more that people think and talk in “us” terms as opposed in pity or charity terms as though it is about some group of other people that they are protecting these programs for, the more that we will get to a place where not just Republicans in Congress—I should say just policy makers, generally–understand this, but also that the media starts to understand that these programs are there for all of us and these fights are ones that matter to the American people across the board.
I think that is incredibly important to hear and to think about because so often and for many, many years progressive folks who have been well-intentioned in talking about these issues have really done it in terms of “protecting the least among us” or “the most vulnerable,” all of which really reinforces that myth that somehow the poor are “them” rather than us.

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Self-determined governance and electoral justice, with Jessica Byrd and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

2018 is a midterm election year, and that means the news cycle and a lot of the political energy (and funding) will be running to electoral politics. But what does that mean for social movements, for the Movement for Black Lives? I talk with Jessica Byrd, cofounder of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of Highlander Education and Research Center about what role elections play in movements for liberation, what barriers still exist to democracy in the U.S., and much more.

JB: This part of elections that I think we talk about the least is the real structural barriers in accessing democracy. Right now, our democracy is really an aspirational one versus one that we are actually finding the fruits of. What happens as we attempt to continue to access it more and more is that there are more barriers put in place for us to fully participate. When I say “us” I mean nearly everyone but white men who own land and have a college degree, etc. Those laws largely were passed as folks were gaining access to democracy and access to voting and elected leadership and finding ways to make their voices heard in our electoral system. Part of what the movement has to engage in, as well, is removing those barriers.
….
AWH: I think that what has become ever more real in the southern specific context is that even with the achievements of Black liberation movements before us, specifically around voting rights and civil rights, that we deserve more than what policy ever gave us. I think that the Movement for Black Lives is really pushing both in the Electoral Justice Project and through the Vision for Black Lives policy platform, calling for what we have always deserved and not just what we would concede to.
That looks like demanding even more protections for folks that are exercising their right to vote as one particular form of participation and building people’s democracy. It is not the only tactic, but it is definitely one that we don’t have the luxury to ignore, especially with working class Black people, especially in places that tend to be more disenfranchised, whether because you are a formerly or currently incarcerated person. Alabama, again, is another case study–people who have never been convicted of a crime that are literally not being allowed to vote. We saw folks fight and win protections for those folks and over 10,000 formerly and currently incarcerated people registered to vote in this last election.

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Permanent protections instead of temporary status, with Jaime Contreras


Trump has now revoked temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from four countries, the latest being El Salvador. Some 200,000 Salvadorans have come to the US fleeing civil war, earthquakes, and gang violence under this status, but now the administration demands they go home. SEIU 32BJ, the building service workers union, has 100,000 Salvadoran members, many of whom relied on TPS to work in the US. Jaime Contreras, a vice-president with the union and a Salvadoran immigrant himself, explains what the TPS policy has meant to people like his family and what the union is doing to protect its members and pressure Congress to fix the immigration system.

To me, this didn’t come as a surprise. We all heard the rhetoric during the campaign from this president. We knew it was coming. If there is one thing different between the Republicans and the Democrats it is Republicans say what they are going to do and they do it. Democrats, it is the ever-frustrating part where you say you are going to do something and then you do something opposite. Republicans at least stick to their guns and [Laughs] do what they said they were going to do. It is unfortunate. A lot of people were hoping it was only going to be rhetoric, but it is not a surprise.
You asked earlier “What are we going to do and how are we going to get ourselves organized?” SEIU and the rest of the labor movement, along with churches, community organizations, even the business community… The Chamber of Commerce is against eliminating TPS. Obviously, they weren’t heard. Now it is in the hands of Congress. Congress has to act and fix DACA, fix TPS, and allow these people to continue living in the United States as they have been. A lot of these people, like I said, they own homes, some of them are business owners, they have US-born children, they have roots here. They have roots here. You can’t uproot people who have been here for over two decades just like that. It is just not the American thing to do. So, we are going to be lobbying Congress and demanding they fix this problem once and for all for these people who really should be US citizens by now, if they were allowed the opportunity to do that.

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Building rural power with Down Home North Carolina

Brigid Flaherty moved home to rural North Carolina after the election of Donald Trump to put her years of organizing experience to work “down home,” bringing together a multiracial organization of working-class people to build power in their communities. A year later, Down Home North Carolina has organizers and members in several counties and campaigns on national, regional and local issues, from healthcare to racial justice to energy bills. Flaherty joins me with member Kischa Peña and organizer Juan Miranda to talk about Down Home’s work in the last year and what’s coming up for them in 2018.

BF: When we were looking at the political makeup of North Carolina and what had happened since 2010 and the far-right takeover of the state and then moving into 2016 and watching that happen at the federal level, it felt like the best offense that we were going to have was to make sure that we were building strong local leadership in places in North Carolina that weren’t necessarily the places that had a lot of infrastructure. For us, this felt like a long-term project that needed to happen in order to make sure that working people got what they deserved, were able to build their leadership, and flex their muscle so that we could really be making winds that could change people’s lives in the years to come.
We said in November that we were going to start Down Home and then actually got off the ground in June this year. We have been around for about six months. Originally, it started out just Todd and I doing the organizing. I moved back to the mountains where my mother lives and I was actually living with her for the first few months and Todd was organizing in Alamance in the center part of the state. We just got out on the doors using a listening survey. We went with three broad questions, basically, which were: What are the issues that matter most to you and your family? Who or what is responsible for those issues? What are your solutions?
I think one of the things we really felt we learned from the 2016 election is that a lot of working people don’t feel listened to. The parties have never contacted them. It felt like a lot of people were speaking for them and yet they were like, “Y’all have never come to our door. You have never sat in our living room.” Again, we have only been around for six months. We basically used the first four and a half/five months to just listen and use that survey to really be able to develop the leaders and develop the issues that would be the things that we were going to fight on as Down Home. That is really how we got started.

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Launching the new Poor People’s Campaign with Rev. Emily McNeill


When Martin Luther King Jr. died, he was in the middle of building the Poor People’s Campaign–a multiracial endeavor challenging America’s persistent class divide. But the campaign was left unfinished, and the class divide has only gotten worse and will continue to do so under the latest policy from the Republican Congress, a massive package of tax cuts for the rich and tax hikes for everyone else. So a group of organizers and faith leaders is coming together to finish the work that King started and launching the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Rev. Emily McNeill is part of that campaign in New York State, and also director of the Labor Religion Coalition in New York, and she looks back on the year that was and forward to the campaign coming up.

I think that is a really important aspect of the campaign and it is intentional—to be pushing back on this myth that we all could raise ourselves up by our bootstraps and just continue to accumulate and become rich. It has obviously never been a reality in the history of the United States. But, there is also this history of people on the bottom, in all sorts of ways, coming together and organizing and claiming their identity.
One of the explicit goals of this phase of the campaign is about changing the moral narrative of all these issues; around racism and poverty and militarism and ecological devastation. Part of the narrative that the campaign wants to shift is that being poor is something to be ashamed of and instead to say, “No, poverty is something that our society should be ashamed of. We have nothing to be ashamed of if we are not making ends meet because there are structural reasons for that and people are getting rich off the fact that we are poor.” To claim that, that “We have nothing to be ashamed of, the people that are perpetuating the system are the ones who should be ashamed” is a big part of the messaging that we want to get through to people.
That is what comes across in the testimonies that the campaign has already been putting out from directly impacted folks from around the country, people standing up and saying, “There is nothing wrong with me. I am not…” There is a great video from this young woman who was part of the launch event. She is from Grays Harbor in Washington State and talking about, “I was homeless not because I am lazy, but because society doesn’t have any problem with me being homeless” and just really naming that she is not ashamed and she has no reason to be ashamed to be poor.

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Organizing one by one for DREAMers and system change, with Alfredo Pacheco


Coming down to the end of the year, the DREAM Act that Democrats and even some Republicans have claimed to want to pass for years has still not been passed, despite renewed urgency due to Trump’s rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented by Obama. Organizers around the country are demanding action, including Alfredo Pacheco of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, who took a group to Washington, D.C. to join a massive protest December 6th. But fighting for the DREAM Act is only part of the work that Pacheco does, and he explains how it all connects, as well as what he’s looking forward to fighting for in 2018.

Whenever people say “power” you imagine a lot of things, like, “Only people with money have power.” That is my first thought. But, when you learn that, you have a group of people, you have you, that is power. If you tell them what their rights are, that is power. Now, if you get collective power of people and you start teaching them how to create power with money, community, you put all of those things together, you have more power. And it doesn’t take just one person. Everybody can move together and change that, and do that. That was the big thing… I was confused about that at first, but then over the year of practicing more and more and more, you start to understand that. That power can be used in a good way and a bad way. We have to learn how to use it in a good way and for our own benefit.
[People] should know that no matter how difficult the fight looks, it is not impossible. That is the truth. I lived like that for twenty-seven years thinking that it was impossible to make a change. But, now you’re seeing it more often. Look at what happened in Alabama. Collective power by organizing people.

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Down to the wire to stop the tax scam, with Sarah Chaisson-Warner and Jessica Juarez Scruggs

The Republicans think they have the votes to pass their massive tax cut package. But their constituents aren’t done fighting. From Kittery, ME to Nashville, TN and elsewhere around the country, groups are marching, sitting in, and even rewriting Christmas carols around the themes of upward wealth transfer. Sarah Chaisson-Warner and Jessica Juarez Scruggs of People’s Action talk about what’s in the bill, who’s still fighting to stop it, what can be done, and what happens next–including a preview of what to expect from election season in 2018 and some thoughts about what’s been surprising in 2017.

SCW: We’re still working to influence some of our targets in the Senate and the House. We do anticipate that they will probably vote this week or want to vote this week, Tuesday or Wednesday, so it’s coming up quite quickly, in the Senate we did hear over the weekend that Sen. Corker had shifted his vote, although that does not mean that the people of Tennessee will not be out this week. In Nashville, our affiliate is actually working with some of their allies as we speak to plan actions around that flip of the vote. Our affiliate in Maine continues to work hard on Sen. Collins, and we know that there are many House members who don’t support this bill or have some reservations about this bill. Members who are concerned about the repeal of the individual mandate and have real deeply invested concerns about healthcare. We have some members who have some concerns about the SALT provision, and others who are just a little uncomfortable with the bill and how quickly it’s moved and the cost of the bill.
So we will continue to work in largely Republican districts this week and should they vote on the bill this week our affiliates are ramping up for rapid response and again, if they vote, if they pass this bill, it will not be quiet in the states, it will not be quiet in the field, people are angry about this, no one wants this bill to pass, you see it in the polls, and we will be out in the streets and in the news and everywhere else showing members of Congress that this was the wrong decision.

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Serve your constituents or grow your own wealth, with Campus Action for Democracy

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana is one of the richest members of Congress; he is, as the members of Campus Action for Democracy point out, a prime beneficiary of the Republican tax bill poised to pass. On the other hand, in the middle of his district–Indiana’s 9th–is Indiana University, where students, campus workers, and graduate students make up a large part of his constituency. The rest of the district is largely working class. When a group of Campus Action for Democracy and Hoosier Action members went to his office to ask to discuss his vote for the tax bill, they were met with stonewalling–for eight hours. They share their story, and the organizing they have been doing to challenge the tax bill and more across Indiana.

 

THG: The congressman has never been available publicly to his constituents at either office, anyway. We really felt when we went there yesterday like we don’t have the opportunity to have any kind of communication with this person who has been elected to represent us and is supposed to be our voice in Congress.
And over 8 hours yesterday he really proved that point to us, that we actually have no way to communicate with him. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I think we all had similar experiences. I felt really dismissed and disrespected and honestly disenfranchised by that experience yesterday, by the way that he and his D.C. office coordinated things around us without engaging us. It was a really troubling and upsetting experience as a constituent and a voter.
JK: We felt that the only recourse that we had to communicate with our congressman was to show up in his office and refuse to leave or else, perhaps, get arrested, we really honestly thought that was the only way we could get in contact with him. And it didn’t work. Maybe it would work if we went to D.C. and did this. But, again, the idea that you would ever have to leave your own state to communicate with your congressman is pretty patently insane.

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Trump is not on the side of the Jews, with Sarah Brammer-Shlay

Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem provoked cheers from evangelical Christian groups and some far-right donors, but in fact, says Sarah Brammer-Shlay of Jewish organization IfNotNow, a majority of American Jews oppose the move, which they understand will bring more violence and repression down on Palestinians. IfNotNow organized protests around the country last week and plans on more actions in the coming weeks to challenge the Trump administration’s pretense of being a friend of the Jewish community. Brammer-Shlay joined me to talk about the actions, Trump’s latest moves, and the rise of antisemitism in the Trump era.

I think a pretty frequent question that’s been asked is “Wait, can someone be a supporter of Israel and still be an antisemite?” And the answer is yes. We’ve seen that.
There’s a lot of different layers. I think it’s important for us to note that the US government–and we see this with the embassy move–the US government has its own reasons for supporting the occupation. We as Jews need to say we’re not your pawns for doing this.
Christian evangelical organizations that our community for the most part would totally not align with in situation where they’re supporting Israel, give them our support. There have been synagogues, there was a synagogue in California recently that hosted an event with the head of Christians United for Israel, which is the biggest pro-Israel lobbying group, and this is an organization for which the idea behind supporting Israel is so that the Rapture will come and that’s not a good situation for Jews. This is not a love for Jews, but we’re seeing a conflation of supporting Israel at all costs with saying they side with Jews and that’s not actually true.
This is also really connected to Islamophobia as well. I think what we’re seeing here is that Israel is seen as a Western country in this region and in a lot of these, especially with these Christian evangelical organizations, it’s an anti-Muslim effort to say “We support Israel and we support Jews, we don’t support the Arabs in the region.”

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Taxing people out of higher education, with Tom DePaola

One of the remarked-upon features of the House version of the Republican tax bill currently headed to reconciliation is that it would tax tuition waivers given to graduate students who do much of the teaching and research workloads on campus as income. (To explain: When I was a graduate student teacher, my stipend–the money in my pocket–was around $16,000 per year. Tuition for my program was nearly $30,000, but was “waived”–no checks were written, no loans taken out. The GOP plan would tax me as though I made $46,000 for that year, taxes I would have to pay out of my measly $16,000 to live on.)

Graduate workers, though, have been organizing their workplaces in recent years, and are ready to fight. A group of graduate workers organizing with SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign went to Washington, D.C. to greet Paul Ryan and ask him why he wants to raise their taxes. When Ryan wouldn’t talk to them, Tom DePaola and others were arrested. DePaola, an education PhD student and researcher at the University of Southern California, talks to me about the tax bill, the Republican attacks on campus, and the universities’ ambivalent response to the Trump administration.

I think this is much bigger than just the tax bill. It is much bigger than just graduate students. I try to keep that in mind because in past iterations of the labor movement in the US, I think that there were a lot of fatal mistakes made when we may have pivoted too hard to bread and butter issues as opposed to what we might call social movement unionism where we are all advocating for each other, we are all standing up for each other. USC is the largest private employer and the largest private export in the entire city of LA. We have the most international students of any private university in the country. They like to say that this the evidence that their fundamental valuing of diversity, but when we saw the immigration ban rolling out, we saw DACA, all of these things, the university was basically silent. A couple of memos went out, “Oh, we respect everyone. Oh, if you need some advice, head on down to the law school and maybe someone can talk to you there.” If I were an international student who was scared, that would have done nothing to assuage my fears. We, students, the workers themselves, we have to come together to protect each other because really that is all we have. The university isn’t going to protect us. I have tons of work to do. None of us have the time for this. None of us have the time to take days to fly down to Paul Ryan’s office to get arrested. But, at the same time, we are not going to step aside while folks come in and just try to rip our careers out from underneath us and our ideals and intellectualism at large.

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