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Fighting no-show Senators for healthcare, with Autumn Zemke


Hillary Clinton won the “purplish” state of Nevada, notes Autumn Zemke of the Northern Nevada Working Families Party, but one of its Senators is still a Republican. Dean Heller has made noises about opposing Trumpcare, but now he’s dodging his constituents. Zemke and others attempted to hold a sit-in at his office last Friday, June 16, but were only let in one at a time. She talked to me about the movement for healthcare in Nevada, and the state’s own proposed Medicaid-for-all solution to the holes in the Affordable Care Act–one that could be even more important if the federal government repeals the ACA.

I think the American public needs that kind of realization, that kind of wake-up that I had, and I just happened to have it a little bit sooner than some people are coming to it. I think it is important for us to tell that story, “This person died.” There is this gentleman who I just came across on Twitter and he was trying to crowdfund his insulin. I think he was in Austin, Texas and he was big in the arts scene and comic book scene. This man actually died because he couldn’t do it.

We shouldn’t be crowdfunding healthcare. Not in the wealthiest country. It is insanity. Plus, it just doesn’t make financial sense. The reality is we have to hold Senator Heller accountable. “Why would you do this? Why would you take healthcare away from us?” And hold them accountable to the fact that there is no financial reason for it.

I have to add, the reality of people who are in the 1% are there off the backs of our labor. It is not like we are trying to take something from them. They have that wealth because they have workers, they have employees, they have people that have lifted them up to this point of extreme. They got there because they have companies where they have people working for them. That is our wealth. We helped make that wealth. Asking for healthcare shouldn’t be that big of a deal when we create the wealth as employees, as workers.

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Stopping Trumpcare wherever you are, with Angel Padilla


The vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with…something is on, but Republicans are hiding the bill away, refusing public debate, and Democrats are unwilling to put it all on the line to stop it. Angel Padilla of the new resistance group Indivisible tells me what their strategy is to stop the bill, and why every single Senator matters.

Republican senators are hiding from their constituency. They are afraid of facing them because they know they are pushing this bad bill that is going to harm them. It is a bill that is literally going to harm thousands and thousands of their own constituents and they are doing it simply because they want to give Donald Trump a win. That is why they are hiding. That is why we have to bring the fight to them.

They are hiding, but constituents can go down to regional offices and they can make their voices heard. They can have sit-ins. They can keep calling. Even if they are not willing to meet with their constituents, they are paying attention. They know that people don’t want it. The only way we are going to stop this bill is if they really get the sense of how widely opposed this bill is. That is the truth.

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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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Bird-dogging for healthcare, with Jennifer Flynn


The House has passed “Trumpcare,” and the Senate has taken it up. But congressmembers are already feeling the heat at home, and Jennifer Flynn is out to ratchet that heat up. A longtime organizer on issues of healthcare and HIV/AIDS, she explains what “bird-dogging” is and how and why it works.

JF: Some people actually believed that Trump might win. People had already started talking about how vulnerable the Affordable Care Act was. The House had voted sixty times to undo it unsuccessfully. We knew that this was coming and something that he said he would do on Day One. We also knew that if we could slow down this fight and if we could build a resistance based on this fight, that would only help every other issue that is part of the Trump agenda.

A couple of days after the election, a colleague of mine from the AIDS world—we actually worked together in an organization that came out of an effort of bird-dogging, of following around elected officials back in the late 1990s. We worked together in this organization that was really known for bird-dogging, particularly during the presidential candidates, when they would go around to Iowa and New Hampshire. So, we had done that work all along. We had been on the campaign trail following Trump so we actually could witness first-hand how popular he was in certain parts of the country.

My colleague sent out an email just on two listservs. These kind of listservs that sprung up the night of the election where thousands of people joined immediately because we were all so desperate for something to do in a community, to commiserate with. He said, “I don’t really know what to do in this time.” My colleague, by the way, is named Paul Davis. He now works at Housing Works. He said, “I don’t really know what to do at this time, but the one thing I have done in the past that was very effective under previous Republican administrations, particularly under the Bush Jr. administration, is that we would do this very targeted bird-dogging campaign where we would not let any elected official off the hook and just repeatedly ask them questions and through our question-asking move them, get that different answer each time. We are actually moving them from being strongly opposed to our view to being closer to our side.” He said, “So, if you can get fifteen people and a space, I will come out and do a training.”

He just thought a bunch of people where he lived or he is close to, some place where he could get to easily with sign up and he would go and do a couple of trainings. Within three days, he had thirty-two cities scheduled.

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Halting the healthcare apocalypse, with Adam Gaffney


After one failed attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans managed, by one vote, to pass another version of what’s being called “Trumpcare” through the House of Representatives largely by pushing it through before anyone had gotten a chance to look at it closely. But any bill before this deeply divided Congress faces an uphill battle, and particularly this one. Physician and universal-healthcare advocate Adam Gaffney joins us to explain what is in the bill, what its chances of passing are, how we got here, and how we stop 24 million people from losing their health insurance in favor of tax cuts for the rich.

AG: I think that there is a realization on the part of many moderates in the House—so-called “moderates”–that this is an ugly, unpopular bill. The last poll I saw was the one that was being cited around the time of Version 1.0, if you recall, that showed 17% support for Trumpcare. That is a dismal level of support.

Part of that is because, let’s remember what Trump actually campaigned on. His healthcare promises were vague, but they aren’t what he is doing now. He said he wasn’t going to cut Medicaid. He said he wasn’t going to cut Medicare. He basically promised more healthcare for everybody. So, every time people sort of chuckle and say, “Oh, I can’t wait to see the Trump voters get what they voted for” on the one hand, I think that is really nasty and is not how we should be approaching politics. On the other hand – and you can fault them for being poorly informed – but, Trump did promise something different. He promised more healthcare, not less. This is just less healthcare. It is really a quantitative switch on healthcare spending. It is less money going into the healthcare safety net and more money going into the pockets of high income people and healthcare companies.

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Thinking in systems, with Maria Poblet


Maria Poblet has spent eighteen years organizing in the Bay Area with community group Causa Justa Just Cause, and the political moment we’re in now, she says, is different than anything she’s ever seen. The threats are bigger, but the opportunities for talking about deep change, systemic change, are greater than they have ever been. The question, she notes, is what do we do with this moment? We talk about building organizations that express the whole of one’s political commitment, and much more.

I think there is a danger when you have been in community organizing in grassroots communities that have been marginalized for a long time to say to everybody else, “Well, where have you been all this time?” That is a completely understandable emotional response, but politically…politically, it is a huge opportunity to say, “These are problems that you never even knew were problems. We have been fighting to resolve these problems for twenty years, thirty years, forty years. Come along. Let’s tell you what we have learned so far. You tell us what you have to contribute.” It is a different posture of leadership which our movements need to take on at this point. It is a time of polarization. Neither of the established parties are really going to offer anything to everyday people. It is a time for social movements to lead.
A lot of people and organizations who sort of believe that things were generally working turned around in this moment and said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t seem like things are working and you guys have been saying this this whole time. So, what should I do?” It is a very interesting moment. Part of what we did in response was to, with a lot of other organizations, help start Bay Resistance which is—I think now we are fifty organizations building a network of individuals who aren’t part of our base. They aren’t service workers in SEIU. They aren’t Black and Latino families fighting displacement at Causa Justa. They aren’t Asians fighting pollution in Richmond that are in the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. They are people that haven’t joined organizations before and they want to take action now.

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Real talk on abortion access and reproductive justice with Eesha Pandit


Feminism–and debates over what it means–have been central to the movement known broadly as “the resistance.” But around the country, attacks on abortion rights continue, in the states and in the federal government. Those attacks, longtime organizer Eesha Pandit says, are part of the larger worldview of Mike Pence and his cronies. Now based in Houston, Texas, Pandit has been part of new organizing that connects attacks on abortion to attacks on trans people’s rights to use the restroom; connects immigrants rights to LGBTQ rights and sees different communities showing up for one another.

Those coalitions that came together to form those electoral victories are now working together in the resistance. One of the things that you will see is folks from the LGBT community and from the racial justice advocacy community showing up to lobby and to speak and to testify against the anti-immigrant bill and vice versa. It’s one of the most beautiful things that is happening in the Texas Legislature now, and it is really satisfying to see the shock on the legislators faces when they are like, “Wait, what are you doing here? You are not an undocumented immigrant. What are you doing here to talk about this?” and things like, “What are all these folks doing here to support reproductive justice?” It is really kind of amazing to see that happening.

By necessity, folks in red states have to organize intersectionally. That is just a truth that some of those organizers, in particular, know, because of critical mass and issues being connected and common enemies, etc. It is really amazing to see that resistance happening now in Texas and to see it happening intentionally and specifically and to be actually building momentum. That a Texas legislature actually puts the bathroom bill and the anti-immigrant bill at the top of their agenda and it has been the testimony that people came to offer that has shelved, I think at least the anti-immigrant bill, at least for the time being. Texas’s legislature meets only every two years for like twenty-five minutes or something. It is really an acute period of time that we are in this ring with them. It is hard to know how it will all shake out now, but there has been an inordinate amount of pressure and that pressure has been intersectional. That is really a singular sense of hope for us in Texas.

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Fighting for healthcare under proto-Trump, with Cait Vaughan


The GOP dropped its “healthcare” plan this week, which seems to have pleased neither the right nor, obviously, the left. But organizers on the ground have been seeing the holes in the Affordable Care Act for years, as Cait Vaughan of the Southern Maine Workers Center notes. To move forward, simply defending the ACA won’t be enough, without understanding the human need (particularly in the time of the opioid crisis) and the ways in which the system has left many out.

The single payer movement has been around for a long, long time. There have always been people calling for a universal health program in this country. What the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign does differently, by using a human rights framework and by using not just a legislative strategy or even a ballot initiative strategy, we are trying to do true base-building that actually engages people around “What are your rights? Do you know them? Do you claim them?” Then, “Do you demand a different life based on knowing that you have human rights?”
Some single payer folks are really scared of that model. We have gotten pushback saying, “That is too bold a model. That is going to alienate the average person.” What they mean by the “average person” is probably a conservative white person who maybe doesn’t have a lot of money and maybe doesn’t have a lot of education. They are afraid that it alienates those people by saying “human rights.” What I have found is it is the opposite. For me, if I go up to someone and I just shove a policy solution at them and say, “Sign onto this” they are a lot more likely to be like, “No. Why are you talking to me like that?” You are just talking at somebody.
What we have done is engage people on values and talk to them about what they think human rights are and what it means to their lives. The response that I have gotten is that whether people have a good or negative reaction to it, they have a reaction that causes them to engage. And making such a bold claim – which is sad that it is such a bold claim, but whatever – actually gives us room to nudge people’s analysis forward.

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Organizing under the gun, with Michael Kink


Michael Kink has worked in healthcare, economic justice, HIV/AIDS, and many other forms of organizing against inequality for decades, and the struggle against Trump reminds him of some of those moments from the past. Currently the executive director of Strong Economy for All, he shares thoughts and lessons for the newfound sense of urgency people feel under Trump.

We are not without resources for resistance. There are a lot of resources for resistance. There are folks that have fought these battles that have knit black and brown and Latino people, Asian people together, Native people together over time. I do think the AIDS movement is particularly important in that at least in my experience of it it was cross-cultural, it was cross-racial, there was a lot of fightback around white privilege and people working out how to work together effectively, and I think, in my experience, it was authentically national. It was about places where there were progressive blue states and liberals and folks who were on our side and it was also in places where folks hated gay people or hated drug users or hated people of color, the people in power were trying to kill those folks and folks found resources to fight back. Folks mobilized public opinion, folks worked with faith leaders, musicians, movie stars, there were things that we did to turn the culture that came because populations under the gun mobilized and walked together and found a way.

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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. Previous interviews here.