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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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Mainers challenge Susan Collins’s vote for tax cuts, with Mike Tipping

Maine Senator Susan Collins was one of three votes to stop ACA repeal. But last week, after getting empty promises that are already being walked back, she voted for a tax bill that include big healthcare cuts, and her constituents are not pleased. The Maine People’s Alliance and others have been protesting since the vote, and plan to continue challenging Collins to stand with her state when it comes time to vote on a final bill.

As you may remember, Susan Collins, upon returning to Maine after voting against the Republican healthcare repeal, got applauded at the airport. There were several scenes of people on the street thanking her for her vote. She did not have the same reaction in Maine, actually she stayed in D.C. and did the Sunday shows, but in Maine people were protesting up and down the state and they are continuing to do so all this week.
Yesterday in Bangor dozens of people were outside her office and five very brave souls went inside and refused to leave until she talked to them about her vote, and she did not and they got arrested and carted out in a police van. So things are definitely escalating here, I think people believe that she’s not listening to them, that she’s doing real damage to the state, that she’s been lying about her votes and about the policy and that they’re not going to take it anymore.

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Challenging the frame around gun violence, with Patrick Blanchfield

After the Las Vegas mass shooting, calls to do something once again fill the airwaves and the press. But what can be done? The answer is not so easy; there is not a fully-formed, workable policy apparatus simply being held up by the NRA’s cash and Republican votes. Patrick Blanchfield is a writer who has gone deep into gun culture and gun violence in America, and he joins us to discuss what does work, what doesn’t work, and how our knee-jerk desire to “do something” can actually be put to good use close to home.

The big theme, there’s two parts. One is just resist the frame. The Democratic Party does not need you to support expanding the no-fly list in order to give the NRA what it deserves. The Democratic Party can take care of that themselves. They will keep doing it. That is the one thing that they will do a sit-in for, they are willing to go to bat for it. Instead of even falling into the wormhole of gun control debates on the national level, think about gun deaths on the local level. Think about who in your community is the most vulnerable to winding up dead because of a bullet.
When you start asking that question, you see across the country some really surprising grassroots coalitions coming into being, or operative for some time, that are doing really substantive things that are helping lower that toll of violence.
This is two things. One: Where is the activism happening? Two: What is the room for actual interventions that are meaningful? I won’t get too inside baseball, but the way in which gun laws have taken shape, particularly over the last 30 or 40 years, means that most interventions that are meaningful are happening on the state or even more often on the municipal levels. That is legislatively, but also in terms of activism.

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Puerto Rico’s short-term and long-term crises, with Javier Morillo

Puerto Rico was in crisis before a hurricane devastated the island; Trump, though, seems only concerned with its debt. Labor organizer Javier Morillo and others have been fighting the island’s unsustainable, predatory debt crisis for a while and he joins us to connect the dots between man-made and natural disasters on the island, and how the history of colonialism makes aiding the US citizens on the island after Hurricane Maria that much harder.

 

One of the things that I am really struggling with right now is that we don’t have a progressive or a Left shock doctrine, as Naomi Klein calls it. The Right has a program in place for how to take advantage of moments like this. What I am terrified about on the island right now is that I think, absolutely, when you look at what junta has done and everything else, that this is an opportunity for the wealthy 1% of the US and the global 1% to make Puerto Rico into a playground the way Cuba was in the 1940s and 1950s for the US rich and that we will have an island of Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans. To me, the question is: What do we do in the short and medium-term that is some semblance of a shock doctrine for our side? If we are going to rebuild Puerto Rico, how do we do it in a way that is right for the people of Puerto Rico? I have to weigh that with the very immediate concern of needing to get cargo containers with food and necessities that people have. Unfortunately, I don’t have a very good answer for how we do the short-term in a way that sets up the long-term. There are organizers on the ground. One affiliated with the Center for Popular Democracy in the US, who has set up a fund. It is MariaFund.org. They have been doing base-building work on the island for some time, especially in the poorer areas and the coastal areas that have been devastated now twice with Irma and now with Maria. That is who I have been encouraging people to donate money to because I trust the work that they do, that it is directed at the most vulnerable and actually at social transformation on the island, with a focus on the most vulnerable communities and the communities of African descent on the island.

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Connecting the dots between healthcare and climate justice, with Dotty Nygard and Rhonda Risner

Dotty Nygard and Rhonda Risner are registered nurses, members of National Nurses United and activists for single-payer healthcare and climate justice. Their work has taken them across the country and the world, where they’ve seen firsthand the effects of climate-worsened storms and the lack of consistent healthcare. In addition, Dotty Nygard is a candidate for Congress from California’s 10th district.

DN: It plays on the fact that our healthcare system is broken and we have very fragmented care. We have many that can’t afford insurance. There are still millions of people that are not insured in this great nation of ours, and we have people that are insured but are afraid to use it because their co-pays and their deductibles are so high. It hinders those that do want to seek care and only perpetuates illnesses or whatever is ailing them at the time to become even more of a problem. We see people sicker in the ERs now. Preventative care is very minimal. It is not an emphasis. It is not a priority.
It speaks loudly of how we really have to fix the system first before we can really help our communities heal.

RR: We don’t need to wait for a disaster to happen to provide every person in this country with healthcare. We don’t have to wait for a disaster because healthcare is a disaster. We need to look at prevention and making sure that everybody has some sort of access to healthcare. We believe that everyone in this country deserves that.

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Marching with the Juggalos, disrupting Trumpcare with Allison Hrabar

Last weekend, in Washington, D.C. the Juggalos—fans of the band Insane Clown Posse and their record label—marched against their criminalization. In 2011 the FBI decided to classify the Juggalos as a “hybrid gang,” meaning that their love for a particular musical act marked them as threats. Juggalos are often written off by the rest of society, but to some leftist political organizations, the march was an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity and build connections with a group of people politicized by their outcast treatment. Allison Hrabar of Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America was part of a solidarity delegation to the Juggalo march, and also shares the latest organizing against the latest version of zombie Trumpcare.

We were excited about it as soon as we heard about it. The idea of the Juggalos marching on Washington is an exciting idea. I think everyone on the internet can relate to that. When we heard about the actual issues, we knew it was something we ideologically supported. As socialists, we don’t like state repression. We don’t like the abuses that law enforcement inflicts on our citizens. At our recent DSA convention in August, actually, we passed a resolution about dismantling the police state and abolishing prisons. So this falls in line with our party assessed ideas.
Also, we want to build a movement that actually reflects what the nation looks like. DCDSA tends to lean white, it tends to lean professional. So the idea of being able to reach out to a group of working class people, reaching out to people who have actually been affected by police. Not just people who care about the issue, but people who can talk about how this has really affected their lives, was really important to us.

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Moving pieces for system change, with Jeff Ordower


It’s been nearly eight months since the inauguration of Donald Trump, and things could be a lot worse, notes longtime organizer Jeff Ordower. Yet it is not enough to simply congratulate ourselves for saving the Affordable Care Act or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he says. Instead, we should be thinking about how to move the protests and uprisings of recent years onto the next level.

I think the story is really critical. Uprisings and movements happen because something horrible happened or something that affects people is going to happen. They are going to poison the water on indigenous land at Standing Rock or there is yet another police massacre in cold blood or there are people who are worried about their healthcare and what is going to happen to them and more importantly what is going to happen to their children. That is really important and can’t be underestimated as a starting place. How we tell that story and who is affected and having affected people take the biggest and boldest risk, being in the front is critical.
Then, I think a lot of times as organizers we sometimes fall into the trap where we want to have the perfect thing; either it is the perfect narrative, the perfect story—I know in the early days of the healthcare fight, for example, people were like, “If you want to move McCain, you have to get seven veterans to go to McCain’s office.” I think sometimes we try to be too strategic. Really, if people want to move, we have got to give them something to do that makes sense. Sometimes that is occupying a park or putting your bodies on the line and sometimes that is just like, “Show up with a handwritten letter. Here is your toolkit for organizing this alternative town hall.” I think creating those containers where everyone can take action is really, really important.
It is no different than when I was first training as an ACORN organizer back in the 1990s and you sit on someone’s couch and you’re talking about neighborhood issues. The way people were going to get involved or not, you are saying, “What do you think it would take to get a stop sign on the corner?” and they would say, “I don’t know. We have got to get some people in the street” and you are like, “How many people would it take to block the street?” “Thirty.” You would say, “Great. Could you be one of those thirty?” and if they could see themselves doing that, then they were going to join. And if they thought it didn’t make sense, they wouldn’t. I think creating things that people can see themselves doing is really, really critical to all the fights. That ask is different. It is not always an easy thing to do. People will go and be in the streets as we saw in St. Louis, as we saw in Ferguson, night after night after night, because they felt like that was the most important thing that they could do.

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Postmortem for the GOP’s repeal attempts, with Sarah Christopherson


Sarah Christopherson of Raising Women’s Voices for the Healthcare We Need joins us for a breakdown of what went wrong for the Republicans, the movement that stopped “repeal and replace,” and what comes next in the budget fight.

If [Republicans] are going to stick with nice sounding phrases like “freedom” and “free market” they can get away from the fact when people think about healthcare, they don’t want to be exposed to market risks. They want good coverage at reasonable prices with the accountability of knowing that coverage is going to be there even after they get sick. People don’t want to have to, on their way to the ER stop and say, “Wait, is this in my health plan?”
Then, of course, you mentioned the so-called skinny repeal bill. They immediately tried to re-brand that as the Freedom Bill. I think that is the freedom to lose your insurance, have-your-insurance-taken-away-from-you bill. But, where they wanted to get rid of the individual mandate, which was originally a conservative idea. That is how you create market participation in a private insurance market, but you still have the consumer protections, you need that individual mandate. They were perfectly willing to get rid of the individual mandate and then let the private insurance market blow up.
I think that would push more and more people towards a single payer model or a public insurance model of some kind. Their efforts could really, really backfire on them. They have already backfired on them in terms of making the Affordable Care Act more popular and making single payer more popular.
The repeal effort isn’t dead. It is sort of undead procedurally. So, what they voted down last week, these three amendments, they could still, theoretically, bring back that underlying bill, ram I through with 50 votes and the vice president. But, they could really, if they somehow manage to do that, end up sabotaging themselves.

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Killing Trumpcare, building alternatives, with Mari Cordes


Mari Cordes is a nurse, union leader, and organizer who was outside of the Capitol when Trumpcare failed. But that’s not the end of her work on healthcare–she’s been organizing for years as part of Vermont’s movement for healthcare as a human right, which led to the passage of a groundbreaking bill for a universal publicly-funded system that was eventually shelved by the state’s governor. With Trumpcare now also on the shelf, Cordes is running for office and working on the ground to continue to make universal healthcare a reality.

As my friend Sampson and I were heading toward the rally that night at the Capitol, we passed near an outdoor movie theatre and it turns out they were playing Star Wars. It was the perfect setting to hear that bombastic, symphonic music that is in Star Wars, because all of this still feels so unreal, so surreal, that this actually is happening in the United States.
We heard so many incredible and painful and heartbreaking stories about friends, people that we know, people that we don’t know that would have died and/or families that would have lost their homes and/or gone bankrupt, all in the name of an obsession with an ideology, an obsession with a hatred that a black man was President of the United States and was successful in creating policy that was definitely not perfect, but did help millions of people. It was very powerful to be in that circle, that communion of sorts, and hold a vigil for our country whatever the outcome is going to be.
In that moment, there was the moment of “We are going to lose” and that feeling of hopelessness and despair. Then, a pause and a quiet moment and Ben Wikler delivered it beautifully. He became really somber. I thought it meant that we had lost, but it created this silent space for us to hear the statement that the vote was “No.” I don’t think I have ever experienced anything so powerful in my life. It was incredible.

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All in to stop Trumpcare, with Anastasia Bacigalupo and Lauren Klinkhammer


The Senate passed the motion to proceed but so far hasn’t passed a healthcare bill, and activists aim to keep it that way. In Washington, D.C. there have been sit-ins, civil disobedience, and camp-outs; around the country activists are rallying to their Senators’ offices–including that of John McCain, who came to D.C. this week straight from cancer treatment to vote in favor of taking healthcare from his constituents. I spoke with two of those activists, who have been in D.C. and in Arizona fighting to keep their health insurance.

Anastasia Bacigalupo: If you live in a state where your Senator is voting against the Affordable Care Act, now is the time to acquaint yourself with that Senator. I would recommend showing up to every single even that Senator has in the community: they have an open house, they cut a ribbon, they smash a bottle over a boat. Whatever they are doing, show up. Show up with signs. Requesting to meet with the Senator.
Not everybody is comfortable with getting arrested and that is okay. You don’t have to get arrested to be a voice, to share your story. You can be out in the community and educate people. I think there are other groups you can also join besides ADAPT. I know MoveOn is very active. Various other Democratic groups are also very active. There are ways in which everyone can get involved in this. Senators really do listen to their constituents. It really makes a difference. Our blessing, being Californians, is that Senator Harris and Senator Feinstein are champions of disability rights and the disability community. We have a lucky circumstance, but even for us, we have friends, we have relatives in those states. You should be reaching out to those friends and relatives. Heck, it is summertime, take a trip and visit them. Talk to them about how to be active civically.
The worst thing is thinking that these elected officials are in ivory towers. They got elected by your votes. They got elected by your friends’ votes, by your family members’ votes. Those votes are important. They have importance. I would say that if you live in a state where your Senator has voted the wrong way, you need to start engaging. If you can’t make it because of your circumstance, if you can’t get to those events, you can send a letter every day. You can send a postcard every day. You can send emails. If you have an iPhone, you can record yourself speaking and send it as an attachment. There is just so much that can be done.

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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.