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Mitigating the medium-term disaster and making long-term change in Miami, with Jennifer Hill

Miami is recovering from Hurricane Irma slowly, but weeks out from the storm, secondary effects are creeping in. Organizers from the Miami Workers Center have seen up close the primary and secondary effects of the disaster now, and how they impact unequally, how opportunists use the storm to push through already-existing agendas of displacement, how race and gender and immigration status shape the relief people receive. Jennifer Hill is an organizer and attorney with the Miami Workers Center and Advocacy Parters Team and she talks about the work they’re doing to rebuild and strengthen the community against systemic problems.

Like many other people, we have gone back and forth about what makes something organizing versus servicing. It is not necessarily the nature of the work. It is more, I think, the approach to the work, how one carries out the work. In the wake of a disaster, people need a lot of services. They just need a lot of very practical help. It might be giving out water and it might be helping with disaster unemployment applications, and it might be many other things. What we have started to think about that it is important to be able to respond to some of the immediate needs in the community with actual services that are helpful and we want to partner with different groups that have different expertise if they can do that. But, it is also important to try to inject political education into the delivery of services. We want to make sure that when people get information and they go to a legal clinic, like when they came to our disaster relief legal clinics, that in addition to getting information about FEMA applications and disaster unemployment applications and disaster food stamp applications, that they get time to talk and that we have time to talk with them about their rights on the job and what to do if there is a problem and they face a threat or what to do if they are not paid or whether they anticipate any problems with access to healthcare and where they go for healthcare so we can try to make sure that the healthcare centers are open and that they have the ability to get all the services they need and they know about the sorts of programs for reduced fees or for access to healthcare. We try to set up these clinics, so they get to go from one station to another station and they get the services that they need. Then, they go to a station that is really a political education station where we talk about what is needed to make sure that people have their rights and how they can access and express their rights, but also, what is needed to make the changes that will make this better.

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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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Out of the headlines, the labor movement works to rebuild Puerto Rico, with Dan Maldonado

The rumors always come when disaster strikes, it seems–failures of the disaster recovery system are blamed on rank-and-file workers. As Dan Maldonado of Teamsters local 445 notes, the rumor this time was that Teamsters went on strike rather than deliver relief supplies across the island. The rumor was demonstrably false, and indeed the Teamsters sent workers down to the island for weeks of volunteer work. Maldonado was one of those workers–of Puerto Rican heritage himself, he has family still on the island–and he tells us what it’s still like down there and why recovery is likely to take a long time, and likely to slip from the headlines.

When you look at the death toll…and right now, they are saying it is 51. It may not seem like a lot, 51. But, the bigger concern is the long-term health effects. Let me give you two examples: one from what I knew from another Teamster and a personal one, myself. One, being that there was a Teamster that went to a neighborhood with a group of nurses and the lady had gangrene. Basically, she was in such a condition that her daughter kept obeying all her commands and we basically had to tell the daughter, “We understand that you respect your parents, but her mind is not there. The gangrene is getting inside of her.” We were able to get a VIP room for her. Unfortunately, her legs were amputated, but that was the only way for her to survive. Me, on a personal level, I have an uncle who is a diabetic, he had no electricity… So, for 7 days he didn’t take his diabetic medicine and he has the funds, he is economically stable to come over here, but now, because [he didn’t take his medicine], his legs got swollen which affected his kidneys and now he has got a pacemaker. So, he is in a catch 22 where he can’t get on a plane because he has got a pacemaker and he has got to stay in Puerto Rico. So, a lot of the long-term ill effects are something that we are concerned with down the road.

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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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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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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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Living socialism in Houston, with Amy Zachmeyer

The Democratic Socialists of America are one of the political organizations on the ground doing disaster relief in Houston after Harvey, and to co-chair Amy Zachmeyer that work is an expression of working-class solidarity, “really living socialism.” She talks to me about the work DSA has done, where the austerity state has failed, and the environmental issues that make climate change tangible in Texas.

AZ: For large portions of Houston, things are going back to normal. The highways are reopening, people are going back to work, and their lives look relatively the same. But, for other portions of Houston, things are not going to be okay for a very long time. A lot of those divides are economic divides. It has also really highlighted the racial segregation in our city, because you go to some neighborhoods and they look fine. Everyone still has their home and their manicured lawn and their car sitting out front. Then, you go into some of the other neighborhoods that were affected and you see where people’s entire lives have been removed from their home, including the drywall. Everything inside a home that made that home a home has been pulled out and thrown in a large heap on the side of the road. It is a very visual representation of which neighborhoods are affected and which neighborhoods are just business as usual. SJ: We see the inequality really clearly in times of disaster. AZ: In a lot of the neighborhoods that we have gone to, we have actually had people tell us, “Nobody else has come to check on me.” Maybe their pastor has come to check on them, but no other organizations have been out there besides the Democratic Socialists in their red shirts. There is something really heartbreaking about that to me.

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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.