Introduction and background of video
By Ron Moose
This video filmed by BreakThrough News was a culmination of weeks of planning, hundreds of miles traveled, and many, many clear, competent, committed, and connected leaders of Put People First! PA. Our journey to create this video began when Put People First! PA members from the Central-Appalachia and Southeast regions participated in a May Day delegation to Cuba with the International People’s Assembly. On that trip, our members connected with Kei, a reporter with BreakThrough News – sharing a copy of The Keystone, our bi-annual member-produced newsletter. Within that publication are the stories of everyday people in our struggles to get the healthcare that we so desperately deserve, as well as our statewide efforts in the fight to make healthcare a human right. By changing the narrator, we changed the narrative that rural people in Pennsylvania are not willing to fight for change, or that we don’t see the systemic problems plaguing our class.
Connecting in Cuba led Kei to recognize that the story of the healthcare crisis in the U.S. needed to be told to BreakThrough’s audience, and that story needed to be grounded in the Central-Appalachia region of Pennsylvania. This region is distorted in the corporate media and our people are either dismissed or dehumanized by the powers that be. From August 13th – 19th, Kei embedded himself in our region, and we engaged in a series of base building and political education events including our People’s Clinic in Altoona, a door-knocking drive in Huntingdon, and local history tours in Johnstown and Altoona. Additionally, we took a day trip to Northeast PA to witness the ongoing process of hospital closures in that region.
Our story begins at our door knocking event in Huntington, PA. The Central-Appalachia Healthcare Rights Committee made intentional plans on neighborhoods to focus on, and our Base Building Team created a survey to understand residents’ healthcare needs. We were also joined by a member of the Southwest PA Healthcare Rights Committee and a tri-chair of the Georgia Poor People’s Campaign.
As you will see when we hit the streets with a plan and the training to carry out that plan, members of the community wanted to talk with us about the precarious situation of their healthcare. But it’s not enough to go out and knock doors – that same day when we came in off the streets we ran a debrief session to understand what worked and what could be improved, as well as talked about next steps with every person that we connected with.
The next action that you’ll see was held with the Northeast PA Healthcare Rights Committee around the closure of area hospitals. Hospital closures are a reality not only for many people across the state, but the country too – it’s estimated that over 800 rural hospitals are in danger of closing. In a commodified healthcare system, hospitals are being shuttered across the rural and urban communities. What you’ll see in the video is the state of a hospital that the Tennessee-based Community Health Systems – the largest for-profit hospital corporation in the country – has deemed unprofitable. This is the result of a nation that has allowed healthcare to become a source of profit for the ruling class and not a human right.
Finally, our Healthcare Rights Committee held a People’s Clinic at a public housing complex in Altoona PA, where we have been building relationships with residents all summer. There, our members provided blood pressure screenings and helped folks sign up for Medicaid and other state benefits. We also raised awareness about the upcoming ending of the Public Health Emergency when up to 1 million Pennsylvanians may lose their Medicaid coverage. Put People First! PA, along with the national Nonviolent Medicaid Army, will be holding a massive organizing drive with people facing the loss of their Medicaid – using the tactic of helping people file appeals and clogging the courts.
The week-long visit from BreakThrough News was also a huge leadership development opportunity for our members. Every one of the active members of the Central-Appalachia Healthcare Rights Committee participated in some way throughout the week of activities, which also centered political education. The Political Education and Leadership Development Team took the lead on developing People’s History curricula so that we could be grounded in the terrain and history of our region. We learned about the 1889 Flood, the 1919 Steel Strike in Johnstown, and the 1922 railroad strike in Altoona. Through the week we deepened our connections to each other and emerged as a stronger Healthcare Rights Committee. We’re grateful to Kei and Breakthrough News for spending the week in Central-Appalachia in order to produce this video that is being shared throughout the U.S. and the world, revealing the plight, fight, and insight of the 140 million poor and dispossessed people in our country.
Ron Moose is the Co-coordinator of the Central-Appalachia Healthcare Rights Committee and a member of the Media and Communications Team of Put People First-PA!