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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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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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Fighting for healthcare in coal country, with Gary Zuckett


The healthcare battle in the Senate has honed in on a few wavering “moderate” Republicans, many of them from states that are heavy users of Medicaid–and the ACA’s Medicaid expansion–for health insurance coverage. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is one of those, and despite the state’s reputation as being the center of Trumplandia, Gary Zuckett of West Virginia Citizen Action Group says that people are ready to fight to keep their healthcare–and maybe even to make it better.

Like you said, we are sort of labelled as Trump Country now and we have voted for the Republican candidate ever since George Bush II got elected. It is easy to paint in broad strokes like that, but I would also remind folks that in the Democratic primary last year, the State of West Virginia went for Bernie Sanders. So there is a hunger for a populist message here in West Virginia. Unfortunately, our current president and his false populism appeal to a lot of people.
….
We have been painted as a backward regressive state and I think that is unfair. One of the things that we saw after the election was a total insurgency of people coming out of the woodwork wanting to be active. Newly minted activists and people that had been active in their youth and maybe are now retired and decided, “Well, I better get back into this because times are rough” and pulled together. There are Indivisible groups in most of the counties in West Virginia now. There are women’s huddles from the Women’s March that are still meeting here in West Virginia on a regular basis and talking to each other. We, out of this office, helped organize a sister Women’s March to the one in D.C. We had somewhere between 3,000-4,000 people show up at our state capitol, which blew everybody away, including us.

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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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Shutting down white supremacy in Charlottesville, with Laura Goldblatt and Mimi Arbeit


The Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. The people of Charlottesville were ready. Over 1000 people showed up to counter-protest the Klan, rejecting the violent white supremacist history that the Klan sought to evoke. Laura Goldblatt and Mimi Arbeit are two organizers who helped put together the mobilization that massively outnumbered the white supremacists and made sure that the headlines would read that the city rejects the glorification of the Confederacy.

LG: I think today people in Charlottesville showed up in an act of community of self-defense when the city showed that they would not defend us, nor would the police. In that sense, we celebrated our strength as a community and our ability to stand with each other and provide some measure of safe space in the midst of a really hostile moment.
People showed up at the park early in the day. People started with prayers and more and more people gathered. There was music. There were people with signs. There was this beautiful crane installation of a thousand cranes because cranes are a Japanese sign of solidarity. It is believed that if you fold a thousand cranes, you will be granted a wish. So, people embedded in the cranes their wishes to end white supremacy.
There were thousands of people there. It was a really moving show of the community coming out despite the fact that the city had officially discouraged people for coming and instead organized a variety of alternative events. Then, the police provided safe passage for the Klan to enter the park. They violently removed protestors who were standing at the entrance that the Klan had intended to use in order to prevent them from entering and from endangering our community. Police brutally removed those protestors, but nonetheless, activists remained chanting at the Klan and lingered long after following the police as the police, again, provided safe passage to the Klan back to their cars.

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Healthcare for the heartland, with Jesse Myerson


After the election, Jesse Myerson wanted to build something in a place with little progressive infrastructure. He found himself in Bloomington, Indiana, where alongside Kate Hess Pace and a handful of other Hoosiers, he is helping to build Hoosier Action. Many of its earliest actions have focused on fighting Medicaid cuts on the state and national level. He’s also the host of a podcast that, like Interviews for Resistance, aims to spotlight organizers from around the country and the work they are doing.

A lot of this organizing is based on having long one-on-one discussions with people, what their lives are like, what they are interested in, what they are concerned about, what they are afraid of, what they are angry about, what they are hopeful for and growing relationships that way. That is both on the doors and ideally in follow-ups after people get knocked or called. Those stories are important in the actual day-to-day organizing, talking to people and letting them know who you are and finding out who they are. As a kind of public expression, really what we hope to do is to mobilize people with that, but that ultimately that mobilization should turn into becoming a dues-paying member, coming to monthly member meetings, joining a team and taking on work. That can be going and knocking on doors, it can be doing data entry, it can be helping to promote issues or taking on a shift at the farmers market or at a county fair, flyering or taking petitions, but ideally it is not a high temperature sort of organizing such as you and I saw at Occupy Wall Street where it is lots of marches, lots of heat, lots of intensity.

Really, that emotional heat is being channelled into really well-functioning systems that people can take on discrete amounts of work that make sense with their working lives and their family lives, but that they can see serving to proliferate the organization.

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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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Challenging Paul Ryan on his home turf, with Randy Bryce


Ironworker and cancer survivor Randy Bryce made a splash with the announcement of his campaign against Paul Ryan for Congress. His first ad focused on universal healthcare and Paul Ryan’s attacks on the existing system, and quickly went viral. Bryce talks to me about his decision to get into the race against Ryan, the resistance movement in Wisconsin, and why more working people ought to run for office.

It took a lot of people that were starting to ask me to consider getting into it. I said, “Thanks, I am flattered that you are asking.” Then, some other groups and local electeds had said, “Randy, you should really think about this. You are exactly the kind of guy that we need. You are everything that he is not. What you do for a living, you are a vet,” the experiences that I have had. Pretty much everything that he is doing and everything that he is taking away affects me somehow, is some part of my life he is trying to snatch away.

I know just talking to neighbors that they are being affected, too. This whole divide and conquer thing really has people upset; talking about making America great again, that doesn’t happen by dividing us. It has never helped make us great. What makes us great is bringing up the “united” part of the United States. People are having a lot of buyer’s remorse. Donald Trump had a message that resonated with some working people, but I said, “Just wait and see. He is not going to do any of it. It sounds good, but he is not going to do any of it because he is not one of us.”

Paul Ryan is totally complicit. He is choosing the party over the people. He thanked the entire Wisconsin Republicans at their convention, thanked everybody for electing Donald Trump. He owns Donald Trump. There was a chance at one time, when he was hesitant to back him, but they are handcuffed together right now. They are in the same boat and that boat has a leak.

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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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A unified working class movement, with Nijmie Dzurinko


The conversations since the election have mostly hinged on how divided Americans are, on the splits between rural and urban, black and white, immigrant and citizen. But there are material issues that affect many, many people in this country right now, starting with healthcare, and Nijmie Dzurinko of Put People First PA has been organizing across divides in the deeply split state of Pennsylvania for years, using healthcare as a way to unify working-class communities around the things that matter most.

To speak to a long-term organizing strategy, I think we have got to get clear on a few things. One is that my work is still around the idea that we have got to be organizing an intersectional working class movement. That means that we have got to be organizing the folks who are forced to work for wages and particularly folks who are the most marginalized workers and/or folks who can’t work, who are locked out of the system of work, but who need to in order to survive. That group of people is representative of every race, every gender, every status of documentation. That group of people is very broad. We need to make sure that the most marginalized people in the class are in the center of our work, but we have got to be organizing a working class movement.

One of the things we have got to recognize in that sense is that to build a long-term strategy is that the 1% is not necessarily going to fund the unity of the 99%. The 1% is pretty comfortable funding segments of that group to fight for their own piece, but not necessarily for the coming together of that class as a class. I think that in terms of long-term strategy, we need to be okay with that. We are going to have to do some things that might not get funded. We are going to have to put in some work that might not get paid. No one wants to hear that necessarily. We are in this moment where there are some dreams about how everyone is going to have a career, everyone is going to be able to do some kind of revolutionary work and get paid really well to do it and that is still a contradiction. It never hasn’t been and it always will be because, again, the 1% is not going to put their money behind a class struggle that is aiming at them. They might put their money behind a struggle that was aiming at better representation among their class of a certain group of people, but they are not going to put their money behind a unified group of folks that are coming for them.

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Beyond the Clean Power Plan to real power, with Jordan Estevao

Donald Trump wants to destroy the planet–that’s often how it feels, but never more than when he’s dismantling protections against the ravages of climate change. On Tuesday Trump’s latest executive order dropped, opting out of the Clean Power Plan and removing other regulations designed to mitigate against climate crisis. Trump did so with a group of coal miners at his back, but his plan actually will do little to help those coal miners. I spoke with Jordan Estevao of People’s Action, a network of community organizations with a climate justice program that comes out of its organizing in directly-affected communities.

There are multiple states that had no plans to comply anyway. Actually, since last summer it has kind of been in limbo, the regulation, because as Antonin Scalia’s final act as a Supreme Court Justice he and the Court issued a stay on the order, which has left the states that wanted to keep on complying on track and some states waiting to see what happens. But, there is still lots of potential to win good policies. Our Illinois affiliates, Illinois People’s Action and Fair Economy Illinois, just recently passed the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act which is going to double Illinois’ renewable energy production. It is going to invest between $500 and $750 million in low income communities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, job training, so that low-income people can get into that kind of work, and so on.

I think what a lot of folks on the right and in the Trump administration are missing is that the transition to clean energy, to energy efficiency actually could be a huge economic driver and a way to revitalize our economy, especially since the coal industry is already going under. It is already being undercut by fracking and low oil prices. Coal companies have been going bankrupt at a really high clip with no end in sight. He is not going to bring those jobs back. There is no bringing them back. What we do need to do is figure out where we can invest so that we can start to rebuild an economy that actually puts people to work and also is good for our environment and slows climate change.

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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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Days Without Immigrants, with German Sanchez, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, and Wilson Hernandez


Across the country last week, immigrants went on strike to demonstrate what the country would be like if Donald Trump actually followed through on his promised deportations. The “Day Without an Immigrant” actions kicked off in Wisconsin on Monday, February 13, where Voces De La Frontera and partner organizations held a Day Without Latinos, Immigrants, and Refugees to protest Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke’s plans to collaborate with the Trump administration to deport people. I spoke with German Sanchez, one of the workers who went on strike that day, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces De La Frontera, and Wilson Hernandez, who days later, in Danbury, Connecticut, was part of another Day Without an Immigrant.

German Sanchez: Let’s say in my lunch break I make emails or text message, when I’m done my day I make a video. A lot of people don’t know how the capital in Madison works, a lot of people don’t know how the law works, even some American people don’t know. The point is I educate myself, I I talk to some lawyers, I talk to some person about Assembly Bill 450, what does it mean, SB533. All those things that I’m learning about it I send out, of course, in Spanish for my community, so they understand the levels a law moves on in the capital, what our options to do against those bills as immigrants are. This is the hard part, to educate people and understand those bills. I do videos maybe twice a day to talk about that and of course I text message back, I answer emails, a lot of questions, a lot of concerns. Of course a lot of people are concerned about the consequences if they don’t go to work.

But with those anti-immigrant bills moving, it’s easy. You can miss one day of work, but if those bills move you can lose everything.

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Criminalizing dissent in “middle America,” with David Goodner


The news that several bills that would make certain protest tactics into felonies has sparked fears of a crackdown on dissent, but Iowa organizer David Goodner says it has also sparked organizing in response.

Stuff like what happened at Berkeley, that is going to be controversial. I think we also have to realize, at least in that sense, confrontation won. When we went to the airports all over the country and confronted and there was really the risk of shutting down these major airports, these major centers, again, of economic activity, we won major concessions from the Trump administration on his bad policy. The Women’s March, having millions of people in the streets, there may not have been a clear cut victory, but I think it did energize and mobilize people to realize that we can win when we stick together, when we develop a mass movement strategy, and when we fight like hell.

We need to take that just as seriously as we take the concerns about property destruction or about people with masks on and how that might look to Middle America, as well. I think people here in Iowa want to stand with somebody who they know is fighting for them. They are not going to care so much about ideology if they can see that there is a movement that has their back and is going to defend their interests. People are going to sign up and join it.

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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.