Thursday, April 28, 2011

Statehouse Adventures: Immigrant Rights are Human Rights and Healthcare is a Human Right

Today I parked in front of the Statehouse planning on doing some computer work nearby. But the golden dome called. I've been meaning to go on a tour forever, as I believe it's important to go there other than just for Healthcare is a Human Right rallies and HIV/AIDS Awareness Days. I went in to speak with my legislators about H.202, the healthcare bill that will hopefully make Vermont the first state to lead the country in providing universal health care to its people. "Its people." When I write this I mean everyone within the created border of this state. Regardless of age, color, ethnicity, religion/spirituality, ability, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, legal status, etc. It is this last example here that I am particularly concerned with today. Legal status.
The healthcare bill H.202 passed the house, however in the Senate an amendment was included that would exclude undocumented Vermonters. This means that the people who crossed a desert not only with the threat of death by dehydration and exposure, but also the threat of being caught by immigration officials, or worse, shot at by "
Minutemen" (anti-immigrant vigilantes who patrol the US side of the Mexican-US border), the people who crossed an entire continent to reach the Northeastern US, those people who work so hard (as in 12.5 hour shifts 6 days a week, for example) to keep our Vermont dairy farms running would not be included in "healthcare for all." But they're here illegally, people say. When I hear this I try to keep a straight face and cool head, but this is the image and emotion that comes to mind:

Image created by Yolanda Lopez

My Pilgrim ancestors did not receive an invitation before departing aboard the Mayflower. And that may seem like ancient history to some, but 400 years in the big scheme of things is not a long time. I do not claim this land as mine. There were people here long before my ancestors arrived and I don't feel as though I'm more entitled to live here than someone who's just recently arrived. The term "illegal" makes my skin crawl (as well as referring to someone as "a Mexican," "an Indian," etc. It usually implies a male gender and it lumps people together in a faceless mass. Likewise, when I am outside the US I don't like being referred to as an American - which excludes our neighbors both to the North and South - and when I speak of my nation of birth I specify that it's the United States of America, not just America.) I'm not the only one bothered by people being referred to as "illegal," there is a campaign asking people to pledge to stop using the I-word and encouraging the media to do the same.

"You wouldn’t call someone a w*tback, or the n-word. Saying “illegals” is just as bad. The I-Word creates an environment of hate by exploiting racial fear and economic anxiety, creating an easy scapegoat for complex issues, and OK-ing violence against those labeled with the word. People are not illegal. Let's stop feeding the hate machine. Drop the I-Word." - Colorlines

I just signed my pledge to drop the I-word, and they ask you to write why you're doing this. I wrote "I pledge to drop the I-word and encourage others to do the same not only because this language is dehumanizing and perpetuates misunderstanding and inequality, but also because besides indigenous people here in what is now known as the United States, we are all immigrants, including my Pilgrim ancestors." You can sign on to Colorlines' Drop the I-Word campaign.
Back to the Statehouse... I went in search of my representatives to talk with them about the Brock-Sears amendment. I got sent all over the place trying to find the conference committee meeting, since all meetings in the VT Statehouse are open to the people, as they should be. However, this particular meeting hadn't started yet, I found out later. As I searched for the room, I told everyone who directed me about why I was there. I ran into one of my Reps and one of my Senators, both of whom were in support of the bill and in opposition of the amendment (Thank you, Sen. Pollina and Rep. Hooper!). Eventually, I picked up a pile of pink "while you were out" slips to leave notes that the pages would deliver to my other Reps and Senators, as well as the people who are most likely to be appointed to the committee discussing the amendment. I figured a good old-fashion note might receive more attention than a quick email.

As I was looking around for a comfortable spot to sit and write, I overheard a conversation about healthcare and butted in. All but two men dispersed and I got talking with one of him, telling him that I was there in support of H202, but in opposition to the Brock-Sears amendment. I was talking with Senators Sears. As in the Brock-Sears amendment Sears. We had an interesting conversation (that was a bit confusing to me at times) and though we seemed to disagree on many points, I think we listened well to each other for the most part. As our conversation died down I found out that the other man standing there (I hardly know anyone at the Statehouse, so I just figured everyone was a legislator or lobbyist) was a reporter from the Associated Press. Right place at the right time, aye?!

Sen. Sears said that the same wording that was in the amendment has been part of the bill all along. When asked why the amendment was necessary then, he said it was just to make it clear. (I'm paraphrasing here. Note to self: get a recording device. Pink "while you were out" slips certainly do not provide sufficient space for taking notes for passing on accurate information, sorry.) He also said that the response to the amendment has been misconstrued by "these people" to raise money. He was referring to good people at The Vermont Worker's Center who have been working tirelessly over the last three years on the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign to make healthcare accessible to all. They are very outspoken about their political stance - directly challenging corporate control of our healthcare, as well as racism, homophobia, classism, and other forces both within the movement and in mainstream culture in general that keeps us divided and fighting amongst ourselves for crumbs while the powers that be hold a majority of wealth. They are also member-based, supported by donations. They've lost funding because of their strong stance of solidarity (i.e. losing a big grant because they refused to make anti-abortion statements in terms of healthcare). They are not raising awareness about this amendment for financial gain, they are doing this as a matter of integrity and solidarity.

Migrant farmworkers support a Vermont way of life by doing work that most people born here are unwilling to do. They pay state and federal taxes, Medicare, and Social Security, supporting services that they do not themselves benefit from. They are providing our communities with sustenance, yet they are almost entirely cut off from the community. They often fear leaving their farms to shop, attend church, or get medical care (if there's access to it) because of the possibility of being reported. This fear is quite valid, in the 2nd whitest state in the U.S. where people of color and/or those who speak another language stand out so much. Unfortunately there are those in our communities that believe migrant farmworkers don't belong here and take it upon themselves to report them to officials. This simple act of picking up a phone and making that call can lead to arrest, detention, and deportation. This act breaks up families, hurts dairy farmers and VT agriculture, and in the big picture, negatively affects us all. This fear and vindictiveness perpetuates the cycle of racism.

I need to double check this statistic, but I was recently at a Central Vermont Farm Worker Coalition where I learned that VT having the highest per capital deportation rate in ... the US? Northern US border states? I'll correct this statistic once I find out for sure. Regardless, the rate is high and the risk is real.

"De qué me sirve el dinero
Si estoy como prisionero
Dentro de esta gran nación
Cuando me acuerdo hasta Iloro
Aunque la jaula sea de oro
No deja de ser prisión"

"What good is money
If I am like a prisoner
Within this huge nation
When I remember I even cry
Although the cage is golden
It's still a prison"

This quotation is from the
Golden Cage, an exhibit of portraits and interviews with migrant farmwokers and dairy workers, showing at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Center in Burlington, VT until June 10, 2011. As debates rage with the recent anti-immigration/pro-racial profiling legislation passing in Arizona and Georgia, the Golden Cage documents these issues that are playing out on our farms right here in rural communities in Vermont, amongst a population that is often hidden from sight and kept silent.

In December 2009 migrant farmworker José Obeth Santiz Cruz was killed in a farming accident here in Vermont. Migrant Justice
 sent a delegation to Mexico to return his remains and document his family and community coming to terms with his death and sharing stories about the causes, effects, and their experiences of migration. Their stories draw attention to the conditions and economic policies that force migrants from their homes in Mexico and suggest a need for a new dialogue about the root causes of migration. This journey was documented in the film "Silenced Voices."

Another film which documents the lives of Vermont migrant farmworkers is -
Under the Cloak of Darkness: Vermont's Mexican Farm Workers, a film by Bjorn G. Jackson

Though Senator Sears tried to dismiss his amendment as a non-issue and say that there was no story there, it's really just the tip of an enormous iceburg having to do with access to health care, immigration policy, human rights, farming, racism, and community.

For those of you in the area, I hope to see you at the Healthcare is a Human Right Rally this Sunday May 1st at 11am at City Hall, and then over to the Statehouse. There will be an Herbal First Aid and Street Medic Contingent, come find us! I also hope that you contact your legislators to let them know that you support healthcare for ALL in Vermont by signing this
petition and giving them a call/email/visit.

(To read more about
No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, a humanitarian aid organization that provides water and first aid care/supplies to those crossing the desert from Mexico into Arizona, herbal lip balm-making, and a popular education activity to trace workshop participants’ ancestry across oceans and borders please read (Im)migration and Lip Balms for Social Justice?! )
Additions May 2, 3, and 8, 2011

The day after this amazing rally:
…Healthcare is a Human Right May Day Rally organizers and other community members were at the Statehouse from 8am until past 9pm to be present for the conference committee meeting that would be discussing the healthcare bill. There was a press conference at noon on the Statehouse steps in support of Universal Healthcare for ALL – with no one excluded. Signs read “Universal = Everybody: Strike the Brock-Sears Amendment” and “Everybody In, Nobody Out!”
That night the Brock-Sears amendment was struck down! Thank you so much to all the people who have been in touch with their representatives in recent days to bring about this positive change! Thank you to the Representatives and Senators on the committee (Fox, Ayer, Mullen, Larson, Fisher, and Copeland-Hanzas) who listened to the people and took a stand to help ensure healthcare for all! I’d like to also thank Senator Sears, who listened to the people and decide to not only oppose his own amendment, but also called for Federal Immigration Reform. And a HUGE Thank you to the organizers of the Vermont Workers Center and the Migrant Justice for all your work in bringing the people together to make this happen! The future is indeed shaped by the people that show up. Thanks for showing up, y’all! And for those who’d like to get involved, please contact these organizations to learn more.
Recent press:
Pre-recorded interview with Dana Woodruff (that's me), herbalist, health educator, and citizen activist. Tuesday Morning: News, Views, & Media Reviews with Renee, WGDR 91.1 FM May 2, 2011
Vt. health care bill draws debate over immigrants by Dave Gram, April 29, 2011

Activists decry exclusion of undocumented workers from H.202
by Anne Galloway, May 2, 2011
Lawmakers call for study of migrant worker health care by Anne Galloway, May 3, 2011

Everybody In, Nobody Out: Rallying For Universal Healthcare in Vermont
by Sam Mayfield, May 4, 2011
First Universal Health Care Bill in U.S. Marks Success of Vermont's Human Rights Movement by Anja Rudiger, May 7, 2011

Picture Healthcare as a Human Right Photo Petition:

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