This is Linda Sharp, signing on from the GA, listening in to the Panel discussion, Addressing the Social Determinants of Health from the Grassroots Perspective.
Patrick McDermott is a Labor Rights organizer at Centro Presente, a grassroots organization originally formed in the 1980s in solidarity with Central Americans and their struggle for human rights. They work with community members, many of whom are undocumented, around labor rights issues, and building pathways to citizenship. Labor work typically involves issues on non-payment of wages and other exploitation experienced by immigrants. In addition, they do campaigns to expose bad employer practices. For example, they are currently protesting outside of a local chain of restaurants that owe back wages for 8 former employees that are are owed over 100,000 dollars in back wages! This campaign is ongoing. The connection between health and workers’ rights is complex, and Centro Presente is a place where people can be listened to and supported in their struggle for worker’s rights and human dignity.
Suzanne Bruce chairs the board of Boston Worker’s Alliance, a member-led community organization of unemployed and underemployed workers fighting for their rights. Their work was pivotal in changing discriminatory practices against those seeking work who have criminal records (CORI reform). Her personal story of struggle drives her work- she is a cancer survivor, and shared her story of helping her father who is terminally ill and incarcerated in prison, “the fortitude you need to have to deal with this is a real challenge”. Finally, she notes that many members of BWA have struggled with the difficulties of life; “these injustices bring about mental health issues”, but also hopes that the example of BWA inspires hope for change.
Enid Eckstein works with SEIU 1199, organizing healthcare and home care workers. “We are the 99%.”, and notes that the union is “about changing the power relationship for workers in this country”. On the ground, they bargain contracts, and organize workers, “not just bread and butter, but bread and roses too.”
Madeleine Scammell spoke about the Chelsea Collaborative, an umbrella organization that addresses tenants rights, immigrant rights, creating green space, etc in the area. She moved to Chelsea (a poor neighborhood suburb of Boston) with her mother when she was 8, after family financial meltdown and her parents split up. She noted that her eyes watered and throat hurt from the polluted air, she couldn’t walk alone after dark, no outside opportunities, “that wasn’t so fun”. This began her interest in environmental health work. The Chelsea Collaborative has had some major wins against environmental polluters. For example, an asphalt plant wanted to start operations, but Chelsea Collaborative tried to shut it down, and won!! Chelsea Creek Action Group has increased green space and they have revived Mill Creek. Now people canoe where they would never before even go near the water.
Jim Brooks shared his work with City Life Vida Urbana, currently working on an anti-forclosure campaign: “When your house is forclosed on, it doesn’t mean you have to move.” They are working with people to stay in their homes, and have taken bad banking practices to the national agenda, demanding that banks reduce principal, and at times use eviction blockades to raise awareness of these issues. In many instances due to public pressure and organizing, banks have changed their minds.
There was a lively question and answer period, where the audience and panel discussed the connection between health and social issues. We explored the rich connection between work, migration issues, mental health, and U.S. foreign policy, among other things. People shared very personal stories, and we were reminded to continue the struggle!!
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