Pennsylvania Can Do Better: Providing the Blueprint for a Moral Agenda

On Tuesday, March 19, nearly a hundred people from all over Pennsylvania traveled to the People’s House in Harrisburg to present our Moral Agenda and Policy Demands to the State Legislature. The speakers and participants during the Demand Delivery paint a picture of poverty in Pennsylvania: youth and senior, urban and rural, of all religions and races and all gender identities.

Throughout the event, speakers connected our demands to the most recent attacks on the poor in the Commonwealth.

Steve Jones, a member of the Faculty and Staff Federation of the Community College of Philadelphia, a union which will soon likely be forced to strike, which would disrupt the education plans for 27,000 students, and would result in hardship for the 1,200 union members.

“The Community College of Philadelphia is unique in providing higher education to a student body that is made up of a majority of working class people, and a majority of people of color. We believe that our union is the moral force for the college we love so much. Our strike, if it happens, will be a cry for justice not only for us workers but for community colleges across Pennsylvania. Our union believes that our students deserve the same care and attention, or more care and attention, than students at the University of Pennsylvania or other private colleges receive. We resist the idea that poor and working class students don’t need access to education in critical thinking and all the areas of human achievement.”

We demand not just high-quality, well-funded, diverse public education, but “a living wage for every worker, including farm and domestic workers, and a guaranteed income for all that is not at poverty levels.

This is not the first time we have had to defend General Assistance. In the early 1980’s I joined a takeover of the Capitol to defend General Assistance which was under attack, taking over the Rotunda for days, sleeping overnight, hanging out laundry. We are here to change the narrative on General Assistance as well as TANF and other welfare benefits often treated as charities for those unable or unwilling to work — while ignoring the reality that the poorer we are the harder we are forced to work.

We demand “an increase in TANF welfare grants, General Assistance (GA) and other cash assistance programs to actually meet families’ basic needs. We demand fully-funded welfare programs and an end to the attacks on GA, TANF, SNAP, LIHEAP, Medicaid and other vital programs for the poor.”

Xavier Thomas, Sunrise Movement Phila (left) and Michael Badges-Canning, Marcellus Outreach Butler (right)

“In late 2010, my friends in the Woodlands area of Butler County found that their water tasted funny, was frothy, oddly colored, was making them sick. They were suspicious that the nearby fracking well may have been responsible. They called the driller, now bankrupt Rex Energy. Rex said it couldn’t be them but…they would supply the families with water. My friends called the Department of Environmental Protection. DEP told them not to drink the water, it was dangerous. Even though Rex had had numerous problems with a nearby well, and the best science that has been done pointed to Rex, DEP did not find them responsible. So Rex stopped supplying water. Marcellus Outreach Butler started a water bank. Nine years later that water bank is still in operation. Once a week, 50 families from the Woodlands head to White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church to pick up 20–25 gallons of water. My friends in the Woodlands are working class. Their life savings are tied up in their homes. What do you think a home without water is worth?” — Michael Bagdes-Canning, with Marcellus Outreach Butler

We demand “ a fully funded public water and sanitation infrastructure that keeps these utilities and services under public control and that prioritizes poor, rural and Native communities that have been harmed by polluting and extractive industries. We demand a ban on fracking, mountaintop removal coal mining, coal ash ponds, and offshore drilling, as well as a ban on all new pipelines, refineries, and coal, oil, and gas export terminals.”

At the age of 16 I got locked up and charged as an adult. I was held for 18 months until my case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence. Once I got released me and the rest of YASP Co-founders got together and created Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project to address the problem of youth being charged and held in adult prison pretrial. We are a youth-led organization that hosts poetry workshops in adult jails in Philadelphia with kids that are charged as adults. We also train and pay youth to be activists and organizers when they are released after their incarceration.” — Josh Glenn, Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project (YASP) and Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI), Philadelphia

We demand “an end to mass incarceration and the continuing inequalities for black, brown and poor white people within the criminal justice system, an end to the hyper-surveillance, criminalization, policing, and sentencing of poor communities, parole eligibility after no more than 15 years.”

“We, the poor and dispossessed, are the ones who are directly affected by this current healthcare crisis in Pennsylvania! WE are the ones who have the answers! It’s time our elected officials STOP dehumanizing us and blaming us! It’s time they start LISTENING to US, NOT their campaign donors, NOT the lobbyists, NOT the CEO’s of corporations!

We DEMAND the following to be enacted immediately, so we can start alleviating some of the Catastrophic effects from our current healthcare crisis. We DEMAND the adult dental benefit be restored into Medicaid that was cut in 2011. We DEMAND a Public Healthcare Advocate for the state of Pennsylvania.” — Tammy Rojas, Put People First

Jennina Rose Gorman of Altoona and Tim Seitz-Brown of Spring Grove were one of several teams who delivered our demands to elected officials.

Forward together, not one step back!

PA-PPC: A National Call for Moral Revival is a movement led by the poor, demanding an end to poverty, racism, militarism & ecological devastation.

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