The Social Security Chopping Block (also, New York Democrats Don’t Care About Climate)
10:31PM Jun 21, 2022
Hey everyone, welcome to lever Time episode four. This is the show where we try to talk about politics without losing our goddamn minds. I'm your host, David Sirota on today's show, we're gonna be talking about Republicans favorite hobby horse cutting entitlement programs, and how a defeat in the midterm elections might lead the Biden administration into joining them. Then, we'll be joined by the levers Andrew Perez to discuss his amazing new story about how after Joe Manchin blocked a Medicare expansion in his home state of West Virginia, a free medical clinic popped up to provide health services for the state's low income residents. Andrew actually traveled to West Virginia to report on that clinic also delivers Julie Iraq reports on some successful climate organizing campaigns in New York, but also about how Democrats in that state legislature recently killed a major renewable energy bill. What a surprise. And this week, our paid subscribers will get to hear a bonus segment reviewing the huge elections in Latin America and France elections, where the left actually one big reminder for our free listeners to head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber giving you access to our premium podcast feed, which includes those bonus segments plus much more. As always, I'm joined here by producer Frank, what's up, Frank?
Not much, David, I'm I'm feeling actually pretty good today about the show about the state of things. You know, it's a lot of a lot of heavy topics. But there's there seems to be a silver lining and all of the stuff that we're talking about which you know, we don't get those that often. So I feel pretty good. No, there
is some good news in this. And I think that I mentioned the Latin American election results and how they revolved around climate change is actually a particularly good piece of news considering all the bad climate news about what's going on in the actual environment right now. So that's, that's actually I'm psyched to get to that. It's it's a really, really important set of stories. And you're right, I mean, I cling to any shred of good news, even if it's far outside of our own country. So I'm like, we're in a good news drought. So I'm thirsty for good news.
Yeah, the slightest, the slightest drop of good news feels like I'm bathing in an oasis right now.
Exactly. Now, before we get to that good news, I think we should have to first go to some not so good news. Today's first story, we're going to be talking about so called entitlement programs. During a debate with Senator Bernie Sanders last week, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham signaled that Republicans are hoping that the Biden administration works with them after the midterm elections, to try to cut Social Security and Medicare. That's what Graham telegraphed. Now, we've all heard some version of this before. It's literally one of the very few things that the Republican party still does well, they are still very good at cutting social programs that benefit the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. I mean, they're so good at it. They've successfully rebranded the positive term social welfare into the vulgar terms, entitlement programs. The idea is that how dare lazy moochers feel entitled to basic services like health care, and making sure seniors don't live and die in poverty. You
know what, David, I learned once that before Social Security, three quarters of American seniors lived in poverty, that's a real fact about life in America before Social Security and I will never ever forget that.
It's It's incredible and then there similar stats about seniors and access to medical care before Medicare, and yet every couple of years, it Congress, the media, the center of the political debate is about whether Social Security and Medicare to have the most popular programs in the history of the country whether they need to be cut, and the Democrats have fetishized cutting Social Security and Medicare. Since the Clinton administration, there have been these commissions, where Democrats, Democratic politicians who want to look tough, who want to show themselves to be supposedly courageous statesman, who can, who can disconnect from the Democratic Party's base who can shove it to the Democratic Party's base, they tout themselves as being willing to have tough discussions about cutting Social Security and Medicare, when in fact, what they should be doing. And what the public supports is an expansion of those programs to help break down all of this and what happened this week, and what it may signal for after the midterm elections. I'm now joined by Alex Lawson. He's the Executive Director of Social Security works. It's an organization working to address the retirement income crisis by protecting and expanding the Social Security system. Hey, Alex, what's up?
Hello, how are you?
You know, things seem pretty dark right now. And one of the things that seems pretty dark is the prospect for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Last week, Lindsey Graham had this to say about what the Republicans would try to do if they win the midterms. So entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece. Alex, I know we've all heard this before. But how concerned should we be that if Republicans take control after the midterms that they'll actually do so called entitlement reform, which, of course, is code for cutting Social Security and Medicare? How real Do you think that is?
It's always real. They just never stopped coming for our Social Security or Medicare, or earned benefits. It was sort of surprising that Lindsey Graham wanted to just come out and say it, they usually pretend that they don't want to do that, and then hide behind some sort of, you know, bipartisan commission, like the one that Senator Romney has proposed. In the Obama era. It was the Bowles Simpson Commission, the BS commission. That's all very real. I think I might be more optimistic than you or have some some good news. I think we're better prepared to fight against that than we were when President Obama pivoted to an austerity agenda after the midterms in 2010. A lot has changed since then, on the makeup of the Democratic caucus, and especially on the momentum behind expanding Social Security benefits that we're seeing from the Democrats, Representative John Larson in the house, and Senator Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, others in the Senate. So they're gonna try for sure. That's what they always do. And there are factions within the Democratic Party who fully support things like the the Bowles Simpson commission. I mean, I know, you know, the former executive director of the commission is in the Biden White House.
Let's just stop there for a second because that was the thing that I sort of, was half encouraged by and half kind of grossed out by which is this. Lindsey Graham comes out and says this entitlement reform is a must. And the DNC, the DSCC of the Democratic Party's apparatus expresses outrage. How dare Lindsey Graham say this, and this is proof that if the Republicans try to wait, if they win the election, they're going to try to cut Social Security and Medicare. And to my mind, Lindsey Graham just said, what the Obama administration and let me rephrase that the Obama Biden administration said 1011 12 years ago, when the Republicans took over that they wanted to move to entitlement reform. In other words, what Lindsey Graham said 1011 12 years ago was Democratic Party orthodoxy. So I guess I would ask you, how much of a change you think there has been, or is that just a short term tactic? This This expression of outrage is just a short term election tactic to kind of pretend that's what the Democrats are outraged about, when in fact, it's likely that Joe Biden will reach out to Republicans if the Republicans win the election and try to do another commission to cut those programs. So I
think it's a really important question and one that, you know, we should be asking, I think that what where we are right now, is, is fundamentally different than where we are where we were in 2010. I think that that's just go into a second of what it is that we're talking about, like what Democrats are, like, supportive of it, or like, formerly, the establishment position was a so called Grand Bargain, right? So the Democrats actually worse than ever, for cutting Social Security benefits. They accepted cuts to Social Security, in exchange for increased taxes on the rich. And the idea is, you get the two parties behind closed doors, unaccountable to their voters, and they make a deal, the so called Grand Bargain. And, you know, if you talk to establishment dems, they at the time, they would, you know, swear up and down that, you know, it's not them who wants to cut Social Security, it's the it's the Republicans who want to cut Social Security. And that in and of itself is true. But well, we were like we and what we expose Social Security works, we were formed to defeat the BS Commission, which as you know, David was just one of like a series of them after we defeated the BS commission, you know, they'd come out with another one and another one and another one. And we had to defeat all of these fast track attempts at the so called Grand Bargain, and there were little pieces that got through that did real harm. And also it ate up the entire rest of the Obama, White House, right, six years of these fake cliffs and crises, and all of it was focused on getting the so called Grand Bargain,
right. And my fear is, my fear is that Joe Biden is somebody who doesn't believe very deeply in much of anything, but he does believe in a few things pretty deeply. And I look at Joe Biden's career and I may be in the, you know, top 99th percentile of people who know who actually truly know Joe Biden's career have reported deeply on it. And he has, he has up until the 2020 election, he has portrayed himself as a Democrat who was willing to Gore sacred cows in his own party, a Democrat who's tough enough to stand up to his party's base and push things like cutting Social Security. And my fear is that after an election shellacking, like there was in 2010, if there's another one in 2022, the Old Joe Biden, that Joe Biden, not the Joe Biden of 2020, but the Joe Biden, who spent most of his adult life pushing for Social Security and Medicare cuts, freezing funding, giving Senate floor speeches, touting himself as being a great hero for being willing to, to talk about so called entitlement reform, that that old Joe Biden will be back Is that is that a ridiculous fear?
It's not at all the optimism I have is not in Joe Biden, per se. I think that what Joe Biden is is one of the best homing pigeons or beacons of where the center of the Democratic Party is, at any one time. He puts his finger in the air and finds it so as you noted, like if you go through his speeches, you'll find things that from today, you're like, I cannot believe that he was advocating for that. But it's a good friend of mine, Melissa burn, always points out she fights to cancel all student debt. One of her like, amazing sort of things is she's like everyone should go and just watch clips of Democrats from the 1990s to truly understand how terrible they were right that the party was absolutely in an entirely different place than they are today. And it's not saying like, Oh, so therefore we won, but it is to recognize that we have shifted the landscape increased Probably to the left. And I do think that Joe Biden recognizes that. But more importantly, I think that even if he does go for it, and the wheels of elite establishment DC are entirely what you said that the most dangerous setup for Social Security is a democratic presidency, that loses the House and the Senate, and then is left with the Republicans being able to hold the debt ceiling against him, right, or all of the levers that they use to create these crises. And it's in that setup, that it is most likely to yield something like a grand bargain. But I know you remember this, you're one of the few who like reported on it, you remember that the only person it was me with a camera before live streaming was like a big deal. I stood in front of the closed door of the BS commission, that they hidden the Congress and just live streamed the closed door. Until, you know, the mainstream media, the New York Times, you know, like picked it up, like the weirdest thing going around DC is these two hour live streams of a closed door. And I feel like
I feel like that is Joe Biden's dream that Joe Biden has in his mind that the great good old days of Washington was the days when we could all get into a smoky back room, close the door shut the press out, shut the you know, the public out and come come up with a great deal. A these grand bargain is the so called grand bargains that give something to one party give another thing to the other party and they all have to go out and lock arms and basically tell the public that the public is screwed. I feel like Joe Biden thinks that that was the good old days. And in my view, that was not the good old days. That was bad. I mean, certainly some things can come out of it that are okay from from a process but in general, that is not a great process. So how do we prevent that? That dream aka that nightmare from happening if the Republicans win?
So I think a we have a much bigger apparatus on the outside. So organizations are much more first of all, there's they don't buy it, right. So like the beginning of those smoky backroom deals, there has to be people saying and, you know, believing like, oh, no, they're not talking about cutting Social Security in there. They that's what they kept saying to us during the BS commission. And they're like, you don't know what they're talking about in there. And I'm like, I know that's the exact problem. We don't know what they're talking about. But
that is what they pushed. That is what they ultimately came out with was Social Security cuts.
And you remember that what blew it up was Alan Simpson came out he was annoyed with that New York Times article and he gave me an impromptu eight minute swear filled diatribe against me where he's like, hell yeah, we're talking about cutting Social Security in there. That's what grownups do young whippersnapper, it was an you know, it blew it up, because now it's like, that's what this is about. We don't even need to go through that as soon as something is impaneled, I'll have hundreds of activists coming to DC outside the room with me. And sort of more importantly, in the way that, you know, it would look if the Democrats lose in the house, especially the losses come from the right side of the party first, right. So like, in an enormous wave, it could take out like, you know, a whole bunch of everybody. But in anything other than an enormous, enormous wave, the losses are going to come from the right side of the party, the the caucus would become smaller, lose the majority, but much more progressive. And I think that our champions in the house, you know, I can name a bunch of them, John Larson, who who's not like a CPC firebrand, but he would definitely be outside the room with the activists, right. But of course, like Pramila, Jayapal, and AOC and Cory Bush, who all can bring a level of communications firepower that we just didn't have when we defeated the Bowles Simpson commission. And that's just on the left, because I also think an important part of this is that the on the right I don't think that they're, you know, like the Maga caucus or the crazy side of the right wing. I don't think that they would be into this either. So
Well, that's a good, that's a good point, I want to talk a little bit about that very quickly, which is that I do sense that the Republican Party is also somewhat divided in a way that they weren't before. Which is to say that, I think 1015 years ago, the Republican Party was a purely, almost purely a country club Republican Party, a Republican Party of business and financial elites who didn't even pretend to care about the working class of this country. I think now, the Republican brand is much different. I think the Republican brand is constantly portraying itself, the Republican leadership is constantly portraying itself as more in touch with the working class than the Democratic leadership. Now, I think, obviously, the Republican Republican leaders are very closely connected to, to the biggest of big money donors, I think it's more brand they're working class idea of the idea that they're working class party is more of a brand than actual reality. But it is to say that I do wonder, Where do the Maga Republicans, that branch of the Republican Party, where does that branch of the Republican Party come down on cutting direct payments to two seniors? Right? I mean, it was Donald Trump, who proposed the PPP program, it was Donald Trump, who proposed a bunch of programs that were just about getting money out to regular people. And I'm not touting that. But I'm saying that is a reality of Republican politics. Now, where do you sense the Republican party is on the idea of a so called Grand Bargain?
So I think it's there are factions within the Republican Party. So I don't think you can say, with clarity, where the Republicans are, you can say exactly where Mitch McConnell is right? Like that dude wants to destroy it. Where Rick Scott is that guy wants to destroy it. I also think they're, you know, where most of the House Republicans are, they're going to do what their donors want. In the sort of Trump planned, it gets more complicated because you remember Donald Trump, he knew the political power of Social Security. He was the Republican who got on stage and pointed at the other Republicans and said, they're all going to come cut your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I'm not, that's the bit he ran against the other Republicans on protecting seniors, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, protecting everybody's, but that really gives like the Trump plan Republicans, there's two things one, we would be able to pressure them and you know, that we would hold up Donald Trump now in In fairness, because it's obvious that this would happen. Donald Trump then you know, turned right around in power and work to undermine and destroy Social Security. He just came at it through, you know, from the side and then lied about what he was doing. But also the Trump land are not like into just the idea of working with the Democrats for a so called Grand Bargain or anything, right, like that. ETHOS is not in the Trump land, and I don't know what is except for like, you know, white nationalism, a bunch of chaos.
Right. That's a really good point that that Donald Trump is even being part of that generation, that kind of idealizes this, you know, this politics of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, Donald Trump and his movement don't seem at all interested in they don't fetishize bipartisanship. They don't fetishize comedy, and working together in the way that Joe Biden and the Democrats constantly fetishize the idea of coming up with a grand bargain press conferences where both parties are, are present. I feel like Joe Biden wakes up in the morning and goes to sleep at night, dreaming of having a press conference with Mitch McConnell, where they're locking arms to cut Social Security and Medicare and show that the government can work in a bipartisan way. I mean, in my view, I don't care what's partisan or bipartisan, I don't give a shit about that. The only thing I give a shit about is the end result. What is the end result of the policy? So that gets to the final question here, which is, what kind of organizing are you doing is Social Security Works doing now in anticipation of this? What can people who are hearing this podcast do if they're worried about their social security benefits after a Republican win in the midterms if that happens,
so I think the most important thing that happened between 2010 and today is it started with Senator Tom Harkin, and and the torch has been carried from there, as I noted before, we're no longer just fighting against cuts that outside, right, so real people are fighting to expand benefits and the Democratic Party for the vast majority of them have come along with that. So fighting to expand Social Security is the best way to protect against cutting Social Security. And so anything that moves that ball forward, and so this is the actual answer is right here. John Larson's bill in the House has 202 co sponsors on it, it is that that's, you know, just inches away from being able to pass with just original co sponsors, we need to get that bill to a vote. And its leadership at Speaker Pelosi who's standing in between that bill and a vote. But we are making progress to get that bill, what's called marked up in Ways and Means, and that would move it on to where we could get a floor vote on expanding Social Security. That's the number one way we can protect Social Security is make these politicians vote on it in the sunlight, never let them go into that backroom, put them on the record. And once the Democrats are voting to expand Social Security, it's almost impossible for them not impossible, but almost impossible for them to turn around. And, you know, work to compromise with cutting Social Security.
I mean, look, I certainly agree that having a vote right now ASAP to at least get as many Democrats on record as possible on expanding Social Security is is incredibly important. And you've laid out the politics of this. I mean, you've got Joe Biden as president who's pushed for so called entitlement reforms for most of his adult life, the executive director of the Simpson Bowles commission that tried to cut Social Security is now working in the White House, you've got a current house speaker, who says all sorts of nice things about Pete Peterson, the billionaire who has funded the movement to cut Social Security. So all of this is in play. And I completely agree with you that at least getting these politicians on record, in a vote to see where they stand on expanding Social Security. By the way, a very popular idea when you will pose so popular, right that getting them on record is hugely important. Very quickly, Alex, where can folks find your work to know how to engage?
You can find us at Social Security works.org or on Facebook, just search Social Security works on Twitter. SSH works. And yeah, it's the moment is the moment to get involved. And we should use the fact that it's so popular. And then Democrats are scrambling for a political lifeline. And we're like, This is it. This is the most popular policy, you could go for a run on it. And you know, people are picking up what we're putting down there. So if we can increase the volume, it is entirely possible that we get a vote before November on expanding Social Security and show people Republicans want to cut Social Security and Democrats want to expand Social Security. And that's a fight that every Democrat should want to take because the people are soundly on the side of the Democrats in that in that showdown. Alex Lawson thanks so much. Thanks, David.
Okay, it's time to get to our lever story for this week. So last year, Joe Manchin, aka Senator Kohl from West Virginia. He helped block a Medicare expansion which would have provided additional health services to 1000s and 1000s of seniors in his state, including vision and dental care. As a result, West Virginia has seen some of the worst health outcomes in the entire country. Now an organization providing free health care services to low income residents across the country has set up shop in West Virginia. The Levers Andrew Perez traveled to Charleston, West Virginia to report on one of these pop up medical clinics and the incredible work they're doing right in Joe mansions backyard. Andrew, thanks for being here. Thanks for chatting with us about this. Absolutely.
Thanks for sending me there.
Thanks. Thanks. Thank our readers are paying subscribers for funding, the kind of journalism we do to make a trip like that possible. So again, this comes after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin helped kill that Medicare expansion last year that would have benefited some of the folks that you visited with down in West Virginia. The clinic you attended was held by the Remote Area Medical otherwise known as RAM. Generally speaking, let's start out with with asking, what exactly is a ram clinic and why is there one In West Virginia right now.
Sure. So RAM holds free medical clinics, usually two or three day events all over the country where people can come and get medical, dental vision services at no cost. And you know, services kind of varies. Sometimes they're only offering dental because that's the most popular service. But you know, actually in the in West Virginia, they were patients could only actually get choose dental or vision because they were in really in demand. And anyway, Reem has been holding this clinic in West Virginia, annually, though, not during, not at the start of COVID. And they've been holding it in West Virginia, because they know that there's a need and a local community health group invited them. They've been partnering with West Virginia Health right there since 2017, after the state saw some historic flooding.
When was the ramp program first created? How are they funded?
So Ram was first created in 1985. It was initially designed to help provide medical services in remote locations overseas, including in the Amazon rainforest, they quickly started receiving requests to hold clinics here in the US. And you know, as far as I can tell, that's what most of their work is now. And so they they, you know, rely on individual donations, foundation donations, and some corporate partnerships. The truth is that they're they're pretty small, they raised a little more than $6 million in 2020. So they have a small staff that these events and they've rely in large part on volunteers, including volunteer medical professionals, you know, physicians, dentists, doctors, and you know, they do not go everywhere, they're only picking where they go based on invitations from local community groups that are then helping bring in volunteers and helping bring in doctors and medical professionals to
so you mentioned in the piece that the clinic was set up only a few miles from Joe mansions riverfront home, give us a little detail about mansions role in blocking his constituents, the people that you met on this trip, a little detail about what mentioned did to block them from accessing more medical services and healthcare.
Also mention last year blocked the build back better bill the you know, President Joe Biden's agenda bill. And he'd already kind of worked to significantly scaled down but one of one of his chief problems with the bill, one of the main sticking points for mansion was that it he opposed expanding Medicare to include dental and vision benefits for seniors arguing that we just can't afford it that the government can't afford that. And, you know, his stance was a big giant victory for the private health insurance industry, which makes huge profits off of privatized Medicare Advantage plans. So Medicare doesn't include dental and vision benefits. Medicare Advantage plans generally do include those benefits, but they're usually really thin. They're kind of worthless. And so the benefits that are proposed that were proposed by Democrats would have been an upgrade over what insurers currently offer. And what that meant was that, you know, some people might then choose to stick with Medicare. And so the private plans look, why would you go privatized, if you can get better coverage just through Medicare, it would have also meant that insurers would have to spend some money to keep up with the new benefits. So they oppose the plan and basically demanded that Congress pay them more money to help cover the cost of providing services that they already kind of supposedly do. And it's why they ran a bunch of ads in West Virginia in including in Arizona, but in West Virginia. You know, they ran a lot of ads thinking mentioned for protecting the Medicare Advantage program saying that seniors rely on Medicare Advantage. It was it was a really you know, it actually our colleague Julie rock did it did a report on that whole industry spending spree and it was really really dirty.
We're gonna take a quick break, but we'll be right back with more labor time. All right, look, if you're listening to this show, you know soft when you see it. Soft is a Democratic House member pledging to be for a $15 minimum wage, and then immediately backing down soft is a Democratic senator pledging to tax billionaires and then betraying the promise. Soft is Joe Biden saying he supports unions and then backing down to lobbyists. But even the Democrats in Washington aren't as soft as sheets and giggles eucalyptus sheets, sheets and giggles should be the place you get your sheets because they're awesome. They're unlike anything you've ever tried. They're naturally softer than even the best cotton and they're temperature regulated. They keep hot sleepers, cool and cold sleepers warm even in the same bed. This is particularly important in places like where I live Colorado, and where the temperature fluctuates all over the place. The cool thing is that Colin, the founder of sheets and giggles is mission driven. He's the guy right here in my hometown of Denver, who's going along Time reader the leverage journalism. He's been pushing Colorado to enact the public health insurance option. And he's making sure sheets and giggles products are made sustainably, and ship and zero plastic packaging. Let me give you an example. Their sheets use 96% less water than cotton 30% less energy than cotton to make them. For comparison, a single set of polyester sheets can leach 10 million micro plastic fibers into the waterways every year, just through the laundry. So look, if you want to support a business that supports our journalism, and its values driven sheets and giggles is for you go to sheets giggles.com/lever. That's sheets giggles.com/lever for a 15% discount and get yourself set up today. Their sheets are softer than the Biden administration. And you're helping support a great company that's making our journalism possible.
Welcome back, I'm here with the levers Andrews Perez. We're discussing his recent piece for the lever about the RAM medical clinics and his trip to Joe mansions backyard. He went to West Virginia to report on the healthcare situation in that state after Joe Manchin has blocked an expansion of Medicare as dental and vision and the like, while you were at the clinic reporting this, you spent a lot of your time near the dental services area in specific which you report is by far the RAM clinics most sought after services. Why is that?
So rams clinic manager told me that 65% of patients generally come to these events for dental with vision being second. Medical is the smallest by far and you know, part of that's probably like you're not going to these clinics to get surgeries, right? Like they're kind of identifying problems, maybe they'll give you prescriptions on the medical side. But the real driver is just that a lot of people do not have access to dental care. Part of that's like dental care is expensive. Some some areas of the country are called dental deserts where people don't have really any option to get professional dental care, including in a lot of rural areas. You know, dentists are not setting up shop in areas that are that are, you know, overwhelmingly poor or that just don't have very few people. It's just it's, they just don't do it. So people's dental issues tend to pile up and get much more severe. And you know, there's the cost issue. dental care is expensive. And if you need dental services, it's going to cost you money. Even if you have insurance outside of like a traditional, you know, annual cleaning. So Medicare doesn't cover dental Medicaid plans usually only cover extractions for emergencies, private dental insurance plans and the medical Medicare Advantage plans that do cover dental, your plan is going to involve significant cost sharing, it might also have an annual maximum or a cap of $1,000 $2,000, maybe more, where you're responsible for everything after
I want to play some excerpts of some audio to really illustrate the dental crisis that you encountered down in West Virginia. Here's one clip of you talking to a man named Charles combs, who was there to have several teeth extracted.
I've been doing most myself. You haven't fallen out your hands. Often I'm out with a hammer. knocker? I'm sorry. How long has that been going on? Okay, let's read now let's buy it. How long? Has it been since when I had to slash and hold the coffee $400. So
then there was another person you encountered named Robert, who had this to say about the dental situation there
a couple of months ago or $33,000. I'm on disability Social Security. And I don't know why I freaked out. And one of my two is broken in the bathroom, cutting my job outside my door really bad. Made it
without an opportunity like this. What would you have done to take care of your dental needs?
I have no way of breaking up by counting money. bills, rent or Car Insurance? Gasoline save? Save. Heard every game you've heard every day. Well,
Andrew, my question to you was, what was it like reporting on this? What do you think people outside of West Virginia or who aren't experiencing this don't understand about the depths of this healthcare crisis in general and the dental crisis in specific
well, so I knew that some some patients at the this clinic were going to be living in like serious distress, like, I definitely knew that going in. I was not ready for someone to tell me that they were removing their own teeth with a hammer. I just can't imagine that I couldn't have imagined that going in. But you know, I think so what you're hear from Charles like that, that was I thought pretty stunning. No one on on earth should be forced to live like that, you know, what a one in the wealthiest country on earth. I think, you know, what, what Robert says really illustrates the failure of like this, the our social safety net, you know, he's on disability, social security, and he needs all of his teeth out. And he has, you know, if not, for this clinic, no option for doing it, which, which means that he lives in chronic pain. You know, he was told that it would, it would take $3,000 to remove his teeth. And he absolutely needed one out immediately, because he said it was broken, and it's cutting his jaw. And so it's, you know, I think what it shows is that people are, you know, living in really, really serious distress, you know, might be getting some help from the government, but really not enough and not covering what are what are essential services to Right. Like so much of our healthcare system treats, you know, teeth and vision as if it's like, just completely detached from people's health. And it's insane. And it has, it has a huge trickle down effect. That just puts people in absolute misery and pain until, until hopefully, they ended up at a ram clinic best case scenario.
I mean, it's it is incredible that Medicare and the way Medicare is written, apparently the eyes and the teeth are not part of the human body. I mean, it's just, it's so frickin dark to think about that the law was kind of written in that way to pretend parts of the body are not parts of your body. I want to end on on a kind of a positive note in the sense of what the RAM clinic folks are doing. There's audio from a patient named Melina, that you met who had this to say about the healthcare services that she was able to get through this clinic. Everyone
was cleaned to everyone. It I just have never seen people treat indigenous people in particular with as much care and regard and decency. They just treated us like valuable human beings deserve good care. And I had chosen the devil and I was scared. I was just so scared. And they started they had a portable X ray machine. They could X ray my mouth on site so that they could do it and they just, it was painless for a tooth extraction. The way they handled my job the way they cared for everything we did it was like a family member was concerned about my personal well being and they made it almost as strange as a word. You know that it is for for a dental procedure.
And here is another clip of a ram clinic worker named Poppy talking to Molina
while everyone matters, we care about you. We are grateful that you trusted us. She comes into your life and to do the smallest thing we all need medical care about we are cared for as long as we were kept as long as we can load up a truck down the road. We are here Are you proving that you're part of the family?
Well, I tell you what, I get everything else fixed. I've come back to volunteer.
Andrew, it really seems like the folks you talk to just are not used to getting any kind of basic medical care at all to the point where they're surprised to be getting decent medical care. I mean, is that was that the basic attitude down there?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think some some people were walking in being like, I don't really know what this is, right. Like they, they kind of had no idea what it was. But, you know, I think Molina really, really kind of framed what the what the real issue is here, which is that, like, people who are living in poverty are yet really not used to being treated as human, they're used to being treated as a as $1 sign and one that does that, you know, is not too substantial. So, you know, I think, if I was, you know, listening to this audio, again, I was like, really, really encouraged by the stuff that Poppy was saying to Molina, you know, just just making clear that, like you, you know, you are, you know, human you matter. And not only do you matter, but you're part of our family. And like, you know, I think I think like you saw that there, that people really, really did appreciate the efforts of this clinic.
Andrew, great work on this story. This is the kind of on the ground investigative reporting that is funded, as I said, by our paid subscribers. So if you're interested in supporting independent journalism like this, if you're listening to this podcast and you like what you heard, head over to lever news.com To become a subscriber to help us do more. Andrew, great work. Thanks for Thanks for doing it. Thank you. Okay, for our final segment today in the wake of the Democratic Party recently killing of renewable energy bill in the New York State Legislature. We'll be sharing in the interview here between the levers Julie Iraq and New York climate organizer Pete Sikora. Pete's an organizer whose practical tactics have proven very effective, including a campaign which successfully banned gas pipelines in new building constructions in New York City. Julius spoke with Pete about what happened recently in New York's Democratic legislature, as well as the realities of climate change organizing in the Big Apple.
Okay, Pete, thanks so much for joining us.
Oh, thanks for having me on.
So you, you work with the New York advocacy group, New York communities for change where you're one of the campaign directors, can you tell us just a bit about how you got involved in New York communities for change? And what got you into climate organizing specifically?
Sure. Well, NYC is organizing in black and Latino communities to fight for economic, social and climate justice. And I was working as a political and mobilization coordinator for a labor union. Several years ago, when I got really freaked out about climate change. After reading stuff by Bill McKibben. It's all extremely scary. And it was a wake up call for me that I should start working on this issue.
I think, you know, it's probably true for a lot of our listeners that climate change is, you know, terrifying. It's a top priority, and yet, it feels just insurmountable. But But you seem to have a very sort of pragmatic nuts and bolts approach to climate organizing. That's been very effective. Can you can you lay out sort of what that organizing strategy is?
Well, that's so nice of you to say, I mean, we are, what we're trying to do here is run hard hitting multiracial organizing campaigns for very specific objectives that are big goals that some decision maker an elected official a corporation can do. So we're trying to put pressure from a multiracial base on a targeted elected official to do the right thing. And so that's what we're trying to do. And we're using a mix of tactics, from lobbying to direct action, protests, all of those things to make that target feel pressure to do the right thing. Got it. And I think
one thing you've sort of tweeted and written and spoken pretty extensively about is that that this is a somewhat unique approach in the US climate organizing landscape right now. Or at least a lot of the big you know, national, as well as New York based climate groups aren't aren't really willing to sort of criticize Democrats take an adversarial tack. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
Well, you know, there's like in climate land, you know, I discovered early on, there's like a lot of like technology and white papers and nerdy policy talk and like, I enjoy that stuff, too. But the really important thing here is to win tangible objectives, and force elected officials to do that. And so, in New York, this is a very blue state. It's a super blue city. And so what we have to do is to get Democrats to live up to their rhetoric on these issues, and actually pass the kind of transformational policies that slash pollution and create good jobs. And that's, uh, we're aiming for a green new deal here. But that's a lot of very tangible items to win.
Got it? Well, and so one great specific example is the the gas free buildings campaign in New York City. Now is a campaign that you're working on at the state level. Can you talk a little bit about how you won the the gas ban in new buildings in New York City and sort of what those efforts look like at the state level now?
Sure. Well, you know, in fact, on the west coast, starting in Berkeley, a few of the municipalities took this transformational step of just ending gas use in newly constructed buildings, no more oil, no more gas for those boilers in those furnaces. Instead, buildings are going to be powered and heated and cooled with heat pumps and energy efficiency. And that's now practical and cost effective. So we saw that as a really good idea for New York City, which is a really big place that uses about 5% of the gas burned in buildings nationwide. So we wanted to pass that as a policy. And so that cleans up our air, it fights climate change, and it creates good jobs and clean energy in New York City. So to win that we had to overcome the opposition of the oil and gas industry, and the real estate industry. And so to do that, we formed an effective coalition campaign with a few different groups to bring pressure from all across the city, on the City Council Speaker to pass the legislation.
And why was the City Council Speaker sort of the target in that campaign?
You know, that's such a great question. I think for a lot of activists, you have to the first thing you have to do is think about, well, who what am I trying to get? And who is the decision maker on this issue. Oftentimes, you could say, well, the city should do X or the federal government should do why, but really, you got to talk about a specific person who was democratically accountable in our system. And the speaker of the city council controls legislation moving through the New York City Council, and the law starts in the city council and the city council has the power to pass laws. So it can be the driving force, and the speaker is the most important figure within the city council. So we ran a campaign to get speaker, Cory Johnson to move this legislation. And to his credit he did,
and it you know, it seems like in New York City, and maybe especially at the state level, where we're now you're working to pass a gas ban statewide, you're sort of trying to get the ear of lawmakers that you know, maybe the real estate industry and the fossil fuel industry are also trying to win over. So what does it mean to sort of, you know, divorce, divorce these lawmakers from from their donors and get them to deliver on, you know, big popular policies,
you know, you have to bring bone crushing political pressure to win, you got to just crush here. So, in order to do that, right, you have to mobilize enough grassroots pressure on the targets to make them feel like this is a thing that they should do. You know, it's we're all very keen to be right about the issues. And it's incredibly important to push policy, that is the right policy. But at the end of the day, you don't win because you're making a good argument or you're morally righteous, you win, because you assemble the political power to then go over the top on the opposition, which in all of these cases, ends up being deep pocketed corporate special interests, who just want to preserve the status quo. So you have to overcome that opposition. And that's, that's a hard thing to do. But it's a very doable thing to do, if you get with a bunch of groups and a bunch of activists and run an effective campaign. So that's what we encourage people to do to win on these issues and take chunks of the problem of climate change paths, the policies that are needed to solve it. And if we're doing that worldwide, that's how we're going to overcome this problem. And in the process, build a fairer and more just society. One thing that
was really striking to me about the the gas ban campaign, and I think about many New York communities for change campaigns, I remember, I was standing in front of my laundromat a few months ago and saw some massive March come down the middle of the streets that I think New York communities for change had helped organize regarding rent hikes, but how do you get that much people power behind something like, you know, banning gas in new buildings?
That's, you know, that is the key, right? How do you mobilize people first, I want to say, you don't need to mobilize like 20% of society or 50% of society or 100% of society, right? Like people have this stereotype of movements as like this all encompassing thing that everybody must be part of, you know, the civil rights movement, you know, things like that, but, but in fact, the number of people actually taking action in these movements is vanishingly small as a percentage of the total population. You know, we need a small proportion of people to actualize the otherwise encode public opinion that won't translate into policy, unless there's people out actually pressing. And so that number of people needs to be there. But it doesn't necessarily need to be 1000s. In a city of New York, it can be hundreds. And that's what it was for the gas band campaign. So our organization has a base of volunteers. So do the other organizations that we worked with on that campaign. And together, we mobilized our membership base is to events and activities and to lobby and lots of people came out, but it wasn't 1000s of people, it was hundreds of people. So that's the kind of scale to win a big campaign in New York City that you need. And so if you are in a smaller place in New York City, dozens of people ought to be enough in a bigger place. 1000s of people are necessary. So but I do want to stress one other thing, which is that in a multiracial place like New York City, it's not enough to just have sort of white progressives out there arguing for something and look, I'm a white progressive, I think that's a great thing, right? Like white people should do the right thing. However, to win in a multiracial place like New York City, you have to build a coalition to be to maximize effectiveness. So what we do is we combine our base at New York communities for change in communities of color with predominantly white progressives who are active on climate, and then combine those bases to push a specific target. And in a blue city or in a blue state, that combination of white progressives and communities of color is a dominating political coalition. So if you can actualize that political coalition for a specific objective on an ambitious politician who wants to remain in office or move to a higher position, that's how you can win. And the same thing, by the way, applies to corporate campaigns.
Got it? Yeah. I mean, that's, that's a striking vision for organizing. You've written extensively about how Democrats in New York love to you know, tout their climate plans, their commitment to tackling the climate crisis, without much follow through as a member of York's Climate Action Council went so far as to say, we're good in New York at writing press releases, but we're a little less perfected at the art of implementation. That sounds depressingly similar to the Biden administration, he loves to tell us about the amazing things they're going to do, but have done very little. You know, do you think this is an establishment Democrat problem? Is there something unique in New York that's halting progress, what's going on here?
I think it's the same in almost every word, local, state, federal. On the one hand, we have the Republicans who are ruthlessly marching to destroy progress, and wreak civil society take us backwards on a range of issues. And on the other hand, we have the Democrats who left to their own devices sort of tread water, and don't really do a whole lot in one direction or another. So it's up to us as the people to actually mobilize the pressure to win. And in blue places like New York, the federal government, right now, the Democrats are in charge. So they're the ones to pressure. You know, the kind of formula I'm describing of white progressives plus communities of color that wins in a blue place, it doesn't necessarily win in a red place, right. But with the Democratic Party, we can get a lot of big results. But it is hard, and it is an uphill battle. And it's got to be focused and hard hitting and serious.
Got it well, and to a sort of recent example, here was the build Publix renewable Act, which died a few weeks ago in the New York State Legislature. The bill would have affirmed the New York Power authorities ability to build publicly on renewables and set a deadline for closing the state's fossil fuel plants. The Democrats who again have a supermajority in the state legislature killed the bill, they also of course, killed the ban on gas and new construction statewide that New York communities for change was pushing for what exactly happened? Why'd they kill it?
That is, the depressing story from this New York legislative session is once again, the New York State Legislature led, like you said, by a supermajority of Democrats, a Democratic governor did not pass the kind of policies necessary to deal with the climate crisis. And those are the two hugest examples. So in both of those cases, the industries that are threatened by those pieces of legislation mobilized very serious campaigns of lobbyists, campaign donors, targeted at the leadership and the rank and file membership in those legislatures, and we did not bring enough power to overcome that opposition. So you know, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but what you need to do is fight and so if you bring enough pressure, you win and that's how we won at the city level. And next year, we're going to win at the state level, like I don't want to be like Joe Namath here, you know, like kind of guaranteeing victory but, but it is true. If we come back with a really strong campaign to pass the gas ban next year, we will win and it is the same thing. For every other issue. It's about mobilizing enough pressure. And that is really the only way way to do it, there's there's no other shortcut in a in a democracy, we don't write the kind of checks where we can actually just hire the lobbyists by the access promised jobs, fund networks to do super PAC expenditures, do all of those things that take colossal amounts of money, we can't do that. The only thing we've got is people power. But that's a lot.
And so on this issue of mobilization to wrap up, for people listening to this, if they if they want to get involved in the work you're doing in New York, or they're in other places across the country, and they want to be involved in climate action, you know, what's your advice to them?
You should look at the groups in your local area and see if they're reflecting the kind of stuff that I'm talking about here, are they out there in the streets, pressing a specific decision maker for a specific result? join that group. Don't try to do this on your own, it's better to do it inside of an existing group or with other people. That's how you really can make change by linking up with existing organizations, and then bringing those kinds of multiracial, hard hitting campaigns for specific objectives targeting specific decision makers. And that is a formula that that wins.
Great advice. And what if they want to follow you? Where can they find you on Twitter online? What's what's the best way to do that?
Oh, New York communities for change is ny communities.org. At NY change, I'm at Pizza Cora one. And, you know, there's email lists you should sign up for. And there are lots of wonderful organizations nationally, my personal favorite on nationally is Food and Water Watch, which just does wonderful work in fighting fossil fuels in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and nationally. So they're a fantastic group to get involved with. But there are many, many others as well. And I would urge you to go to a local organization, and find those kinds of hard hitting campaigns where activists are getting together to press a specific decision maker for a specific result.
Okay, wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining the podcast.
Oh, thank you so much for having me on. This is really great and such an important topic, I really appreciate it.
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium, you get to hear our bonus segment, where we discuss the state of European and Latin American politics and election results, the election results that are huge, huge for the climate, and for the future of the world.
I think absolutely that the current crop of left wing governments are really inflected by the rise of kind of mass consciousness around climate change. And also maybe a little more specifically, the rise of environmental justice and indigenous movements that contest specific extractive projects,
listeners can subscribe to lever time premium by heading over to lever news.com. When you subscribe, you also get access to all of the Levers website, our weekly newsletters, and our exclusive live events. And that's all for the criminally low price of just eight bucks a month, or 70 bucks for the year. One last favor, please be sure to like subscribe and write up a review for lever time on your favorite podcast app. And make sure to head over to lever news.com and check out all of the reporting our team has been doing. Until next time, I'm David Sirota rocked the boat