This week, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center prepares two events that place US health care in a wider scope of progressive concerns: a workshop titled “Organizing for the Right to Heal” and an outdoor rally in Deering Oaks Park. To prepare, the Phoenix had some questions for member Sarah Lazare, who produced the free workshop on August 14, about her views on US health care and how it relates to US war efforts around the globe.
Can you give me a little background on your involvement with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and to your ability, the services it provides?
I got involved in the SMWC one year ago because I was excited by its dynamism, committed volunteer organizers, and combination of big vision and concrete action.
The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is a membership-based organization working to build a grassroots, people-powered movement for human rights, like our right to health care and to work with dignity. We provide some services, like access to legal resources for workers, but mostly we believe organizing is the best way to make change and to win our rights in our workplaces and our lives.
We were formed in 2006 by members of the Southern Maine Labor Council with the goal of building the power of non-union workers, especially low-wage, young, immigrant, and people of color workers in Southern Maine. Since then we’ve organized with restaurant workers and taxi drivers, conducted Know Your Rights trainings, supported workers building power in their workplaces, and helped workers claim wages owed to them. In January of 2013 we formed two key organizing committees—Health Care is a Human Right and Work With Dignity. Our committees are made up of, and led by, our members.
We’ve got a free health care screening, rally, and community celebration coming up this Saturday at Deering Oaks Park from noon to 4 pm. This event is part of the Maine Health Care is a Human Right Campaign. It’s a great way to learn more about the work we do.
What connections do you find between health care for US citizens and the country’s military involvements elsewhere?
First of all, I want to be clear that, in response to this question, I am sharing my own analysis and am not speaking for the SMWC as a whole.
US tax dollars and the government that ostensibly represents us are backing the largest military empire in world history, which includes: nearly 1,000 US bases across the world; ongoing military occupation of Afghanistan; covert drone wars in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia; the ongoing militarization of Syria, air strikes and arming of Iraq; political and financial support of sieges and occupations from Palestine to the Western Sahara; the spread of AFRICOM; the “military pivot” to the Asia-Pacific; and much more. We are also seeing the increased militarization of US communities, from the patrolling of the US-Mexico border and detention of migrant children to mass incarceration to the arming of police departments with war-grade weaponry. If you look at the 2015 federal budget alone, 45 percent of the total went to current and past military expenses.