Fog. So thick, like I could reach of my car window and grab a handful. Driving through the woods, up the side of a mountain in the dark. My headlights create an otherworldly glow, shining into the mist. Essentially driving blind, I track the GPS on my phone to see the direction of the road, whether I will stay on the path or tumble into the trees below, until I arrive at the Skycroft Conference Center in Middletown, MD.
This was the journey that I and many others took in early December to attend United Workers' Annual Assembly, including representatives from partner organizations from across the country: the Poor People's Campaign, the National Union of the Homeless, the Vermont Workers Center, Put People First, and the Non-violent Medicaid Army, among others. We came together to advance the interests of the 140 million poor and dispossessed Americans of the working class who are not represented by either of our nation's political parties.
The Culmination of a Year of Reconnaissance
Going into enemy territory to assess their adversary's strengths and vulnerabilities, United Workers has been engaged in its Year of Reconnaissance, reaching out to both urban and rural communities across the state of Maryland. Doing a lot of listening to find out what the real issues are, to find out what's really going on, along with singing and sharing meals, getting a taste of what hope feels like when we come together across lines of division.
What were some of the issues that emerged? Housing. Healthcare. Food. Safety. Interlocking needs which quickly become interlocking crisis' when one of them goes unmet. When you don't have stable housing, you can't take care of yourself, damaging your health, both mental and physical, leaving you prey to food insecurity and threats to your physical safety. When one fails, they all fail, like sitting on a chair with a wobbly leg. We tumble to the ground before we even realize what happened.
Given the nature of these interlocking threats, the membership of United Workers chose to fight for health as a human right. Not just healthcare. But health. Which includes housing, healthcare, nutritious food, and safety, among other issues. They decided that only by adopting this broad framework can our needs be adequately addressed. That being deprived of any one of them is being deprived of all of them.
The Right to Health as a Unifying Vision
Something strange happened while I was driving through that fog. I couldn't see the sky or the trees moving past me, or even the edges of the road. It looked like I was standing still. But I could feel the car moving. This disconnect between my eyes and what I could feel made me feel sick almost instantly.
Living in this country, we're told that everyone is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That each of us possesses certain inalienable rights. For no other reason than that we exist. Yet when we look at our country, that's not what we see. We see the rights of a minuscule few prioritized over the rights of the dispossessed many. The ruling class asserts its will as a matter of brute fact, like a pebble sitting on the beach, declaring its lordship over the sand.
It's a disconnect. What we're being told and what we see don't match. And there's a part of us that feels sick because of it. Like something is off, but we can't explain it. That's why we have ventured into the foggy darkness to find each other. Those of us who see. To affirm each other, to strengthen each other, to heal each other. Because against all hope, we dare to hope. With a faith that boldly declares that the sun still shines. We will not despair. We will not give up or be divided. We stand united to fight for Health as a Human Right. For everyone.
Byline: Mike Hughes lives in Western MD with his strange and wonderful family. He enjoys religion and philosophy, crime dramas, sci-fi, Playstation, and anything Superman related. He came to United Workers after the George Floyd uprising. He and his wife both live with ongoing disability and have struggled due to low wages and inadequate payments from Social Security disability insurance.