Interviews for Resistance: The Opioid Crisis Is a Public Health Crisis Rooted in Poverty

A healthcare organizer in Maine talks about the importance of engaging people wherever they are.

Sarah Jaffe

"The enemy is a profit driven system. That is everybody’s enemy. It doesn’t work for anybody," says Cait Vaughan. (Photo provided by Cait Vaughan)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. Since elec­tion night 2016, the streets of the Unit­ed States have rung with resis­tance. Peo­ple all over the coun­try have wok­en up with the con­vic­tion that they must do some­thing to fight inequal­i­ty in all its forms. But many are won­der­ing what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talk­ing with expe­ri­enced orga­niz­ers, trou­ble­mak­ers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fight­ing for a long time. They’ll be shar­ing their insights on what works, what does­n’t, what’s changed and what is still the same. 

"We take poverty as a given and we accept these folks as casualties. That is pretty repulsive."

Cait Vaugh­an: I am Cait Vaugh­an. I live in Port­land, Maine and I have been orga­niz­ing for the past four years with the Health­care is a Human Right cam­paign as a mem­ber of the South­ern Maine Work­ers’ Cen­ter, which is a human rights orga­ni­za­tion that orga­nizes and does move­ment build­ing to improve the work­ing con­di­tions of poor and work­ing class folks in Maine.

Sarah Jaffe: Maine’s gov­er­nor was kind of the orig­i­nal pro­to-Trump. I thought it would be inter­est­ing to start out talk­ing a lit­tle bit about what it has been like in Maine liv­ing and orga­niz­ing under [Gov. Paul] LePage.

Cait: Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, that is some of what folks at the Work­ers Cen­ter were feel­ing — all of the things that Trump was say­ing were real­ly famil­iar to us. We have been here with Gov­er­nor LeP­age for a while. The big dif­fer­ence between Trump and LeP­age is real­ly mon­ey. LeP­age is a tough fig­ure because he is not a wealthy per­son. He nev­er has been. He actu­al­ly comes from pover­ty. He spent time as a young per­son being home­less on the streets and came from a home where there was a lot of domes­tic vio­lence, which he is real­ly pub­lic about.

But, sim­i­lar to Trump, he hates on poor folks all the time. He is con­stant­ly telling peo­ple to go back to work. He has real­ly focused a lot on vil­lainiz­ing Maine’s grow­ing African immi­grant pop­u­la­tion and blam­ing the opi­oid cri­sis here in Maine — which is a Main­er is dying at a rate of at least one per­son a day from a hero­in over­dose — on out of state folks, who are black, com­ing from New York City to ped­dle drugs here. So, while he uses a lot of the same rhetoric as Trump, our chal­lenge has been that he has some cred­i­bil­i­ty with some peo­ple in Maine because he does come from pover­ty and they see him as some­one who has real­ly worked his way up and who tells it like it is.

Maine is the old­est state in the nation, we are one of the more rur­al states in the nation, and we are also one of those places where a lot of mill jobs used to exist, and fac­to­ry jobs, jobs that are nev­er com­ing back. A lot of white peo­ple are real­ly look­ing for some­body to tell them why they are all so poor or why they are work­ing so hard but can’t get any­where. We have been up against that nar­ra­tive for quite a while here. It has looked like all the things you could imag­ine. We have kicked so many peo­ple off of food stamps over the past six years. That is tout­ed as, Look at all the peo­ple who are off of food stamps who got jobs.” We know that is not true. Kick­ing peo­ple off of food stamps, cre­at­ing bar­ri­ers for gen­er­al assis­tance, which is hous­ing, food, and med­i­cine vouch­ers, espe­cial­ly, try­ing to kick immi­grants off of those pro­grams. It has looked like a tax on our pub­lic school teach­ers. It has looked like try­ing to sell the idea that more law enforce­ment is going to solve our drug prob­lems. It is pret­ty bleak.

Right now, we are in a bud­get process at the state lev­el where he is try­ing to elim­i­nate $55 mil­lion from the bud­get, almost entire­ly out of the Health and Human Ser­vices side of the bud­get. So, try­ing to kick more peo­ple off of Med­ic­aid. We were one of those states where we have nev­er had Med­ic­aid expan­sion and each bud­get he has been try­ing to kick more and more peo­ple off. Right now they are try­ing to kick 19 – 20-year-olds of Med­ic­aid in Maine. It is pret­ty bad.

Sarah: Trump and all the Repub­li­cans ran on repeal­ing the Afford­able Care Act [ACA]. In states like Maine where they didn’t see a lot of the ben­e­fits of the Afford­able Care Act, do you think that argu­ment got more pur­chase with peo­ple because they hadn’t felt the ben­e­fits of it in the first place?

Cait: Yes. The Work­ers Cen­ter and the Health­care is a Human Right cam­paign, for the past four years, one of the things we have been doing is going out and gath­er­ing people’s health­care sto­ries, using a sur­vey for can­vass­ing and meet­ing peo­ple at food pantries and pub­lic libraries and fes­ti­vals and fairs to say, How are you expe­ri­enc­ing the health­care sys­tem we have now?”

When we start­ed four years ago, a lot of peo­ple were in the midst of try­ing to fig­ure out the ACA and try­ing to fig­ure out how to sign up for it and if it would work for them. There were a lot of peo­ple who were real­ly dis­grun­tled. I do think because Med­ic­aid wasn’t expand­ed, that is part of it. Real­ly, people’s biggest issue that I heard over and over again is, First of all, it is con­fus­ing.” The roll­out of the ACA, peo­ple were very con­fused. There were nav­i­ga­tors and stuff avail­able, but peo­ple were real­ly con­fused about how to even fig­ure out if they could get a good plan through the ACA. Peo­ple were pissed that they were being fined for not being able to afford the ACA. Of course, had we expand­ed Med­ic­aid, this wouldn’t have been such a per­va­sive prob­lem. But when, as an orga­niz­er, peo­ple were telling me, I can’t believe I have to pay a fine for not hav­ing cov­er­age because I am too poor,” I said, Yes, that sucks.” My response was to val­i­date that. I was also one of those peo­ple who had to pay a fine.

Sarah: If you don’t have the expan­sion, then those two things inter­act in a real­ly unpleas­ant way.

Cait: I do think not hav­ing the Med­ic­aid expan­sion cre­at­ed a cli­mate paired with LePage’s nar­ra­tive about every­thing about Oba­ma being ter­ri­ble, those two things paired togeth­er gave peo­ple a sto­ry about why health­care wasn’t work­ing. In my expe­ri­ence, talk­ing to peo­ple and real­ly engag­ing them and lis­ten­ing to them, they might start a con­ver­sa­tion say­ing one thing like, The ACA is the prob­lem.” Then, by the end of the con­ver­sa­tion, we usu­al­ly end­ed up in a place where they were like, Hav­ing any insur­ance com­pa­nies involved mak­ing mon­ey off of health­care is wrong.”

What we were try­ing to do was engage peo­ple wher­ev­er they were at, whether they had lost their Med­ic­aid, whether they were still on Med­ic­aid, whether they got insur­ance with the ACA, whether they had no insur­ance at all, or even employ­er based insur­ance. We were try­ing to engage all of those folks to fig­ure out, What are the real roots of the problem?”

We know that every­thing right now is about pro­tect­ing the ACA, but we know that the ACA has not served the folks that we are out here try­ing to orga­nize. Not in the way that it could. We are, obvi­ous­ly, against tak­ing away health­care. We have absolute­ly met peo­ple who were say­ing, The ACA is not per­fect and it is frus­trat­ing, but it means I have health­care that I des­per­ate­ly need.” We have just been lis­ten­ing and real­ly lead­ing from people’s own knowl­edge about their expe­ri­ence, what does it tell them and how do we help them unpack? So, giv­en all these expe­ri­ences and what you are telling me, who do you think the real ene­my is here?” The ene­my is a prof­it dri­ven sys­tem. That is everybody’s ene­my. It doesn’t work for anybody.

Even in the midst right now of Don’t repeal with­out replac­ing” or Don’t defund Planned Par­ent­hood” and all of the cri­sis and all of the calls that are going on to save health­care, I was at a ral­ly recent­ly in Maine where some­one was say­ing, Save Our Care! Save Our Care!” after a per­son had just spo­ken who was an immi­grant seek­ing asy­lum here who works full­time who can­not afford any­thing through the ACA or through his employ­er right now. He had just talked about how he had no care expect free care through a hos­pi­tal for emer­gen­cies. Then, there is a white woman from Maine scream­ing, Save Our Care!” I am think­ing, Yes, but who is the our’ and who has actu­al­ly been receiv­ing care and who has been liv­ing in this gap all of this time?” Those are the folks that we are try­ing to engage.

Sarah: I want to go back and touch on the ques­tion of the opi­oid cri­sis. Talk­ing about how this has affect­ed Maine, again, it is the old­est state and one of, if not the, whitest state and a very rur­al state where this has hit real­ly hard and where health­care has been not only a polit­i­cal foot­ball, but has legit­i­mate­ly not been expand­ed to people.

Cait: Absolute­ly, it is real­ly messed up that it has tak­en this cri­sis reach­ing mid­dle and upper class white peo­ple for peo­ple to pay atten­tion. To me it is a cri­sis of empa­thy and human­i­ty and it is about racism. We are in this state that is 95 per­cent white. So, of course, the major­i­ty of peo­ple who are dying in this epi­dem­ic are white people.

It is hard, because all of us have lost peo­ple, I will say that. I have lost peo­ple that I love to this and I don’t know any­one who hasn’t. When we are talk­ing about it, it is deeply per­son­al for peo­ple because we are lit­er­al­ly watch­ing our com­mu­ni­ties die and that is real­ly rough. To be in a moment where peo­ple are dying from using drugs and we are also shrink­ing what­ev­er pub­lic safe­ty net has been left, to me it is so ridicu­lous to live in a place where peo­ple don’t see that this is a pub­lic health cri­sis that has its roots in pover­ty. Also, I would say, in the white denial. Peo­ple not want­i­ng to believe that this could be such a big prob­lem with white people.

I would say that it is not just the Repub­li­can folks who have been push­ing law enforce­ment over increas­ing access to care. Here in Port­land, we have an all-Demo­c­ra­t­ic City Coun­cil that chose to shut down one of the pre­mier, in the coun­try, clin­ics that had a nee­dle exchange, that had an HIV pos­i­tive pro­gram and did STD test­ing and coun­selling, that was serv­ing folks on the street, real­ly low income peo­ple, had incred­i­ble rela­tion­ships to their providers. This clin­ic, India Street Clin­ic, was reach­ing peo­ple that no one else could reach and doing a real­ly good job at harm reduc­tion and using this very pro­gres­sive mod­el that oth­er folks nation­al­ly have looked at and been like, Wow, that is a great mod­el.” And our all-Demo­c­rat City Coun­cil decid­ed that we don’t want to be in the busi­ness of health­care” and they were going to defund it and try to shift it over to a fed­er­al­ly qual­i­fied health cen­ter in town that did not have those rela­tion­ships, that did not have the skill, and they just wiped it out. There was a big pub­lic fight to save it and we lost. So, in the midst of a cri­sis where everybody’s friends and broth­ers are dying, we are elim­i­nat­ing things that work.

There are some amaz­ing peo­ple in Maine who are start­ing to get it and peo­ple who are push­ing harm reduc­tion mod­els and push­ing for expand­ing ser­vices under Med­ic­aid to cov­er addic­tion and also fight­ing for ser­vices that will actu­al­ly con­nect peo­ple to life sav­ing resources. There are a lot of peo­ple doing real­ly good work in the midst of this real­ly crap­py nar­ra­tive that law enforce­ment is the answer and if we just put more peo­ple in jail and we just to more raids and con­fis­cate more drugs that we are going to get bet­ter. We know it is not going to work. We can­not solve this with­out tak­ing seri­ous­ly how we fight pover­ty. We take pover­ty as a giv­en and we accept these folks as casu­al­ties. That is pret­ty repulsive.

Sarah: After the elec­tion, peo­ple were over­lay­ing the Trump vote onto var­i­ous dif­fer­ent oth­er maps of things. The one that real­ly stuck me was the Trump vote over­laid with the opi­oid cri­sis, that you have peo­ple who are lit­er­al­ly dying who are look­ing for some­thing, any­thing that is going to make their lives bet­ter. When you are liv­ing and see­ing that around you, it is real­ly hard to write peo­ple off as just ter­ri­ble peo­ple because of who they vot­ed for.

Cait: I don’t believe that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty cares more about poor peo­ple than the Repub­li­can Par­ty as a whole. I think if we did, we would have had real­ly dif­fer­ent things hap­pen. But I also think that we have to strike this bal­ance about say­ing, Okay, there is a nar­ra­tive out there that” — like from Trump and from LeP­age — We are going to bring these jobs back. We are going to build jobs by doing X, Y, and Z.” That does res­onate for peo­ple who are on that line or in pover­ty. But there is also a way to come out strong against white suprema­cy and xeno­pho­bia and also have a mes­sage that res­onates with work­ing class peo­ple who are white and poor peo­ple who are white. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is not com­ing out strong enough against the real­ly easy scape­goat­ing narratives.

It mat­ters in Maine that our gov­er­nor is say­ing, The drugs are com­ing in with black men from New York” and say­ing wild things like, They are com­ing here, bring­ing drugs, and impreg­nat­ing some white girl and then going back home.” He says these things that are real­ly provoca­tive and peo­ple will, at that point, come out against him and say, You have got to apol­o­gize for this state­ment.” But he also says things that aren’t quite that out­landish but are just as dan­ger­ous and peo­ple are okay with that.

There needs to be a stronger and more nuanced sto­ry. We can’t just look at the white work­ing class in this coun­try and say, Well, we have empa­thy for your suf­fer­ing that is caused by eco­nom­ic injus­tice.” Absolute­ly. And there are white work­ing class folks in this coun­try that would rather go hun­gry them­selves than push for poli­cies that give immi­grants GA, too. In our state, the major­i­ty of peo­ple who use Gen­er­al Assis­tance are white because the major­i­ty of our pop­u­la­tion is white. But our gov­er­nor has framed Gen­er­al Assis­tance as a pro­gram that asy­lum seek­ers from cen­tral African coun­tries are using, and there­fore peo­ple are okay with, for exam­ple, the elim­i­na­tion of the entire pro­gram when it is going to most­ly hurt white peo­ple. It is going to real­ly, real­ly hurt this pop­u­la­tion of immi­grants who do not have anoth­er legal means of income to sup­port them­selves before they have work per­mits, it is going to, absolute­ly, dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly hurt them. But, also, you would rather chop of your own arm than see bread in your brother’s mouth. That is true and that is white supremacy.

For me, as a white per­son in Maine to be fac­ing that head on with oth­er white peo­ple and say, How is it you would rather see your kid go hun­gry than see some immi­grant who lives next to you eat? You are like, Well, I will take it from him even though it is tak­ing from me, too.’” That is illog­i­cal. The only answer is white suprema­cy is that strong. We need to real­ly dig deep in there and say, Whoa! How wild is that that these poli­cies have always been hurt­ing white work­ing class peo­ple and poor peo­ple, yet we have charged ahead? We have said, Okay. As long as it is hurt­ing them, we are cool.’” I think the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty wants to talk just about eco­nom­ics. You can’t. There is some­thing that white suprema­cy does for white peo­ple. There is stuff that we get from it that is not always tan­gi­ble and some­times even anti­thet­i­cal to our own mate­r­i­al well-being and we still choose it again and again.

For me, work­ing on the Health­care is a Human Right cam­paign, I am try­ing to get health­care for every sin­gle per­son who lives here, no mat­ter what, that is com­pre­hen­sive and dig­ni­fied. Work­ing on an issue that is a uni­ver­sal human need allows me to dig into some of those con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple in a nuanced way. I have seen some suc­cess with that.

Sarah: Tell us more about the ways that the health­care cam­paign has allowed you to talk about that stuff.

Cait: The sin­gle pay­er move­ment has been around for a long, long time. There have always been peo­ple call­ing for a uni­ver­sal health pro­gram in this coun­try. What the Health­care is a Human Right cam­paign does dif­fer­ent­ly, by using a human rights frame­work and by using not just a leg­isla­tive strat­e­gy or even a bal­lot ini­tia­tive strat­e­gy, we are try­ing to do true base-build­ing that actu­al­ly engages peo­ple around What are your rights? Do you know them? Do you claim them?” Then, Do you demand a dif­fer­ent life based on know­ing that you have human rights?”

Some sin­gle pay­er folks are real­ly scared of that mod­el. We have got­ten push­back say­ing, That is too bold a mod­el. That is going to alien­ate the aver­age per­son.” What they mean by the aver­age per­son” is prob­a­bly a con­ser­v­a­tive white per­son who maybe doesn’t have a lot of mon­ey and maybe doesn’t have a lot of edu­ca­tion. They are afraid that it alien­ates those peo­ple by say­ing human rights.” What I have found is it is the oppo­site. For me, if I go up to some­one and I just shove a pol­i­cy solu­tion at them and say, Sign onto this” they are a lot more like­ly to be like, No. Why are you talk­ing to me like that?” You are just talk­ing at somebody.

What we have done is engage peo­ple on val­ues and talk to them about what they think human rights are and what it means to their lives. The response that I have got­ten is that whether peo­ple have a good or neg­a­tive reac­tion to it, they have a reac­tion that caus­es them to engage. And mak­ing such a bold claim — which is sad that it is such a bold claim, but what­ev­er — actu­al­ly gives us room to nudge people’s analy­sis forward.

One exam­ple is that I was at a library in Bid­de­ford, just kind of hang­ing around with snacks and invit­ing peo­ple to come chat with me. Bid­de­ford is a low income town. It is one of those places that is on a riv­er. Saco was where the man­agers lived in the mills and Bid­de­ford is where the work­ers lived. It is a place that has a lot of low income folks and the drug prob­lems there are real­ly seri­ous. I am just hang­ing out at the library being like, Do you want some food? Do you want to talk to me?” and a woman comes in with her 8 or 9‑year-old son. She is like, I heard you are back here talk­ing to peo­ple about health­care and I am just so mad and I real­ly want to talk to you.” I am like, Great. This is an organizer’s dream.” But, I am wor­ried that she is going to yell at me. She is real­ly worked up. She launch­es in say­ing that she vot­ed for LeP­age, twice, she real­ly likes a lot of the things he is doing, and also, she is real­ly pissed because she just lost her health­care. She just lost her Mainecare. Now her son will still get health­care, but she won’t and she is feel­ing furi­ous. She is a sin­gle mom who works full­time who bare­ly makes ends meet and she says, How is it pos­si­ble that my son can get health­care and I can’t? What if some­thing hap­pens to me? Who takes care of him? If I can’t take care of him, how is that good for him?”

Then, we get to this part of our con­ver­sa­tion where I say, Do you believe health­care is a human right?” She imme­di­ate­ly says, Well, yes, but not for immi­grants. They are not from here and I don’t think we should give them any­thing.” So, this ques­tion about human rights is bold enough to make peo­ple come out with what they real­ly believe. Then, she starts telling me how they act and how they soak up all of these resources and they don’t work hard. I am just able to ask her, Do you real­ly know peo­ple that you are describ­ing?” She paus­es and says, No, not real­ly. I have read about them in the news.” I was like, Oh, okay. Yes, I hear a lot of peo­ple tell those sto­ries, too. Let me tell you about the immi­grant peo­ple I have met who have told me their sto­ries. What I have heard from them is that they are often moth­ers who are wor­ried about their chil­dren just like you are. You just told me that being a moth­er and pro­tect­ing your son is one of the most impor­tant things to you. I am telling you that these immi­grant women feel the same way about their chil­dren. They feel the same respon­si­bil­i­ty. I just don’t believe that some­one should have to suf­fer because they weren’t born here. I don’t think their chil­dren should have to suf­fer.” We engaged in this con­ver­sa­tion for 45 min­utes and this woman who was a LeP­age vot­er, who has all of these racist and xeno­pho­bic ideas about immi­grants, by the end of this con­ver­sa­tion was moved to a place of say­ing, I think health­care should be a right for every­one and I guess I don’t believe any­one should have to suf­fer. Period.”

That is just an exam­ple of one con­ver­sa­tion where you are able to move the nee­dle. I don’t think this women’s entire world­view has changed, but I think that being able to sit with some­one and have a val­ues-based con­ver­sa­tion instead of a pol­i­cy-based con­ver­sa­tion right out the gate actu­al­ly made some space for her to be able to sep­a­rate what she had heard ver­sus what she actu­al­ly knew and believed. I don’t think all peo­ple can nec­es­sar­i­ly get to that place in a 45-minute con­ver­sa­tion, but I have expe­ri­enced lots of con­ver­sa­tions like that where peo­ple say Well, what about this group…? Yes, health­care for every­body except them.” Then, we engage them on it. We actu­al­ly go there with them and we find out that most people’s val­ues are that nobody should be suffering.

For me, as a white per­son, going out and talk­ing to pri­mar­i­ly oth­er white peo­ple in Maine about this, I need to be will­ing to hold the line on white suprema­cy while also invit­ing peo­ple to real­ly tell me What are your real val­ues?” We need to offer a much more com­pelling and bold nar­ra­tive from the left. Not just about How did we get here?” but What are the real solu­tions for­ward?” The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, they are not pre­sent­ing a bold set of solu­tions. They are not say­ing, Here is a path for­ward to pros­per­i­ty.” They are not doing that and, frankly, Repub­li­cans are. Whether they are wrong or not, they are com­ing out and say­ing, We are going to build this great thing. We are going to cre­ate all these jobs.” They just tell lies. I think there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to say some­thing that isn’t a lie, but that is very inspir­ing and com­pelling and speaks to the best in peo­ple while also hold­ing them account­able for what they say and how they behave towards black folks, immi­grants, etc.

Sarah: One of the oth­er things you had men­tioned was the idea of all of these peo­ple who are excit­ed and get­ting polit­i­cal­ly engaged for the first time now because of Trump’s elec­tion and how to bring those peo­ple into this work while main­tain­ing the vision that you were just talk­ing about.

Cait: It is a chal­lenge. A hap­py prob­lem to have that you have so many peo­ple who are say­ing, Oh my god, I want to do some­thing.” But a lot of our orga­ni­za­tions have actu­al­ly been pret­ty small. Real­ly, tru­ly pro­gres­sive grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions and move­ments in Maine have been real­ly small and sud­den­ly we have this surge of peo­ple. We have to fig­ure out how to absorb them. I do think that it is real­ly impor­tant that those of us who are rad­i­cal folks on the left who are doing grass­roots and big com­mu­ni­ty based work right now, I think we should be engag­ing these new­ly acti­vat­ed peo­ple, many of whom are real­ly much more aligned with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

Also, in Maine I have been talk­ing to a lot of peo­ple who are more afflu­ent who are show­ing up all of a sud­den, who are at least mid­dle class who have pret­ty nor­ma­tive views about the world. They hate Don­ald Trump, but they want­ed to see Hillary Clin­ton be pres­i­dent. They had very few qualms with who she was and her record. I think if those of us who are doing the kind of work that the Work­ers Cen­ter is doing, if we are not doing more to engage those folks who poten­tial­ly could be brought into this much more trans­for­ma­tive project, I think we are miss­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty. I think it means we have to teach peo­ple what real orga­niz­ing is. A lot of what we are see­ing right now is civic par­tic­i­pa­tion. We are see­ing peo­ple call their rep­re­sen­ta­tives and feel like they have done what they can do or they are going to ral­lies and are not doing things that are nec­es­sar­i­ly unim­por­tant or wrong, but a lot of folks don’t know what orga­niz­ing is. I feel a respon­si­bil­i­ty as an orga­niz­er with a real­ly trans­for­ma­tive con­cept of what is need­ed — we need rad­i­cal projects. We need to build a real move­ment. I real­ly have to engage these folks that in the past, hon­est­ly, haven’t real­ly been my pri­or­i­ty to engage. We need to build some­thing that has a very dif­fer­ent scale right now than we are used to.

I am try­ing to bal­ance both true loy­al­ty to poor and work­ing peo­ple in Maine, which that is where my heart is and where I think real lib­er­a­tion is going to come from, with also being like, How can I work with the folks and hope­ful­ly have trans­for­ma­tive learn­ing expe­ri­ences with the folks who are new and do not yet have a rad­i­cal vision of a very dif­fer­ent world, they just don’t want Don­ald Trump in office?”

I work for a repro­duc­tive health­care and abor­tion provider. I am a paid orga­niz­er through that role. A lot of peo­ple are con­tact­ing us to talk about Roe v. Wade and sav­ing abor­tion, the legal­i­ty of abor­tion, and pro­tect­ing that. I use those oppor­tu­ni­ties to val­i­date that that is some­thing that is real­ly impor­tant and also be like, Oh, and you know, we are fac­ing cuts at the state lev­el to TANF, to Gen­er­al Assis­tance. These are things that make it real­ly dif­fi­cult for women to start or grow fam­i­lies at a pace that they choose. And tak­ing food out of people’s mouths is anti­thet­i­cal to repro­duc­tive jus­tice. Let’s talk about that.” I feel like there are lit­tle ways to push people’s under­stand­ing of the prob­lem. But, it is true that we have a huge influx of peo­ple who are not trained up. Those of us who are trained up, we need to be giv­ing away every­thing we know at every oppor­tu­ni­ty. We need to be will­ing to go to these groups who are will­ing to have us and try to train them and try to push them analytically.

Also, we need to be try­ing to get those folks to give their mon­ey to tru­ly rad­i­cal projects. That is not going to save the world, but one of the things a lot of these new­ly active folks have is mon­ey and a lot of the folks we work with on a dai­ly basis don’t have that kind of mon­ey. We need to fig­ure out how to engage them, though, because there is dan­ger in some of the nar­ra­tives that they are pre­sent­ing. Like, We are a coun­try of immi­grants.” That total­ly eras­es set­tler colo­nial­ism and ongo­ing vio­lence against indige­nous peo­ple right here in Maine. That nar­ra­tive is out there and it is very pop­u­lar. We need to pull that back. We need to help peo­ple fig­ure out the roots of the problem.

Sarah: How can peo­ple keep up with you and the orga­ni­za­tions you work with?

Cait: Mainework​ers​.org is where the Work­ers Cen­ter is. Also, we are a part of a four-state col­lab­o­ra­tive of Health­care is a Human Right cam­paign. If you go Health​careisahu​man​right​.org, you will also find out about our coor­di­nat­ed strat­e­gy with folks in Ver­mont, Mary­land and Penn­syl­va­nia. In Maine, we have to make a lot of things from scratch because we are very dif­fer­ent than our neigh­bors here in the north. We have a lot more in com­mon, I think, with some of our south­ern states, except we are not as reli­gious. When­ev­er I am on nation­al calls try­ing to learn things from oth­er orga­niz­ers around the coun­try, I learn a lot, but I also often feel like in Maine we are mak­ing things from scratch. I am hope­ful that if peo­ple fol­low Maine, they might learn some things that they could reshape to fit their cir­cum­stances, oth­er folks who are work­ing in rur­al con­texts and in very white and con­ser­v­a­tive and work­ing class con­texts. If peo­ple want to reach out to Maine, we want to hear from them.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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