Our individual struggles differ, but we all have a stake in this fight.

I’ve talked to so many people, as a public radio reporter and in my daily life. People are hurting.

I know Ralphy from the park I go to with my kids everyday. He worked in customer service for a big phone company. He kept getting calls from older adults who were in tears, because they were behind on their bills and the company was taking advantage of them by signing them up for additional services they didn’t want, didn’t need and couldn’t afford. It was too much for Ralphy to bear. He quit. He now works two jobs and doesn’t have health care. So he lives every day hoping that nothing bad happens, like many of us.

I know Maria, who lives a few blocks away with her family. She is an immigrant and like so many in our community she lives with the terrifying daily reality that at any point she could be separated from her children, her spouse and her home and sent to a country she left long ago. I think about those immigrants who were brought here as kids, who now face an uncertain future. Our neighborhood and our city have been home to so many generations of immigrants. To turn our backs on our neighbors now is to turn our backs on all those who arrived in the past in search of a better life for themselves and their children.

And, I know Andrew. I think about him often. His partner Jessica died from a heroin overdose just a few months ago. It was her third overdose in 6 months and she died, as he put it, in spite of having a loving family, a home, a job and a future. When she died she left behind Andrew and their young daughter. He’s raising her as a single dad, doing the best he can, while trying to make Jessica proud of how he spends his days and his life. Andrew reached out to me when he read about our campaign. When I asked him why, he said he believed that I would understand the devastating human impact the opioid crisis is having on those suffering addiction, on their families, and first responders, and the flaws in our healthcare system that fail those seeking help, like Jessica.

What unites all these stories? Well, to put it bluntly, they’re all stories about regular people like us being tossed aside. Forgotten, disinvested, devalued. They’re snapshots of a system that exploits and discards working people while the few at the top get richer and richer by conning retirees, foreclosing on families’ homes, or by getting people hooked on painkillers. The super rich take larger and larger pieces of the pie, and leave the rest of us divided to fight over the crumbs. And make no mistake: they will continue taking as much as they can. Our individual struggles differ, but we all have a stake in this fight. The unchecked power of the few at the top affects all of us.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The system was rigged in favor of the richest 1% by politicians in D.C. and state capitals: one law, one regulation, one budget line at a time. That means that, if we come together, we can make different political choices and set different priorities.

Our problems are big and we need to think big. To start, we should join every other industrialized country and guarantee universal healthcare for all Pennsylvanians as a human right. A majority of the American people already agree.

Our neighborhoods need fully funded and equitably funded public schools — not just for parents and their kids, but as community anchors for all of us, the cornerstones of a strong community. Schools deserve the staff and supplies they need to thrive, not just scrape by. And, as the daughter of two amazingly dedicated public school teachers, I know that educators need to be free to engage kids meaningfully rather than teaching to standardized tests. To make more progress, I fully support abolishing the School Reform Commission and establishing a plan so we Philadelphians can control our own schools and our own school board.

And, for Andrew, and every person who is haunted by the opioid epidemic, I strongly support treating drug addiction as a public health issue. Treating drug use solely from a law enforcement perspective has long destabilized communities without actually making them safer or healthier. I will fight to change this by investing in long-term treatment and prevention, and fighting for restorative justice with the recognition that all lives are valuable and that these approaches make us all safer.

This is a movement, to take back our democracy.

We’ve been told for so long to think small, or don’t bother thinking at all — because the experts, the economists, the lobbyists, the political machines defined the limits of the possible. I refuse to accept living in that little box. And as someone who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, I know that rural working people and communities also feel forgotten and ignored, and I truly believe we can build a new kind of politics by uniting in our common struggle. We can have universal healthcare, and fully funded schools with teachers who feel supported and respected. We can have fair taxes, a public health response to drug addiction, care in youth and old age, a livable minimum wage, real action on climate change, and immigration policies that protect everyone in our communities.

This campaign is about us, organizing to demand what we need. It’s time for working people and communities — nurses and teachers, office workers and students, carpenters and retirees — to take back our democracy and make it work for all of us.

You can join us: elizabethfiedler.com

As seen in Medium.