The event was held at the Mahoosuc Land Trust building. Bethel Citizen photo by Samuel Wheeler

BETHEL — On May 21 Liesha Petrovich from the Oxford Hills Indivisible Coalition spoke about her recent trip to Washington D.C., where she attended a People’s Action Conference and a increasing coalition for “Medicare For All.”

The event was at the Mahoosuc Land Trust building on the North Road.

Almost 15 people attended the nearly hour-long event that was sponsored by Take Action Bethel.

Petrovich has campaigned for social justice, climate and healthcare issues, which are three of her primary focuses.

“When they say people’s action, they mean action,” Petrovich said.

Petrovich said her group put on four protests and demonstrations while they were in Washington D.C.

Her first protest was with the National Nurses Union. Petrovich heard some alarming stories while there, she said. She described the dire situation of a man and his wife, who was fighting cancer.

“She had an aggressive form of cancer. She had good healthcare until she couldn’t work anymore because she had cancer. She lost her health care and tried to apply for her state’s equivalent of MaineCare,” Petrovich said.

The woman was told she would not qualify unless she got divorced, according to Petrovich.

“Here we have a 27-year-old mother of two who is told to divorce your husband while you’re dying to get healthcare coverage,” Petrovich added.

The woman ended up passing away.

Another movement Petrovich took part in was protesting against a lobbyist who was trying to stop the expansion of Medicaid.

“We shut down her building, we filled up her lobby,”Petrovich said.

A thousand people were involved in the protest against the lobbyist, she said.

The next stop for the large group was at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“It wasn’t just about the environment, it was about how stripping away environmental protections impacts people’s health,” she said.

People packed the grounds of the EPA and also closed one of the streets, according to Petrovich.

She also said some of the EPA employees came and stood with people outside.

“A fair amount of them came and stood with us and I thought that was quite telling,” she said.

The last event was comprised of four groups, with two going to the Senate and two going to the House. Petrovich said she was on the team that went to Senator Susan Collins’ office, and another team went to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. The team that went to McConnell’s office got arrested.

“The biggest take away is that when we come together as people we can really make some amazing things happen,” Petrovich said. “Just being a part of this mad dash across D.C. making our voices heard, there is a lot of power to that.”

The group had no encounters with counter-protesters while in D.C. Petrovich said they received glares and had people filming them at some of the locations.

Helping locally

Petrovich had some major takeaways from D.C., and wants to begin by helping people locally.

Some of the area’s biggest issues are happening in the schools, she said.

Petrovich spoke on some of the situations she’s witnessed in the multiple schools she’s visited throughout the county.

Petrovich has visited Crescent Park School, Guy E. Rowe School, Woodstock School and schools in West Paris, Hebron and Hartford/Sumner.

Many children suffer from food insecurity, along with having parents who are either incarcerated or are currently struggling with addiction.

“Oxford County is hurting,” Petrovich said. “We have so many big issues out there. We have a lot of work to do.”

Some cases Petrovich has witnessed with children have forced her to call the police or the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Woodstock resident Marcel Polak reminded people that there are issues right here in Bethel also.

“The social issues that you have raised are here in this area as well,” Polak said.

Polak said that the School Board has budgeted money to get a full-time social worker at CPS. There would be a full time worker at Crescent Park and a part time worker at Woodstock Elementary.

Polak currently serves as chairman of the MSAD 44 School Board.

Petrovich wants to bring people together to discover what issue they are most passionate about. She said the name of this group she is trying to form is “One Oxford Social Justice Team.”

So far people have expressed interest in women’s health, healthcare, the opioid epidemic, food insecurity, wages and the environment.

She hopes to eventually have as many as 10 different categories for people to choose from.

“I am happy to do any issue that impacts Oxford County,” she said.

Her plans are still in the beginning stages.

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