Las Vegas Event Marks Sea Change in the Single Payer Movement
Report from Lee Mercer: Las Vegas, NV, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2017
For complete information on the national Single Payer Leadership Meeting, go to the conference Wiki HERE.
Despite the horrific events in Las Vegas the first weekend in October, another, less publicized event, occurred among casinos in the Fremont Street district, which marked progress in the movement towards universal, publicly funded health care.
In introducing the national Single Payer Leadership Meeting: Organizing After the Resistance, Benjamin Day, director of Healthcare-Now, noted that the movement is in a major “sea change.” Due to the galvanizing of thousands of Americans in the resistance to repeated attempts by Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, an energized and mobilized health care movement has grown exponentially in states throughout the country.
And with the growth of this movement, the visibility and popularity of improved and expanded Medicare For All has led to growing public support and the introduction of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate with 16 co-sponsors including Oregon’s own Jeff Merkley.
And, as we passed the magic line of September 30, when a super majority will now be necessary in Congress to pass such a repeal, the movement’s focus can move from a defensive mode, to expanding our offense, in linking the movement towards universal health care with the broader growing efforts to achieve a progressive economic, social and environmental justice agenda.
As such, a big theme of the conference was “Organizing Across Issues and Organizations During this “Movement Moment.” A panel on this theme included Martese Chism of Chicago National Nurses United, who told the story of her great-grandmother who testified at Bobby Kennedy’s hearing during the civil rights movement, and who was killed and decapitated by the Klan on her way home. Martese was a passionate spokesperson for the generations who have fought for civil rights and called for action on economic justice, immigration reform, union issues, women’s rights, criminal justice reform and racism.
Rose Roach, Executive Director of the Minnesota Nurses Association outlined how progressives in her state are organizing a multi-issue coalition, Our Minnesota Future, composed of unions, community, faith and other groups creating a vision moving from the myth of scarcity to a vision of collective abundance. Her union is focusing on staffing ratios and single payer. The organizations in their coalition unify on candidate support and as candidates drop out or are defeated, they continue to agree to unify on the remaining candidates.
Erika Washington, from the board of Progressive Leadership of Nevada (PLAN) and Make It work Nevada, spoke on her work on paid sick leave, and was one of many attendees from the growing progressive/single payer movement in Nevada.
A particularly powerful speaker was Amy Vilela who is running for Congress in District 4 in Nevada. She had spoken at the New York single payer conference about how her daughter died due to lack of health insurance when she was seen at the Emergency Room at a hospital. Amy, like other single payer advocates, has decided running for public office is the way to educate on our issue and build power in the movement.
But it was the folks from California who really lit up the gathering. As you are probably aware, SB 562, The Healthy California Act, passed the Senate in the last session but was held up in the Assembly Rules Committee by the Speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon. Despite moving the concept of universal health care to a work group, this move by Rendon was taken by many in the movement as protection for moderate California Assembly Democrats who aren’t ready to step up to the plate and support single payer.
Addressing this, Michael Lighty, Public Policy Director for California Nurses Association and National Nurses United, was the most lively spokesperson of the conference with the theme Preparing for Opposition… From Our Enemies and Our Friends. First, he pointed out that support for single payer has grown in the past six months. In Congress, the majority of the Democratic Caucus has signed on to HR 676. And as the debate over health care swirls nationally, “If you have a debate and single payer is on the table it wins.”
But in California, as occurred in Colorado with the ColoradoCare ballot initiative, it was Democrats’ lack of support or outright opposition, that has slowed down the progress of single payer.
Fortunately, California Nurses Association and the coalition working on SB 562 are not backing down but stepping up their efforts. Now investing serious resources ($$) into canvassing in 80 California Assembly districts, they are getting voters to write, call and e-mail their Assembly Members and pressuring them to move single payer forward.
But, Lighty warned, we need to watch for the “concern trolls,” even in liberal media, who keep coming up with arguments on why single payer won’t move ahead. We need to hone our messaging, inoculate legislators and voters and make it clear why, “by raising up single payer at this time we are actually kicking off a movement towards economic justice.” In conclusion he quoted Frederick Douglas words, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Beside the encouraging progress in California, we learned in meetings with our counterparts in Washington State that a possible ballot measure as early as 2018 may be in the works. Stay tuned!
Other highlights of the conference included panels on Developing Medium Term Campaigns (building towards eventual ballot measures or legislation) and Responding to Pushback from Legislators and Others (a brainstorming of conference participants the products of which have been posted on WIKI).
So, despite the horrible tragedy later in the weekend in Las Vegas, advocates from throughout the country returned to their states inspired and energized to keep up the fight for Improved and Expanded Medicare for All.