How to play offense while playing defense:
Report from the National Single-Payer Strategy Conference
--by Lee Mercer, HCAO President and Mobilization Chair
Stormy weather and U.S. political chaos couldn’t keep our Oregon delegation from joining over 500 nationwide single-payer advocates (biggest turnout ever) at the national Single-Payer Strategy Conference at the Wyndham New Yorker hotel and the AFSCME District 27 headquarters in New York City this last weekend (Jan 13-15). Organized by Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, Healthcare-NOW! and One Payer States, the timing of the energetic gathering could not have been better. Just a week before Trump’s inauguration, it gave the advocates a chance to kick off with a demonstration at the Trump Tower calling for protecting Medicare and Medicaid and demanding Improved Medicare For All. From there, the advocates joined striking chemical workers (IUE-CWA) on the picket line fighting proposed cuts to their health care by hedge fund-owned Momentive.
The conference began with rousing labor movement songs by Anne Feeney and a call to order by New York State Nurses Association Vice President Marva Wade, a fiery speaker we need to get out to Oregon one of these days. From the first gavel the conference was one inspiring speech after another by labor and social justice advocates calling for action in the “fierce urgency of now” from Martin Luther King’s famous speech. Facing the imminent repeal of the ACA, threatened cuts and block-granting of Medicaid and vouchers for Medicare, the urgency of building the power of our collective voices and campaigns in the health care reform movement was emphasized.
In many ways, one of the first Saturday workshops, “How to Play Offense While Playing Defense: Developing Local Campaigns for 2017,” captured the essence of the conference. Acknowledging that, despite our focus on offense towards achieving health care for all in America, we need to pivot in the near term to working with our allies in the labor and economic justice movement, to defend critical health care infrastructure like Medicaid and Medicare, while at the same time building the collective strength of our campaign towards, ultimately, reaching universal health care in America.
Another strong complimentary theme was the need to reach out to and unify with the struggles for racial equity, immigrant rights, the environment, youth, women’s and LGBTQ issues and learn from campaigns from Standing Rock to Fight for 15. With this kind of intersectionality, we need to build the national coalition that will be needed to take on the regressive forces at work in the Trump administration and Congress.
The four strategic questions for the single payer movement which we considered in forums, plenaries and table talks were:
In the new administration, Medicare and Medicaid will be under the gun, ACA subsidies will be slashed and the budgets for most other public healthcare programs will be cut. People will be desperately fighting to hold on to what they have. How do we work to protect access to these programs, however flawed, while connecting these fights to Medicare for All and a more transformative vision of healthcare?
We all win when we all win. What can we learn from Standing Rock, the Fight for 15, workers’ contract fights to defend existing benefits, and other battles that have won partial victories for working people?
The new administration will seek to scapegoat immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and unionists to justify privatization of public health care programs, along with a wide range of other public goods and services. How can the movement for healthcare justice concretely work with these allied movements for social and economic justice?
Organizing is all about connecting with the felt concerns of real people enmeshed in a network of social relationships. How can our personal healthcare stories allow us to reach out to others and what are the networks that I am personally connected to that can be mobilized for action?
The other great element of this and every national conference is the opportunity to hear from folks from the state campaigns around the country. In the State of the State Single -Payer Campaigns in 2017, we heard about the progress and setbacks in New York, Colorado, Washington State and California.
In New York, with 40,000 nurses in NYSNA educating their members and the public around the state, they want to build on their passage of a single-payer bill in the state Assembly last year. In Colorado, having done their post defeat analysis (didn’t build a strong enough coalition, needed more money and to do more public education), advocates are not at all deterred, and are beginning to organize for their next campaign.
Washington reflected on their challenges in previous ballot measures and outlined their current coalition efforts. In Washington and other states (like Oregon) the date 2020 is viewed as the next opportunity for a ballot measure campaign for single-payer. We are discussing running simultaneous ballot measures in several states in 2020.
California, led by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, however, having passed single payer through the legislature twice (vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger), with a strong progressive Democratic majority and growing coalition support, is considering running a bill this year to fill the void created by ACA repeal.
Many insights on how to pivot to defend against attacks on Medicaid, Medicare et al, while building the power of our single payer movement, came out of the forums and discussions between advocates. In a rousing finale, the conference participants marched to a rally for Improved Medicare for All at the Wall Street bull. It indeed seemed fitting, as the corporatized and profit driven medical system faces a major crisis with ACA repeal and we prepare to push on towards universal health care in America.
David Young, Pamela Maciokas, Charlie Swanson and Lee Mercer attended the national conference. Be in touch with them for more details. Also, while in New York, they attended a new play written and performed by Michael Milligan of Mercy Killers fame. This intense 70 minute one-man-show, Side Effects, captures the emotional breakdown of a modern physician in the face of the pressures of dealing with insurance companies, legal difficulties and the corporatization of the medical profession. The audience of health care advocates, doctors and nurses were very moved by the show. Watch for possible state tours in the future.