Healthcare Is a Human Right is a people’s movement organizing state by state to win universal, publicly financed health care and build a society that puts people’s needs ahead of profits. This is a monthly newsletter from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign Collaborative (formed by the campaigns in Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, as well as NESRI).
The Vermont Workers’ Center’s held two big public actions in the last month to push for public health care financing by indicting the inequities of the market-based insurance system. On Tax Day, members marched on the headquarters of Blue Cross Blue Shield, presenting the company with an invoice for $15.7 million in taxes it avoided by claiming nonprofit status. Reverend Earl Kooperkamp expressed outrage that BCBS is paying Wall Street salaries and contributing nothing into state coffers while people are struggling with rising health care costs and loss of public services due to revenue shortfalls. The Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign’s bill has called for dissolving BCBS and transferring its assets, liabilities and obligations to the independent Green Mountain Care Board.
As the legislative session nears its end, it is proving to be the most bruising in recent years. Universal health care financing failed to move forward – with the exception of a study for universal primary care – and politicians’ austerity agenda will harm people’s access to public programs and services, while ignoring legally mandated, human rights-based budget requirements. In a May Day op-ed, VWC’s James Haslam gave voice to people’s growing outrage and called for reclaiming our democracy and standing together in solidarity to fight for our rights.
On May Day, Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign members were joined by many hundreds of people from Vermont’s labor, racial justice, climate justice, disability rights and migrant justice movements, marching on the Statehouse in Montpelier, singing inside the building and concluding with a rally on the Statehouse steps. They denounced Vermont’s political leadership for its failure to equitably address the health care crisis and revenue shortfall. Ellen Schwartz, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said: “We’re deeply disillusioned by the failure of those in the Statehouse to address the healthcare crisis by transitioning to an equitable, publicly financed healthcare system as laid out in Act 48 — we’re here today because we see that the hope lies in grassroots social movements and solidarity.”
In a Huffington Post piece, reflecting on the challenge of “turning a market commodity into a public good, and dismantling an entire industry along the way,” Anja Rudiger echoed Ellen’s sentiment. “The people’s movement for our right to health, both in the form of Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns in Vermont, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, and in vibrant variations in many other states, is continuing the struggle, guided by Dr. King’s reminder that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’”
The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is expanding its base around the state. On May 16, as part of the process of developing its first organizing committee outside of Portland, SMWC is holding a Healthcare Is a Human Right training in Androscoggin County. Other outreach events are planned for more than a dozen different towns in five counties, including several events with Unitarian Universalist churches, which are partnering with SMWC to host speaking engagements, story shares, and survey gathering trainings. Nurses from the Maine State Nurses’ Association and officials from the DownEast AIDS Network are also partnering with SMWC to run a series of free clinics this summer.
At the same time as it expands its base outward, SMWC has been strengthening its membership within. Six core members are stepping up to form a new leadership team for the HCHR campaign, taking on responsibility for developing campaign strategy and messaging, organizing events, and performing outreach. “This is an exciting capacity-building moment for us,” says SMWC and HCHR leader Cait Vaughan. “Members who are deeply involved in the campaign are moving further into the center of the work, and we’re continuing to democratize this journey toward health care as a human right in Maine.” Other members have been stepping up to lead SMWC’s Media and Political Education Committees. Both committees held their first meetings in March. SMWC also teamed up with allies to host a talk in Portland by Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and launched a new website.
While legislative advocacy is not a focus at this stage of the campaign development, SMWC, Maine AllCare and the Maine AFL-CIO shared public testimony at the State House on a study bill and a universal health care bill, including a human rights amendment. Neither bill received majority support this session.
In recent weeks, the entire country has watched as Baltimore residents have expressed outrage over the police killing of Freddie Gray and the underlying injustices of poverty and systemic racism. Members of United Workers and Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland have been speaking out and organizing in the city’s most affected neighborhoods. United Workers and Free Your Voice youth leader Destiny Watford recoded a video expressing her anger at the media’s dehumanizing representation of protesters and their failure to ask “deeper root questions that get at the deeper issues of what’s going on.” United Workers released a statement calling for action “to address the systemic racism and poverty that has plagued the City for 40 years and get below the surface of this evolving and troubling crisis in our city.” UW leaders have called in press and radio interviews for concerted action to address the housing and jobs crisis in communities most affected by racial and economic justice.
NESRI published an article on the “structural looting” of the Black working class, reflecting on the gross social and economic inequities and injustices facing low-income Black communities in Baltimore and across the country. The article builds off a reflection on inequities and human rights abuses facing Black workers that was published last Labor Day.
At the end of May, Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland will hold a leadership meeting to plan campaign strategy.
Put People First! Pennsylvania is pushing forward with multiple projects. PPF-PA has joined the Pennsylvania Coalition on Oral Health, which aims to ensure that dental benefits are available to everyone as part of Medicaid and Medicare. This would be a step toward PPF-PA’s goal of making dental care an essential health benefit for all in a universal health care system. PPF-PA is incorporating oral health into its digital storytelling and into a new upcoming statewide survey. PPF-PA has also been strengthening its alliances and solidarity with other organizations and movements in Pennsylvania. PPF-PA members Nijmie Dzurinko and Karim Sariahmed spoke at two recent low-wage worker actions in Philadelphia.
At the same time as it builds out its Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign externally, PPF-PA is also strengthening its internal leadership structure. The Media and Communications Team and the Base Building Team both held retreats in recent weeks for study, strategy, planning and team building, and members have formed a new Political Education Team. PPF-PA is also launching a new campaign advisory board, which will bring together active PPF-PA members from different regions of the state with team members, staff, and the members of the coordinating council to help coordinate and guide the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign. In June, the advisory board will expand to include members of partner organizations. PPF-PA also held its first ever Organizing Institute, where members explored facilitation, doing effective one on ones and using our stories for organizing.
On June 24 and 25, PPF-PA will host Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign Collaborative partners from Maine, Maryland, Vermont, and NESRI in Philadelphia. The HCHR convening will bring together members and staff to advance campaign strategy, leadership development, political education and media production, as well as to support PPF-PA through a solidarity action or event. Stay tuned for more details.
News from our allies
Campaign for New York Health: People from all over New York rallied at the State Capitol in Albany on May 5 to support the New York Health Act, a bill to create a universal, publicly financed health care system for the state. The bill has been endorsed by dozens of labor and community organizations as well as more than 90 state legislators. It will be brought to the State Assembly for a vote, where it is expected to pass. The bill is not expected to clear the State Senate.
The Walk for Rural Hospitals: Some 283 rural hospitals are at risk of being closed because of insufficient financing. The community of Belhaven, North Carolina, saw its hospital close last year, and is now organizing a walk to Washington, DC, to raise awareness about this developing crisis. The walk will start in Belhaven on June 1 and will arrive in Washington on June 13. Allies from around the country are invited.