July 16, 2021 CounterPunch


On July 24th there will be a long overdue national mobilization for Medicare For All, with a big event planned in Washington D.C. while 40+ other cities across the nation have marches and/or rallies planned by local coalitions of progressive groups.

Such an event would normally be enthusiastically supported by all sections of the Left. Interestingly, however, the lead-up to the mobilization has exposed deep divides, proving that universal health care isn’t actually a point of unity — but one of real controversy among Leftists.

Some of the biggest names on the Left have been noticeably absent in their promotion — or even mention — of the demonstrations, while some of the biggest politicians and organizations linked to the Medicare For All movement have seemingly united to shun the national day of action.

A Roaring Silence

Medicare For All is suddenly controversial only because the Democrats have abandoned the cause, and because they control the government they’ll be the de-facto targets of the July 24th demonstrations. This fact is not lost on any of the politicians who formally championed Medicare For All, since no politician wants to be in the crosshairs of a powerful demand.

Democrat animosity towards the march quickly trickled down to the left-leaning groups inside the Democrat’s big tent, whose passion for Medicare For All has been handcuffed. Some leaders of these groups are certainly aware that their silence is a condition for them to have continued “influence” among the Democrats.

Thus, organizations that talked endlessly about Medicare For All — such as Jacobin, The Democratic Socialists of America and Healthcare Now! — suddenly have nothing to say about a national march demanding it.

Equally quiet are nearly all of the 100+ Democratic politicians who’ve co-sponsored the Congressional Medicare For All bill, who’ve been gift-wrapped a platform to promote their legislation but have declined to speak at the event or even Tweet about its existence.

Many left-leaning groups celebrated the House Democrats after they revealed their new Medicare For All legislation, replete with 100+ co-signers. The bill is good, but nobody believes that it stands any chance of passing without a massive pressure campaign — which is exactly what marches and rallies are designed to help achieve.

Changing Priorities and Watered-Down Demands

The Democrats’ silence about the march — including Bernie Sanders and AOC — betrays a lack of seriousness about passing Medicare For All legislation. Democrats appear content with the legislation remaining an abstract symbol that they rewrite and re-celebrate every new Congress but never actually vote on.

The ineffectual legislation, however, is very effective at keeping Left-leaning groups attached to the Democratic Party — the carrot of Medicare For All is perpetually dangled but always out of reach.

For those good faith organizers who’d like to use the bill’s existence for an opportunity to organize around Medicare For All, the obvious first step would be participating in actions like July 24th to pressure politicians to take action.

Real pressure can actually be applied because Medicare For All was already wildly popular pre-pandemic, but is certainly now the most popular solution to the current healthcare crisis.

The pandemic exposed deep rot in the U.S. healthcare system while pounding the final nail in moribund Obamacare, pushing politicians to take some action to mitigate the disaster.

When such a historic opportunity presents itself for an already-popular demand, you don’t abandon the issue to instead seek breadcrumbs. But this is exactly what’s happening. The Democratic Party is exerting its influence on Left-adjacent groups, proving once again that the Democrats are the graveyard of social movements.

Leftists Gatekeepers

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) expressed perhaps the loudest silence about July 24th. It’s true that a couple of local DSA chapters have decided to join the mobilizations — like Seattle, Portland, and Chicago — but national DSA has been totally silent: the DSA website and social media accounts have much to say about Medicare For All but nothing to say about the national day of action.

The inaction poses a serious question for DSA: will it become simply a lobby group attached to the Democratic Party? Or will it become a socialist organization that represents and actively fights for the working class?

Currently DSA is drifting towards lobby group: the upcoming DSA convention will consider a resolution that asks DSA to dedicate $10,000 for a nationwide Medicare For All campaign. With such a puny investment DSA may be better off simply donating the money to a community healthcare clinic, since $10,000 for a nationwide campaign guarantees that no real campaign will manifest. Within DSA Medicare For All is very likely the most popular issue among the membership.

Equally bad is the group Healthcare Now! — which is singularly focused on winning Medicare For All. Astonishingly, the podcast for Healthcare Now! released an episode on June 28th titled “Do Marches and Rallies Work,” without mentioning the upcoming march, while much of the episode was dedicated to downplaying the effectiveness of marches and rallies. Then on July 12th a new episode was released, promoting a “week of action” to “lower the age of Medicare” by “calling your Senator” — again with zero mention of July 24th.

Finally there is the small yet powerful coterie of Leftist writers, podcasters and Youtubers who have mostly shunned the event. Barely a Tweet has been donated to the cause of July 24th. The online Left— much of whom share DSA-style politics— seem allergic to the streets.

Typically, organizers use every opportunity to educate and organize around the issue they’re fighting for. When a Medicare For All organizer is handed a national day of action — around the exact issue they claim to be fighting
for — then why not exploit the opportunity, even if it’s done passively?

DSA or Healthcare Now! isn’t obligated to dump all of their meager resources into July 24th, but to pretend it isn’t even happening is brazenly incompetent, at best.

Medicare For All Vs. The Democrats

Few Democrats talk about Medicare For All anymore, unless it’s done purely in the abstract or in the limited context of an upcoming election. After losing his electoral campaign Bernie Sanders downgraded his advocacy from Medicare For All to “lowering the age of Medicare to 60”, and many Leftish groups proceeded to copy the demand— relegating Medicare For All to some time in the distant future.

But just as Left groups started dancing to the new tune, Democrats appear to have abandoned it: the July 14th announcement about an inter-Democratic Party deal about ‘human infrastructure’ failed to mention lowering the Medicare age, though expanding services within the existing Medicare plans was mentioned.

The “historic” deal will of course be whittled down in the Senate before passage, where the age of Medicare will stay at 65 as “progressives” will praise the bill as “a step in the right direction” toward Medicare For All.

This historical moment was made for Medicare For All, and missing the moment is never “a step in the right direction,” but an opportunity for the healthcare oligarchy to survive a historic crisis intact.

Many liberal/labor groups also falsely claimed that the Affordable Care Act was a “step in the right direction”, while in practice it bought the healthcare oligarchy 10 years of historic, stable profits that continued jacking up the cost of healthcare.

If groups pursuing Medicare For All can be perpetually distracted by crumbs every time a crisis emerges, they’ll never reach their goal, nor will their members have any faith in their strategy or dedication to the cause.

Organizing reaches its apogee when the iron is struck while hot. Jacobin magazine once understood this: In 2017 they published an article “We Need a Medicare For All March on Washington.” But now that we actually have one Jacobin is nowhere to be seen. In their article the writer argues:

“Simply, a [Medicare For All] march would give socialists the opportunity to vocally and aggressively lead on a major working-class demand. It would help us build organization, forge political consensus, and reintegrate the socialist movement with a key sector of the workers’ movement…The achievability and immediacy of a march gives us the opportunity to focus attention on a single nationwide goal and will help us foster solidarity among thousands of socialists and progressive workers… The socialist left cannot afford to let this moment pass.”

The moment is riper than it was in 2017, and it can be seized or squandered. All socialists, progressives, and unionists should be promoting July 24th, while future mobilizations should be considered to keep the fire hot.

Shamus Cooke is a member of the Portland branch of Democratic Socialists of America. He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com