The DSA Veterans Working Group stands in solidarity with the DSA Disability Working Group Steering Committee in their efforts to have a seat at the table and denounce the harassment and marginalization they’ve experienced.
The National Health Service, free at the point of use, seemed implausible to some in the United Kingdom just after the second world war. However, those victories were fought for and won on the backs of every working-poor resident, shell-shocked troop, exhausted code-breaker at Bletchley, domestic workers who survived and raised the next generation, and every person left mangled by the horrors of war. Canada’s single-payer system emerged in rural Saskatchewan, where doctors and emergency rooms were in short supply. These programs are immensely popular from the city to the country. They won support because they heal not just any body but every body.
The Medicare for All campaign by the Democratic Socialists of America challenges the tremendous power that U.S. capitalism has in owning so much of global health care, from pharmaceuticals to durable medical equipment and more. Countless volunteers from inside and outside — yes, even those pushed out of DSA by harassment — are making this possible. People with disabilities have fought for and died while trying to save the existing Medicare and Medicaid systems not just as if their life depended on it but because their lives do. The DSA Disability Working Group should never have had to fight so doggedly for a seat to begin with, nor experienced harassment nor ostracization as being “divisive” because they should have been among the first invited to the table.
To be clear, Medicare for All is a beautiful policy whose time has come. We are at a time of significant change in the struggle for a national health care system. Mass organizing and success around a shared goal can not occur when organizers of various identities and abilities are harassed and intimidated.This behavior leaves us vulnerable, self-dividing like a snake eating its own tail. Systems that pit the working class against one another or privilege one type of body over another are deeply embedded and programmed into American life.
By way of example, Medicare for All will not erase racism in U.S. care delivery (such as doctors not believing patients of color who speak of ailments). It may solve the economic realities blocking patients from care but, without that seat at the table, we run the risk of creating something that doesn’t address long-standing disparities that exist beyond who pays for what. Looking at capitalism holistically, as a system that has structured healthcare, education, and labor rights to its benefit, means re-examining those economic and social relationships and how even well-intentioned and deeply committed organizers may miss the mark.
If any injury to one is an injury to us all, we must incorporate the voices of those most excluded, erased, and injured by our current system in formulating what liberation looks like. We can’t afford to overlook in the zeal of a egalitarian material gain, in theory, yet take for granted the stakes and support from people with disabilities, organized labor, and people of color. Medicare for All is that important.
Medicare for All is not the only DSA initiative jeopardized by this problem. Chapters across the country have had to reckon with dismantling capital’s grasp not only on the global, macro-scale but also on micro-levels. The matrix of structures that divide and disportionately threaten workers by race, gender, sexuality, age, and disability status is more than a mere economic system. It dominates our social interactions. Capitalism spreads its ideology all around us: from settler-colonial narratives in US schools, to the perverse weaponization of “freedom” by right-wing libertarians to weaken workers before their bosses and demand less than a fully democratic society from the shop floor to the top floor, to the kinds of narratives that get the most airplay in our culture. We cannot have a liberal understanding of identity that ignores material struggles, nor a shallow social democratic analysis of class that fails to wrestle with the deep seated nature of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and ability in the United States of America.
Medicare for All is more than good policy. It has the potential to improve, not just save, the lives of everybody. To do so, we must incorporate all in this democratization of healthcare. We must not only win the Medicare for All plan called for in Sen. Sanders and Rep. Conyers’ (and now Rep. Ellison’s) bills but fight to address disparities that go beyond premiums and deductibles. To do anything else will threaten the gains that we have made.
If the DSA is to grow, it must address these behaviors and engage in disarming counterrevolutionary harassment along racial, gender, age, sexuality, and ability lines. At this moment, it is existential to our struggle as socialists to make sure the multitude of voices behind Medicare for All are not just heard but restituted. Our fight together should not be mistaken for our needs and experiences being the same, only that truth that we know so well: when we fight together, we win.
The Democratic Socialists of America Veterans Working Group Steering Committee