In nearly every congressional district, voters tell me that their top concern is health care. The high cost, the lack of access, the bureaucratic headaches – I hear these complaints in small towns, big cities, and suburbs from coast to coast. But these complaints, I realize, are symptomatic of a much more profound problem: our democracy is broken, and it seems that we have lost the ability to solve our collective challenges. Everywhere we go, we are meeting voters who have been disabused of the notion that our elected representatives are pursuing the public good, disabused of the quaint idea that our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
And yet, throughout our travels, this cynicism is being overcome by a different emotion. Hope. All around the country, we are meeting people who can see beyond this dark moment into the bright light of another world. For the first time in many decades, our national politics are being shaped not only by fear and hatred but also by our dreams for a better world. Each month, more organizers, activists, candidates, and elected officials are talking about reshaping American society in a radically humane way. This vision encompasses both negative and positive rights: freedom from unjust incarceration, racist policing, inhumane immigration enforcement, economic exploitation, sexual violence, and political disenfranchisement; and a set of public policies that gives up the freedom to thrive – debt-free education from pre-K through college, decent housing, the guarantee of a good job, clean energy, resilient and sustainable cities to call home, retirement security, and free and robust Medicare for all.
Focusing on the moment and immersing myself in the task at hand has been my salvation over the past two years. Peering into the future has been too dispiriting and too overwhelming. But there is so much to embrace in this very moment – so much work right here in front of us.
This is the message that I settled on somewhere between the cornfields of the Great Plains and the glistening waters of the Great Lakes: the notion that the cure to what ails American democracy is more American democracy; that our problems are created by people and that we can solve them only with people power; and that, as Rebecca Solnit teaches us, hope is not a lottery ticket that can deliver us out of despair, but a hammer for us to use in this national emergency – to break the glass, sound the alarm, and sprint into action.
What action? Voting is not nearly enough. This moment calls on us all to become organizers, to be heroes for our communities and future generations. To talk to our less political friends, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers and to enlist them in this experiment we call American democracy. This is our Congress, our country, and our future for the making.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Most avid single payer advocates know Ady Barkan, if for no more than his testimony presented earlier this year to the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives, on single payer Medicare for All. As a young activist attorney, already admired in the progressive community for his other work on social justice issues, he literally risked his life to provide that testimony, due to the advanced paralytic stages of his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Delivering the message to America of the importance of health care justice for all was too important to him to not take that risk, and drove him to go ahead and appear in his fragile, vulnerable state.
What does a man do who feels that he has so much left undone to advance social justice in this nation when he is told that he has a disorder that will quickly sap him of all of his strength and result in his rapid demise? This is what his book, “Eyes to the Wind,” is about – “a memoir of love and death, hope and resistance.”
His frustration is certainly evident, how could it not be? But his drive to do all that he can, and more, serves as an invaluable lesson for us all. When we see him accomplishing what he has, it should motivate us even more to advance the cause of social justice, and, for PNHP and our single payer colleagues, more specifically the cause of health care justice through Single Payer Medicare for All.
As he tells us, “This moment calls on us all to become organizers, to be heroes for our communities and future generations. To talk to our less political friends, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers and to enlist them in this experiment we call American democracy. This is our Congress, our country, and our future for the making.”
His words will be with us forever as they influence our actions.
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