“Please count us as allies,” said a staffer for Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to grassroots activists who were wearing Medicare for All t-shirts and were gathered in the congresswoman’s newly-minted office Thursday.
Pressley’s staff were among many of the House of Representatives’ freshmen class that warmly welcomed dozens of advocates who visited the offices Thursday. It didn’t matter that they were early for open house; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) office wasn’t even set up yet, with no internet or business cards to hand out.
Last year, these same activists visited Capitol Hill to demand that lawmakers do not repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA); many were escorted out by law enforcement. Now, staffers want to have a conversation with activists about health policy.
“Something really magical is going to happen in this Congress,” said Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) president Jennifer Epps-Addison.
“The women who were elected, they were activists and organizers in their own right. They come first with a dedication to service for the people and our issues and what we want to see at the forefront of the conversation — and as politicians second.”
The new members — Reps. Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), to name a few — also ran on Medicare for All. But what’s more, activists stressed, is that each representative embodies an organic social solidarity because of their shared identities with activists — be it activism, gender, or race. For this reason, CPD activists said, these members should be at the forefront of the health care movement to make sure marginalized communities aren’t left out, as was the case with past progressive reforms. (See Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.)
When Epps-Addison visited Pressley’s office, she asked that they continue to talk about Medicare for All through a social justice lens.
— Amanda Michelle Gomez (@amanduhgomez) January 3, 2019
“It’s really important that our representatives put race at the center of our analysis and understand that it can’t be through wishful thinking that we are going to address decades old discrimination,” said Epps-Addison. “So that’s why we are encouraging our new progressives not just to talk about progressivism but to really talk about addressing structural racism.”
“Stay bold, stay true to the voters that elected you. We did not elect the first, historic group of women to Congress in our country’s history for them to just sit back and watch. We elected them to lead,” Epps-Addison added.
H.R. 676, or the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act — which aims to convert today’s patchwork health care system into a Canada-style national government-run program — has long been sidelined since it was first introduced in 2003. But now, grassroots activists are optimistic about the legislation’s chances moving forward. For one, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told The Hill on Thursday that she hopes to have a revised draft text of H.R. 676 available “in the next week or two.” She also secured an unprecedented hearing for Medicare-for-All legislation.
The hearings are a sign that Congress is serious about Medicare for All, which has been viewed by some as a pipe dream, not even subject to a Congressional Budget Office score. The hearings also offers lawmakers the opportunity to listen to stakeholders and to ensure no one’s left out of the policy. H.R. 676, for example, doesn’t address reproductive health. CPD activist Darius Gordon told ThinkProgress he doesn’t think any single-payer bill as currently written adequately covers people with disabilities — something that can be addressed in a hearing.
“If we are going to be progressive people, we can’t leave people out,” said Gordon.