The morning after key elements of the Affordable Care Act were struck down in a Federal Court in Texas, the Bloomington-Normal Democratic Socialists of America doubled-down on the chapter’s Medicare for All organizing efforts. While tabling, our members had more than 20 unique conversations leading to support for M4A throughout the day, and despite some setbacks from traditional detractors in our community, our M4A working group and DSA member-organizers pulled out all the stops to bring the message of healthcare being a human right to the working class of McLean County, IL.
Leading up to that morning, the Bloomington-Normal DSA had been granted permission to participate (host an Operation tournament) in the annual Trades and Labor Christmas Party for the Un(der)employed Families of McLean County, hosted by McLean County Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington and Normal Trades and Labor Assembly. However, When our six member-organizers arrived at the local high school to set up our table, the local Chamber of Commerce director - let’s call him “Mr. Commerce” - instructed the event’s lead labor organizer of the event to tell us to leave, citing the DSA’s presence was “inappropriate” for a children's' charity event.
Setting up for the Trades and Labor Christmas Party for the Un(der)employed Families of McLean County
We have to assume he was referring to our coordinated Medicare for All t-shirts, but he neglected to tell our group specifically what about our attire, our display, and/or game was inappropriate. Mr. Commerce also made sure to tell us that leaving was “non-negotiable.” Interesting choice of words, particularly in front of the local labor leaders, at a Labor event; we have to wonder if this is how Mr. Commerce sees all his partnerships and relationships with labor. In fact, our not being there to support the working poor was so non-negotiable that he threatened to pull the support of the business community in subsequent years. This activated additional labor leaders in the room to then enforce his request to have us leave the high school cafeteria. Nevermind that half of our members were union rank and file and the other half were students. We didn’t even get to tell Santa that we all wanted free healthcare for the Holidays. Exactly who’s event was this?
Truth: It was no surprise that Mr. Commerce wanted us gone. Democratic socialism represents precisely what the capitalist class fears: refusal to allow profit from our bodies. Our organizers were quite disappointed to see our union brothers and sisters act as enforcers for a “community partner” that didn’t see the union rank and file as partners. At best, the Chamber was using the local Trades and Labor affiliate to do their annual year-end charity work (I'd be curious to see the tax write-offs for those donors). To be clear, the "enforcers" were not the rank-and-file workers we see in our own places of work, but rather the same elected and/or staff union leaders who’ve been in power locally and regionally for a generation. The same local leaders that relied heavily on Fair Share Dues and the Democratic Party (also invited to participate at the event, but asked not to wear their colors), and who’ve employed union charity work as a substitute for internal and external organizing. This is not an argument against unionism, it’s an argument for the rank and file to reclaim your union.
In spite of all this, our six DSA organizers packed up their game, and headed out to the front of the school to canvass individual families as they entered the Christmas Party with their children. We had more conversations in those two hours than many of us expected we might have had inside. These conversations lead to stories of medical hardship, medical emergencies and injustices, and chronic illness as a result of not getting needed healthcare. It also resulted in 20 Medicare for All petition signatures and ten people saying that wanted to learn more about the DSA locally. This local challenge to our ability to do empowerment and outreach felt like a setback, but our organizers who believe so deeply in healthcare as a human right will seek out any which way to do the outreach they know is needed to build power in our community. With them, and with y’all, we believe that we will win.
Later that evening, the Medicare for All Working Group hosted their first Operation tournament, an M4A event geared toward socializing around the work we’ve been doing, with an eye toward broadening both awareness and impact of Medicare for All in the Bloomington-Normal area. What better way to demonstrate that our healthcare system is broken then to have all of us play surgeon! The tournament served as both an internal social for the chapter, and as a social recruiting event, and our attendance included 10 members and as many non-members. The Working Group even planned a tournament “winner’s cup,” replete with a bottle of aspirin and a $5 gift card to CVS- a commentary on the current lack of adequate coverage. Our M4A working group is planning a series of these tournaments as fundraisers for local residents burdened with medical debt.
The tournament goes on...
We have a long way to go before we win the healthcare system we all know we deserve and can afford in the United States. We will partner with labor leaders if the work is of mutual benefit towards reclaiming this country’s wealth from among the very few. We will face, head-on, those who don’t like our message and mission and would like things to remain as they are. We, the working class, haven’t the time for the strange bedfellows to whom the Democratic party and labor bosses have become accustomed in the last 30 years. We believe that healthcare should be for all, and we will not allow ourselves to be pushed away from those that need it most. We aim to do this work because we know we are stronger together.