Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, joined by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Congressman George Miller, in April, 2014. (House Democrats/Flickr)
On Wednesday, September 4th, House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) announced his support for Medicare for All. Not only does this historic announcement bring the total number of cosponsors in the House of Representatives up to 119 (including the majority of the Democratic caucus), but as one of the highest-ranking Democratic lawmakers in Congress, Rep. Jeffries's support will give this legislation an especially large boost. Since Jeffries is Democratic Party leadership, the early success of this local pressure campaign speaks to the growing power of DSA's field organizing in the region and to the particular approach we are taking in the NYC Healthcare Working Group.
Since NYC DSA members first met with him in February of this year, Rep. Jeffries has continually expressed his unwillingness to take a clear position on Medicare for All. In the months that followed that initial meeting NYC DSA members collected hundreds of constituent signatures on our petition seeking his support, made thousands of phone calls to his legislative office, raised the issue with him at town halls, co-hosted a people's assembly in his district attended by nearly 200 community members, and with a growing group of coalition partners organized their neighbors and coworkers into a powerful constituency demanding healthcare justice.
Throughout the campaign NYC DSA has taken a two-pronged approach. First, we held regular canvasses in which we drove calls to his office and collected petition signatures calling on Jeffries to support the bill. In our canvassing operation we focused on connecting through longer conversations with community leaders, union members, as well as those who might be moved by healthcare concerns and/or a more socialist vision of how society could function. Through consistent follow-up by canvassers with those they canvassed, this approach helped recruit people to DSA and to our organizing, and also set a strong basis for the second prong of our organizing efforts: developing new community partners. From church leaders to small patient advocacy groups like Sickle Cell Thalassemia Patients Network (SCTPN), we worked to reach established centers of organization and activity within Jeffries’ district, especially those who could potentially get excited about Medicare for All.
All of this laid the basis for our town hall this August, where nearly 200 people came ready to learn more after first encountering DSA members through canvasses and community events. At the end of an energetic and educational evening, many signed up and turned out to regular canvasses, phonebanks, and tablings through the end of the legislative recess.
Rep. Jeffries’ public endorsement of this legislation is the result of all these efforts and of this growing national movement. And yet, while his co-sponsorship of the bill is a major victory, it is not unequivocal. Rep. Jeffries also chose to cosponsor a public option bill, Medicare X, which would preserve a role for private insurance corporations alongside a very limited public insurance program. Given the connections we are making and the power we are building in his district, NYC DSA and our coalition partners plan to keep the pressure on in the coming months, and to make the most of this important endorsement toward the full realization of Medicare for All.