DSA members are rightly excited about our ability to begin doing impactful electoral work, and it’s both possible and strategic to integrate this work with a Medicare for All campaign. But electoral strategy can easily descend into electoralism, the unstrategic pursuit of electoral politics, which can be both demoralizing and disintegrative to your chapter. You might want to throw your weight behind an energizing candidate with a path to victory, but you might also consider focusing on building a working-class base before jumping into electoral politics.
Should your chapter pursue electoral work as a part of its Medicare for All campaign? Think it through by asking these questions:
- What are the main political goals of our campaigns?
- How do we support a candidate without sacrificing any of our main political goals?
- Will working on Medicare for All help build a base, and will that base also care about the politician we endorse?
- Will campaigning for the candidate help build a base for Medicare for All?
- Is it easier for us to have good, socialist organizing conversations with strangers when we focus on Medicare for All or on a candidate?
- How will running an electoral campaign change the structure of our internal organizing and the leadership development that results from campaigning for Medicare for All?
It is possible to engage in electoral work without suspending your chapter’s existing Medicare for All canvassing campaign. By supporting candidates under the condition that they make universal healthcare a prominent issue in their platforms, you can deploy the long-term Medicare for All canvassing infrastructure your chapter has already built to support a candidate. Simply add a question to the “ASK” section of the Rap about voting for the DSA-endorsed candidate because of their support for Medicare for All. In the “INOCULATION” section, you can use examples of corrupt politicians stalling or killing healthcare legislation, selling out the public on behalf of their insurance and pharmaceutical industry backers.
Then, in the “VISION” section, describe what it would be like if we had a candidate who rejected corporate money and credibly advocated for Medicare for All in whatever political office they are are campaigning for. Municipal-level candidates can still use the informal influence of office to lobby higher-level elected officials on the issue, so there's no reason not to include a Medicare for All component in all of DSA's electoral work, especially given that it's one of our national-level priorities.
If a DSA chapter builds up a strong Medicare for All canvassing operation, it shows they’ve organized a large, engaged volunteer base. The prospect of mobilizing these volunteers to do electoral canvassing is very attractive to candidates, which can give the DSA chapter real political leverage, provided it operates strategically.
Prior to endorsing, outside nonprofits and PACs can coordinate and communicate with candidates and campaigns as much as they want, so there's an opportunity for a DSA chapter to feed candidates talking points about DSA's 5 healthcare principles and direct them to other resources like peoplespolicyproject.org in order to help them speak confidently and coherently on universal healthcare policy. You want to be sure that you’re not endorsing a “progressive” who will forget the demand for Medicare for All once they’ve been elected: make them show you they are committed to fighting for this until it is a reality.
Before settling on an endorsement, it’s a good idea to organize a public event on DSA’s Medicare for All campaign and invite union locals, progressive community organizations, and any candidates your chapter might endorse to speak on record about the work they’re doing to advance health justice. If a candidate accepts the invitation and delivers a good speech at the DSA event, it’s worth considering an endorsement. It’s also good to follow up with requests to see the candidate’s campaign finance records and that the candidate makes a public statement refusing to accept donations from health insurance, big pharma, or trade group interests that conflict with the candidate’s platform and DSA’s political goals.
Also, it's worth considering whether or not the candidate can actually get on the ballot before committing to work on their electoral campaign. At this point, it would also be good to pass a resolution or by-law within the DSA chapter giving it the right to formally and publicly rescind a candidate endorsement in the event that such conflicting donations appear in the candidate’s regular campaign finance filings.
Now it’s time to consider sending this candidate an office-specific endorsement questionnaire. The questionnaire should contain specific policy questions on a range of issues, including but not limited to Medicare for All. At a minimum, the candidate’s answers should demonstrate broadly social-democratic politics, a commitment to pushing Medicare for All legislatively and/or by lobbying higher officeholders, and a commitment to continue working with their grassroots base once in office to actually deliver on their campaign promises.
If the candidate’s answers are good, post the questionnaire responses in a public place for review by DSA members and the press, then hold a vote on endorsement and publicize it.