The recent #ForceTheVote campaign, which urged progressive members of Congress to withhold their support for Nancy Pelosi’s reelection as House speaker until she pledged to bring Representative Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All bill to a floor vote, was more than theoretical. I believe that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her squadmates, and our historic contingent of lefty representatives should have forced the vote. Not for the Twitter, Twitch, and Instagram thrills or as an act of political theater, but as proof that the working class will not let any elected officials—whether Trumpers or liberal Democrats—deprive us of our human right to health care.
Make no doubt about it: Medicare for All is coming to the United States. No one can block it—not Big Pharma, not the insurance industry, not the hospital lobby, and not the entire corporate ruling class. But while there is no stopping a single-payer system from replacing our broken one, politicians whose campaign coffers are filled by the 1 percent can still slow the movement. Progressives in Congress must recognize the urgency and be relentless in their push for Medicare for All. Anything we can do to speed up the process matters: Each year, nearly 45,000 people die and more than half a million families declare bankruptcy because they lack affordable health care.
Our democracy is stratified. And too often we are forced to accept whichever caste we were born into. Nearly half a million Americans have died from Covid-19, and 30 million of us still do not have health insurance. Ordinary workers cannot afford medical care for their bodies, including their eyes and teeth, which for some reason are treated as organs of luxury. Too many of us have been conditioned to be ashamed of our inability to pay for quality health care and panic at the very thought of needing to see a doctor or dentist.
The labor of the working class is abstracted, commodified, and exploited by a machine that seems too big to fail. What we have is a kind of 21st century feudalism—shaped by low wages and corresponding debt from student loans, credit cards, and inflated medical bills—that serves only billionaires.
But Americans increasingly realize the growing inequities in our system, and those of us in the media and public policy underestimate how much energy there is to change the power dynamics of this country. The attempted coup against the US government by radicalized Trump supporters—on top of our fatally negligent response to the pandemic—has fully exposed a nation built on racist fascism and disregard for the poor. Yet this moment of awakening provides fertile ground for all of us who seek a better day—especially those who cannot afford to get sick or take off a single day from work. The politics of the moment are unpredictable and unstable, but they have created an opening for the left.
With the blue team now in control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, we have a fleeting chance to enact humane policies, and Medicare for All is perhaps the most important of all. Had Democratic representatives withheld their support for Pelosi and put real pressure on the corporate party establishment, we could have connected the anger of the suffering and uninsured to the systems that keep them down.
Instead of trying something bold and transforming the rage all around us into political action, Democrats in Congress missed an opportunity to push single-payer health care forward. But we will have more chances to demand that our representatives endorse Medicare for All. Ocasio-Cortez argued that Democrats didn’t have the numbers to pass it, tweeting, “So you issue threats, hold your vote, and lose. Then what?” Well, why not prove our power in the halls of Congress while organizing in the streets? Forcing the vote lets the public see where our politicians stand. It feeds into other organizing and makes clear to elected officials that the people are watching them. It also helps the public pinpoint which Democrats value donors over working people.
Seventy percent of Americans support Medicare for All. This is evidence that the demand for affordable, accessible health care cuts across party politics and race. Most of this country is working-class and ready to imagine a different, more livable world. Americans are waiting on the Democrats to finally exhibit leadership against the Republicans and others who are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on handouts to big corporations and wealthy households but too stingy to give more than $600 to minimum-wage workers.
Medicare for All is achievable in the United States. But to get there, we will have to make ambitious demands and be confrontational regardless of who’s in power, whether red or blue. Progressive Democrats must not miss their next opportunity to put pressure on the Pelosis and Chuck Schumers of our system. How else will we match the pressure exerted by the pharmaceutical and hospital lobbies, tech monopolies, and military contractors?
To read the other side of The Debate, read Natalie Shure’s “Before Forcing the Vote on Medicare for All, We Must Build Power.”