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‘Medicare-For-All’ Gets Buzzy In Unexpected Locales



It was a sleepy South Carolina Saturday in mid-February. But Virginia Sanders was speaking, and the audience was rapt.

“One might not have the power. But a thousand has the power,” she said. “Don’t let anybody fool you that you don’t.”

Sanders, 76, has been an organizer and activist all her life. She marched in the civil rights movement. She protested against the Vietnam War. During the 2016 primary, friends recall, this petite Black woman marched up to men in Ku Klux Klan robes to distribute flyers about then-candidate Bernie Sanders — no relation. (They took the papers, she said.)

Now, she is focused on a different battle, one that has captured liberals’ imagination across the country: “Medicare-for-all.”

Outside Washington, Sanders is among the ranks of activists readying for a fight, even in states where, backers acknowledge, this approach often isn’t considered mainstream.

Organizers working with National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association for registered nurses in the U.S., have launched a grassroots campaign, championing a sweeping Medicare-for-all bill introduced in Congress late last month by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).

In states including Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Idaho and Missouri, a series of events have been held to harness energy on the ground and to showcase enthusiasm — even in unlikely places — for the Medicare-for-all idea.

And that enthusiasm is sizable.

Sanders was speaking at what activists call a “barnstorm.” The event was meant to turn the roughly three dozen people in this gray hotel conference room into foot soldiers in what’s at best a sharply uphill health care fight.

Winning Medicare-for-all wouldn’t be easy, Sanders told her audience of would-be activists, but she is still a believer.

“When I say South Carolina is a red state, it’s a blood-red state,” Sanders said after the event. “[But] if we can just educate people who live at or below the poverty level to vote with their best interest, we can change South Carolina.”

The battle over health care reform is playing out in heated rhetoric on the national stage. Polling shows the concept has general support. But that backing wanes if respondents are told about potential consequences, such as eliminating private insurance or raising taxes.

Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination are for the most part adopting the Medicare-for-all slogan head-on, though often hedging on specifics. Health industry interests are lining up in opposition. And Republicans decry it as “socialized medicine.”

At this barnstorm in South Carolina’s capital, about 36 people showed up to munch sandwiches and potato chips at what was effectively a two-hour organizing lesson in an off-election year — and on the same day as a visit here from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat running for president.

In Columbia, S.C., local activists meet to brainstorm advocacy strategies for “Medicare-for-all,” a slogan that has captured the imagination of liberals nationwide.

The following afternoon, in Fayetteville, W.Va., about 30 came to a similar event, this one hosted above a local sandwich shop and bar. Activists sipped beers, swapped health care stories and planned phone banks and canvassing events to spread the word.

It’s an unusual kind of energy around a policy that, before 2016, had been relegated to a progressive pipe dream.

“There is an incredible amount of activism among liberal communities, which also exist in conservative states,” said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University. That activism, he added, could shape the Democratic primary and, by proxy, the 2020 presidential contest.

The coalition pushing Medicare-for-all is widening — with what started as a signature proposal for Sen. Sanders’ presidential campaign taking on broader appeal.In Fayetteville, local Democrats who had fiercely supported Sanders or Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary came together to learn about Medicare-for-all, said Chris Pennington, a 36-year-old substitute teacher and Bernie Sanders delegate in 2016.

Columbia’s event certainly drew a familiar crew, said Lucero Mesa, 61, who organized it and co-chairs the local chapter of Our Revolution, a political action group with ties to Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. But then her eyes widened as more attendees filed in: “I’m starting to see faces I don’t recognize!”

Chad Pennington served as a Bernie Sanders delegate in the 2016 Democratic primary. But in his town of Fayetteville, he says, enthusiasm for “Medicare-for-all” isn’t a partisan issue.

On a national level, Medicare-for-all earns ire from Republican lawmakers. But “it’s not a partisan issue” in a place like West Virginia, Pennington said. Indeed, polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that as many as a third of Republicans support the idea.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.


On Ishmael Reed’s Inclusion and Van Jones’ Amazon Prime

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor. 



Ishmael Reed/Photo by Emil Guillermo

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor.

That Oakland. You know it? It’s the backdrop of a profile in the New Yorker magazine on Ishmael Reed, novelist, playwright, poet, and resident of Oakland. Hills? Oh no, the flats. Reed is a jazz guy; He B-flat. 

Hopefully, the joker in Reed laughs at that pun. It’s because of Reed that I am a writer. But let me not forget Flossie Lewis, my high school English teacher, and current Oakland resident. Lewis set me up. Reed delivered the punch.  

I first met Reed in St. Louis, Mo., where he was the “artist in residence” for Washington University’s first Writer’s Program. Intended to become a better Iowa Writers Workshop, it had all white writers like William Gass and Stanley Elkin. Reed was the token-in-resident. I was the token minority grad student. When one writer told me to stop writing about my Filipino family, Reed was there to tell me to put them back in. 

That’s what Ishmael did for me. 

The New Yorker profile published on July 19 compelled me to pull out Reed’s work again. “Mumbo Jumbo” (1972) re-read during the pandemic jumps off the page and is funnier than ever. People coming down with a virus that makes people dance the boogie?  It was a finalist for the National Book Award and considered for the Pulitzer Prize. 

The New Yorker also details Reed’s life with his wife, the dancer/choreographer/director Carla Blank, and their daughter, the poet Tennessee Reed. And you’ll learn how the writing all started–as a jazz columnist in the Black press for the Buffalo Empire Star.

That’s the enduring value of the ethnic media, the Black press, and newspapers like the Oakland Post. It’s still a place where diverse voices can let it all out.  

Asked about his legacy, Reed was simple and humble. “I made American literature more democratic for writers from different backgrounds,” he said. “I was part of that movement to be heard.”

I heard that. 

Van Jones’ $100 Millon Speech

Ishmael Reed is one of the only MacArthur Genius grant winners I know.

But Van Jones is the first winner of the Courage and Civility Award, which he received on July 20. Yes, that Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center. Way before CNN. I hope he remembers how he was a guest on my old New California Media roundtable talk TV show on the ethnic media more than 20 years ago on KCSM-TV. 

Because the Courage and Civility Award is $100 million unattached–from Jeff Bezos.

I wasn’t crazy about Richard Branson’s flight, so you know I’m not out-of-this-world over Bezos’s 63-mile jaunt, which I call the Neo-Space Age’s white flight. You can go beyond the suburbs.
Bezos has been hammered over not paying his taxes, and how spending billions of dollars into space travel during a time of real humanitarian need on Earth is on its face one word–obscene.

To his credit, he did what all rich people of money do when they stretch the limits of tasteful behavior.

They use their money by giving it away. It’s how the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Sacklers, the Mellons, etc., etc., can live with themselves. Albeit, far away from everyone else. Hence, the Courage and Civility Award. 

Jones was gracious about the hun mill gift. 

“I haven’t always been courageous,” said Jones.  “But I know people who are. They get up every day on the frontlines of grassroots communities. They don’t have much. But they’re good people and they fight hard. And they don’t have enough support.”
All true. And then he delivered the penance for Bezos sins.

“Can you imagine,” said Jones. “Grassroots folks from Appalachia, from the Native American reservation, having enough money to be able to connect with the geniuses that disrupted the space industry, disrupted taxis, hotels, and bookstores. Let’s start disrupting poverty. Let’s start disrupting pollution. 

“Start disrupting the $90 billion prison industry together. You take people on the frontlines and their wisdom and their genius and creativity, and you give them a shot. They’re not gonna turn around neighborhoods, they’re gonna turnaround this nation. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Then Jones had this for Bezos. “I appreciate you lifting the ceiling off of people’s dreams,” Jones said, then turned back to us. “Don’t be mad about it when you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad to know there’s a lot more heaven to reach for. And we can do that together.”

Bezos’ $100 million doesn’t buy a lot in the space biz. But handing it to Jones? Let’s see the disruptive good it can do on Earth.

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Congress Begins Hearing on January 6 Capitol Riot

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.



USA Today Newpaper Photo Courtesy of Little Plant via Unplash

A congressional panel investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol Building began hearings this week, starting with testimony from Capitol police officers who were on scene that day. Televised on several networks, officers shared emotional testimony about being assaulted, tased, struggling to breathe, and more as they sought to prevent rioters from running over the Capitol building.

Officers also shared feelings of betrayal from Republican lawmakers who have downplayed or even denied the violence that occurred on January 6. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer Michael Fanone testified. “Too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”  The MPD are the police for Wash., D.C.

Lawmakers were emotional as video from the riot was replayed. “The main reason rioters didn’t harm any members of Congress was because they didn’t encounter any members of Congress,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), thanking the officers for their service. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) who has repeatedly broken with her Republican colleagues to condemn the riot, also said she had “deep gratitude for what you did to save us.”

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.

Fanone, who rushed to the scene to assist, told the panel he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.” He suffered a heart attack following the assault. Daniel Hodges, also a DC officer, described foaming at the mouth while rioters crushed his body between doors and beat him in the head with his own weapon. He said there was “no doubt in my mind” that the rioters were there to kill Congressmembers. Another officer, USCP officer Harry Dunn, said a group of rioters screamed the N-word at him as he tried to keep them out of the House chambers. When the day had ended, he said, he sat in the Capitol Rotunda and cried.

Rioters stormed the Capitol Building on January 6 to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Then-President Donald Trump had egged on supporters to march on the capitol to “defend their country.”

Video showed rioters breaking windows and climbing through doors to get into the Capitol Building and, once inside, into the House Chambers where Congress members were conducting business. The head of the Capitol Police resigned the next day. Dozens of rioters have been charged in federal court, oftentimes using pictures and videos that they had posted themselves on social media. Others were reported to police by friends, relatives, or co-workers who recognized them in pictures and videos.

Earlier this week, lawmakers said they had reached a deal on a $2 billion spending package that would add more security resources. USCP officials have said they have long been spread thin due to a lack of funding.

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Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee Applauds 2nd Round of Workforce Funding from COVID Community Care Act Legislation

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.



Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

Announced on July 27, these awards are funded with resources from provisions within the American Rescue Plan Act that Lee led through her COVID Community Care Act.  This reflects the second of two funding opportunities announced in May 2021 for community-based efforts to hire and mobilize community outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists, and others to increase vaccine access for the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities through high-touch, on-the-ground outreach to educate and assist individuals in getting the information they need about vaccinations.

The first round of funding, which was administered in June, included an $11 million award to the Public Health Institute in Oakland and a $9.5 million award to the Association of Asian/Pacific Community Health Organizations in Berkeley. Three Oakland based organizations, the Public Health Institute, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases, and Safe Passages, are recipients of this round of funding, bringing the total funding brought to organizations in CA-13 to nearly $23 million.

“We are facing another inflection point in this pandemic. We must make meaningful investments in getting everyone vaccinated—especially communities of color and medically underserved communities,” said Lee.  “I worked hard in Congress to invest in trusted messengers at the community level to build confidence in vaccines and COVID-19 prevention efforts. This is a much-needed continuation of that work, and we’ll see over a million dollars of investment on the ground in our own East Bay community.

“Our Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Native American member Congresswoman Sharice Davids, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott and Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro deserve credit for their hard work and support in getting this across the finish line in the American Rescue Plan.  We can see that the work of House Democrats is making a real-life impact on the ground for communities.  This is an important step, but we must continue our work to dismantle systemic racism in our public health system and ensure that vaccines are equitably and adequately distributed.”

The purpose of this program is to establish, expand, and sustain a public health workforce to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.  This includes mobilizing community outreach workers, which includes community health workers, patient navigators, and social support specialists to educate and assist individuals in accessing and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.  

This includes activities such as conducting face-to-face outreach and reaching out directly to community members to educate them about the vaccine, assisting individuals in making a vaccine appointment, providing resources to find convenient vaccine locations, assisting individuals with transportation or other needs to get to a vaccination site.

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