By Marc Sapir
Marc Sapir is a primary care physician in Alameda County, CA and graduate of the Stanford University School of Medicine, M.D. 1970. He has been traveling with the Mad as Hell Doctors on their 2010 California tour. He sent out the following account of his trip.
Dr. Sapir also appears eloquently in the upcoming release of my documentary film, "got healthcare yet?"
Berkeley, Nov 2, 2010 ~ The Mad as Hell Docs tour ended 3 weeks ago today and part IV of my 2010 CA travelogue is long gone. But I promised to find a little part III and here it comes bubbling up:
The MAHD 2010 California tour covered about 2,500 driving miles (though those intrepid Oregon guys—Paul, Mike, Phillip--drove well beyond 3,500 miles in the 18 days). In 2009 the first MAHD tour drove 6,000 miles through the “heartlands” on the way to D.C. Complementing this year’s 2,500 miles, MAHD played to a combined California audience of 2,500 folks, beginning and ending with large audiences (in Arcata—250-- and Chico--300). With the larger audiences the enthusiasm and Mad doc mirth became infectious. In the 18 days running there were, I believe, 28 events. Three or four of these were small group interactions and a slide show that Mike Huntington put together for med students. A few outdoor events—such as at Pasadena and San Diego--precluded showing of any video clips (no socialist plot to protect our homes from fires could be screened). About 22 events were the full bore program. No, not boring, I said “full bore,” at least according to this reporter’s perspective.
The MAHD moderator always asks himself out loud: “self, why are we preaching to the choir?” and gives the answer that “we’re trying to be sure the choir is well armed to make the case for Medicare for All/Single Payer, fully understands how weak the PPACA reform is and how badly the public option would have fared; to help people gain confidence to talk with neighbors, friends, and Uncle Joe (who is a Tea Bagger) at Thanksgiving”. And we’re there to motivate and excite people. That sounds right over here at my desk, but what a number of organizers of events have also reported is that they have actually recruited good numbers of new members to the local organizations from these events, including the smaller ones. Let’s hope the new members’ enthusiasm translates into a lot of activity for those organizations.
Pretty much at every MAHD event there were 2 local docs or a doc and a nurse on the stage as part of the panel (in a few cases there were 3 local health professionals on stage). Audiences particularly appreciated hearing from their own community people. That changes the typical U.S. medical equation of “docs at a distance”. Some of these local docs were true heroes which we learned about only as we heard of their life’s work. In some cases they had set up clinics for people without resources, or successfully gotten smoking removed from prisons and been able to promote health education, or done battle with local institutions to pressure them to provide more services for people who needed them most, and so forth. And in some places, like Chico, by the time we left the locals were already talking about launching their own local mini tours to various outlying communities, towns, cities. Do it, guys.
At USC the audience at the School of Social Work forgot to show up. Maybe that was because MAHD event was set up with only a few days notice and came during exam week (duh!). But we corralled several students coming to and from classes and study groups and held extended one on one or one on 3 discussions in front of the school with our banners splayed all over the place. The response was very positive (I guess that with the word “social” in their line of study they must be just another bunch of damned socialists like Barack Obama); MAHD promised the Rev. Dr. Peter Sabey (the host) not to worry but MAHD will be back, with better notice and collaboration next time.
Back home now, I’ve been wondering where this all leads to. If you heard my own 4 minute talk you may remember words to the effect of turning the Single Payer movement outward and re-creating a good old fashion civil rights movement, like in the 60s, to rejuvenate Martin King’s call to arms on health care. Mike mentions civil disobedience tactics. That is part of the broadening of vision, I think, but a social movement isn’t just about tactics. It’s about culture and strategy--seeing the Single Payer connection between politics and culture, between politics and class, between our goals and racism. I’m ready to get arrested more than once if would help achieve Medicare for all in the U.S. But I know there’s a big difference between symbolic civil disobedience and planning a movement that can use it to great effect. At the present moment I don’t believe that tactics are as important as figuring out how to merge our efforts with the rights struggles of undocumented immigrants, the unemployed workers, youths who are frequently gunned down unarmed by cops in Black urban communities and who gravitate toward gangs for self-preservation, people who are still being evicted and have no place to live, no way to survive, workers who would choose a union but have been denied the Employee right to choose act, and so on. That means first off figuring out how to join the struggles of people of a different class, by and large, and prove to them that their wellbeing is what our cause is about, not just when it comes to access to health care as a right. On the tour I talked with a few HCA/Single Payer chapter leaders who believe as I do and have already tried that kind of outreach, with somewhat mixed and marginal results. It ain’t easy. But what I think I detected from them is that we are usually working from the perspective of trying to get those reached out to “to join us” when it may be that the question is how do we learn how to join them, so that they can then join with us or how to create a broader context.
Since 1994 I have not forgotten that Proposition 186, the California Single Payer initiative campaign which failed dismally at the polls, was not led by people most effected by the lack of access to care. There were docs and union leaders and other mostly white middle class folks carrying out the campaign. And in the final analysis 186 was led by people who could not see the importance of standing firm on inclusion of all—including the undocumented—in their press statements. It was a campaign that did not reach out in any meaningful way to the Black, Latino and Philippino communities, churches, and other organizations. And as I reflect upon how we might move Medicare for All efforts in the right direction and center stage, I never cease believing that now, not later, is the right time to make the turn we could not make in 1994, the turn that King’s echoing words call out to us--to forge a multi-ethnic leadership by using the call to a new civil rights movement that can unite us on multiple rights demands and issues. Sure, doing that practically won’t be easy. But we can do this if we all agree that it’s something that must be done just as much as supporting any particular piece of legislation.
Until we meet again.