by Jonathan King
Massachusetts is a national center of medicine, medical research and health care. It is also the birthplace of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, and other nuclear disarmament advocacy groups. Mass Peace Action is one of the largest such grassroots organizations in the country with thousands of members.
And yet, the intensive daily debate and commentary on the Coronavirus crises made no mention of the diversion of federal resources from public health to weapons and war preparation, nor of the corporate tax breaks that reduced federal outcome, nor of the state tax breaks that reduced the state funds available to respond to the pandemic.
As the pandemic hit the local community, Mass Peace Action Working Groups were not in close contact with affected constituencies, whether providers or victims. Recognizing this gap, our Nuclear Disarmament Working Group decided to turn some of our attention to those most impacted by the pandemic. We initiated a “Fund Healthcare not Warfare Campaign” to reach out to the healthcare and public health sector and recruited members with those connections. The initial effort was educational – a series of webinars where we invited impacted groups to address our members. The organizations included the Mass Nurses Association, the Mass Public Health Association, Service Employees International Local 1199; Chelsea Collaborative; Community Health Center Physicians; Epidemiologists and public health academics.
It is important to note that we didn’t approach, for example, the Mass Nurses Assn., with any message about the danger of nuclear war. They were surrounded by dying patients. We invited them to tell us about their needs in taking care of their patients, and their priorities for federal and state funding. They were happy to do this.
In uniting with these frontline providers for increased public health funding, we did ask them to join our efforts to cut the nuclear weapon budget and put the funds into public health. That approach found support. It was clear to all that strengthening the state and the nation’s public health and pandemic preparedness budgets would lift most boats.
On Saturday June 5 The Fund Health Care Not Warfare Working Group held a major Forum that brought representatives from across frontline groups together. Keynote speaker Heidi Hoechst of National Nurses United, laid out clearly their call for Healthcare Justice and the need to transform the $4 trillion health care industry from Market-based to Care based.
The opening panel on Large Scale Issues , chaired by Louise Parker, included Michael Lighty of the Sanders Institute, Dr. Alan Myers reviewing state Medicare For all Legislation, Elizabeth Summers describing national public health initiatives to increase vaccine access, and Jonathan King noting that vaccine development depends on explicit federal R&D investments, starved in recent decades by excessive Pentagon spending.
All panelists listened to Senator Ed Markey’s cogent description of excessive spending on nuclear weapons and the need to move the money to public health initiatives. His Invest in Cures Before Missiles “ICBM” bill is a clear example.
The second panel focused on Issues Breaking in Massachusetts was Chaired by Catherine DeLorey: Katie Murphy President of the Mass Public Health Association reported on the intense pressures faced by overworked nurses. Their members at St. Vincent Hospital are on strike against the giant Tennent Hospital Corporation. A number of speakers described how the Hospital owners have used the pandemic to consolidate market control and increase their profits, in part by overworking nurses and other staff. The Forum also heard from SEIU1199 State Organizer Vaughn Williams on the difficult but often invisible healthcare provided by tens of thousands of Personal Care Attendants, to the disabled, and home-bound. Vaughn also announced the Poor People’s 3rd Reconstruction resolution, a resolution that was recently introduced into Congress and calls for the elimination of Poverty from the nation. Dr. Vonzella Bryant described the special needs in Communities of Color.
In the closing session: Coming State and Federal Legislative Battles, chaired by Amar Ahmad, State Rep Lindsay Sabadosa laid out a number of priorities for the state legislature. Sandy Eaton filled us in on the status of Medicare for All efforts in Massachusetts. Natalia Linos spoke about racial inequities in covid vaccine access and legislative efforts to address them. The increases in State and Federal public health budgets called for by the Fund Health Care Not Warfare campaign would preferentially target these hardest hit populations.
Thanks to the Program Committee of Amar Ahmad, Catherine DeLorey, Sandy Eaton, Jonathan King, Alan Myers and Louise Parker for bringing the Forum together.