by Jonathan King and Amar Ahmad
A statewide coalition of organizations is forming this fall to demand governmental action for expanded and quality healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic – with resources to be taken from the military budget.
This campaign takes the unusual course of directing advocacy efforts to both the state and federal governments simultaneously, two arenas that are normally divorced from each other. While coalition members are advocating for increased state funding for healthcare and public health measures, we recognize the state alone cannot provide sufficient resources. Roughly 30% of our state budget is funded by the federal government. The coalition will call on the US Congress to cut the single greatest source of waste and distortion in federal spending – the bloated Pentagon budget – and redirect those funds to the states to meet local healthcare needs.
The seeds of the Fund Healthcare Not Warfare coalition were planted last spring, when Mass. Peace Action came together with other groups – including the Massachusetts branches of the Poor People’s Campaign, Our Revolution, and Progressive Democrats of America – to reach out to those on the front lines of healthcare delivery and learn about the crises they were facing.
In a series of five educational webinars over the spring and summer, we brought together panels of doctors, nurses, personal care attendants, community organizers, and healthcare union leaders to learn about the conditions they were experiencing daily in providing essential healthcare services in the midst of a pandemic. They described the lack of adequate virus testing and contact tracing, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital beds, and therapies. These providers, along with elected officials and city administrators, detailed the racial disparities which were leading to increased rates of infection and death in communities of color. [See below for links to the webinars.]
During these events, Mass. Peace Action consistently asked, how can it be that, in the richest, most technologically advanced nation on earth, we lack a health care system that can provide basic services during the worst public health crisis in a century? We pointed out that one key reason is the diversion of national wealth to a military budget that consumes more than half of all federal discretionary spending.
From Education to Action
We have begun discussions with a number of organizations, including the Mass. Public Health Association, MassCARE, Mass. Nurses Association, Right Health, the RaiseUp MA Coalition and Mass. Coalition for Health Equity in preparation for launching our campaign.
The first initiative is a joint Fund Healthcare Not Warfare Sign-On Call to our Massachusetts state and federal elected representatives. The call asks for support in the State Legislature for the SAPHE 2.0 Act and the proposals by the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity, including the Guaranteed Housing Stability Act (H.5166/S.2992), Safe Communities Act (H.3573/S.1401) as well as the RaiseUp MA program Invest in our Recovery to increase revenue. Click here to sign the Call.
Within the US Congress, the campaign presses for a $300-350 billion cut in the annual military budget, as proposed by Reps. Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern, Ayanna Pressley and others this year to free up resources for healthcare, public health, and COVID recovery. These cuts should extend to demilitarizing police forces, including support for H1033, and reducing excessive state and municipal policing budgets. Given the impact of global warming on public health, we support increased investments in sustainable energy such as wind and solar, and in public health measures such as a clean water infrastructure that would be provided by a Green New Deal.
We expect to organize a Fund Healthcare Not Warfare forum early in 2021, bringing together the participating organizations to refine campaign priorities and tactics. We are also discussing a possible statewide referendum on the general theme of Medicare for All, or a Single Payer health Insurance system.
Initial Education and Outreach
The Educational Webinars and Forums starting in March 2020 provided a vehicle for forging connections with key organizations and constituencies. In the April 13 Forum the On the Frontline of Healthcare Delivery, Panelists included Donna Kelly-Williams, Pres of the Mass Nurses Assn, Vaughn Goodwin, lead organizer for SEIU119 representing Home Healthcare Assistants, Gladys Vega from the Chelsea Collaborative, and Savina Martin of the Mass Poor Peoples Campaign.
A follow-up session on May 17 focused on Ending Racial Health Care Inequities: Covid19 Organizing featured Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, Kevin Pederson of the New Democracy Coalition, Marty Martinez of the City of Boston Health and Human Services, and Marcelle Grair of SEIU Local 509.
The session on the response in the State Legislature featured State Reps Mike Connolly and Lindsay Sabadosa, together with State Senator Jamie Eldridge.
Our June 14 public health/public education session Public Schools at the Crossroads featured Mass Teachers Assn. President Merrie Najimy, Citizens for Public Schools Executive Director Lisa Guisbond, PHENOM (Public Higher Education Network of Mass) Executive Director Zac Bears, Boston Public School teacher Susie McGlone, Boston student leader Evelyn Reyes, and UMass Boston grad student Drew King.
On Sept 27 we hosted “Healthcare Needs in the Pandemic” featuring Carlene Pavlos, executive Director of the Mass Public Health Association; Vaughn Goodwin, of SEIU1l99 United Healthcare Workers, Jerald Ross Secretary of MAPA’s Nuclear Disarmament Working Group, and Dr. Cornelia van der Ziel of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The Campaign’s initial Coalition Building effort was a petition calling for both COVID relief packages and military budget cuts. This petition can be found at: https://secure.everyaction.com/rqiU3Juv2E2CfQHuH_ecNQ2)
In addition to MAPA members’ donations, this campaign has been aided by a grant from the Agape Foundation.
—Jonathan King is co-chair of the Mass. Peace Action Board and chair of its Fund Healthcare Not Warfare Working Group. Amar Ahmad is the staff organizer of the campaign.