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Medicare for All Will Take a Movement, Not a Politician

Two prominent single-payer activists—one who backs Elizabeth Warren and another who back Bernie Sanders—explain why winning Medicare for All us going to be one epic battle.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during an event to introduce Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All Act of 2017 on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2017. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during an event to introduce Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All Act of 2017 on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2017. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Let's start with the obvious: We know it's unusual for us to write this piece together. We are two Medicare for All movement leaders—one who endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders and one who endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren. Supporters of opposing campaigns, even within the same party, feel passionately about why their candidate is uniquely qualified to lead the country in a new direction. That's healthy. Politics should inspire passion, and there's a lot at stake in this pivotal moment, from guaranteed health care as a human right to climate change, gun violence and immigration.

But lately, the media have been hyper focused on the idea that we and our fellow progressive members of the Democratic Party are more committed to arguing with each other than to defeating far-right fascism. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are allies with an unbreakable bond—because our highest commitment isn't to one politician but to a grassroots movement for fundamental change, specifically health care justice in the form of Medicare for All.

"Our movement needs one of these two candidates to win the primary, and then we need to keep growing so we can hold them and other elected officials accountable when Medicare for All comes up for a vote."

That's not to say there aren't real differences between the Democrats running for president in 2020. There is, in this election, a battle still underway for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. One faction, in short, apparently believes we need to go back to how politics used to be. It's a compelling argument for those who think what's wrong with our country begins and ends with President Donald Trump, but it isn't sufficient if we're really interested in advancing justice and equity.

The way politics used to be didn't work for people of color, who have spent decades suffering from the impacts of racist criminal justice policies, or for working people, who have seen their quality of life, wages and safety on the job go down over time, despite putting in more hours than ever before. And the way politics used to be just won't be enough to achieve the kind of wholesale, root-and-branch fundamental transformation we need to meet our greatest challenges. The system has fundamentally failed. We can't go back

Each of us believes two candidates for president in 2020 understand this and know that the billionaire class must be defeated if we're to have any hope of realizing the equitable future we deserve. Ady believes Warren is the best candidate, and National Nurses United believes Sanders is the best candidate. These candidates understand that the task in front of us isn't just to defeat Trump, but to make people's lives better on the other side of that election. And they are also the candidates who have forcefully made the case for health care as a human right, as well as for a single-payer Medicare for All health care system.

You would be hard-pressed to find people more committed to the struggle for health care justice in America than the two of us. Our organizations, National Nurses United and Be a Hero, have played important roles in advancing the cause of health care justice, and we even recently partnered on "Uncovered," a series of health care conversations with all the major Democratic candidates. We have both personally spent significant chunks of our lives advocating for transformational change to our nation's health care system, and we believe deeply in health care as a human right.

Which is how we have come to believe strongly that the priority for progressives needs to be a commitment to growing our movement for Medicare for All, instead of a short-term focus on a single election. Some of our friends support Sanders, and some support Warren. That's fine because there are genuinely good reasons to prefer either candidate if you're a progressive voter interested in transformational change. But we urge everyone in those tents to see their preference for a particular politician as secondary to the overarching goal of advancing health care justice in America.

Our movement has made incredible strides in recent years, and the notion of a single-payer health care system has gone from fringe to the predominant mainstream. We need to keep talking to our friends, to our neighbors about health care and what's at stake in this election, about why Medicare for All is the only policy that can make health care a right. And for our movement to continue to build power, that conversation needs to be focused on ideas, issues and truth, rather than personalities and toxicity.

Our movement needs one of these two candidates to win the primary, and then we need to keep growing so we can hold them and other elected officials accountable when Medicare for All comes up for a vote. Our movement is powerful because of our passion. In this political moment, that passion must be pointed at billion-dollar hospital chains, health insurance corporations and Big Pharma—and the politicians they control. If we can't do that, and if we begin to mistake friends for enemies, we risk losing a historic opportunity to transform this nation.

So we'll model cross-campaign collaboration by making a commitment: As heated as things get over the next few months, we'll continue working together to advance the cause of health care justice in America, we'll remain friends, and, of course, we'll enthusiastically support whoever comes out on top. Because while it's true that we have our preferences for the primary, we also know this isn't about Sanders or Warren and that they would both agree. This is about people across the country and making their lives better.

Ady Barkan

Ady Barkan

Ady Barkan, dying of ALS, is a healthcare activist and Medicare for All proponent from California and co-founder of Be a Hero which led the charge against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Follow him on Twitter: @AdyBarkan

Bonnie Castillo

Bonnie Castillo

Bonnie Castillo, RN is the executive director of National Nurses United. Follow her on Twitter: @NNUBonnie

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