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


By Shefali Luthra

It was a sleepy 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.”