Detroit DSA March meeting: Clean water, Medicare for All, and the ties that bind

by Mike Espejo

Sean Lehman and Kyle Minton talk about the work of the Medicare for All team.

During the last week of February Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced her Medicare for All bill, joined by over 100 co-sponsors. The new legislation signals a sea change in the national movement towards single payer.

Meanwhile, Michigan indigenous water activists began a 17-day walk from the top of the Lower Peninsula all the way to the State Capitol, where they will join other demonstrators to hold the new administration accountable for its campaign promises to shut down the Line 5 oil pipeline.

These issues — both inextricably tied to exploitation under capitalism — were the focus of the March 2 Detroit DSA general meeting.

Our chapter’s Medicare for All working group gave a presentation on local past and present organizing for single payer while Sean McBrearty, Campaign Organizer with Michigan Clean Water Action, gave a rundown of its campaigns for ecological justice.

Since its founding after the 1972 Clean Water Act, Clean Water Action has organized to protect our natural resources from exploitation by corporations and governments alike.

According to McBrearty, a fundamental misunderstanding of the public trust doctrine — which establishes the right to water sources for the people through the states — has allowed big business and governments to ignore and violate these principles.

“There has been a false dichotomy created between development versus protection of natural resources,” said McBrearty, explaining that the state government, particularly in Michigan, has for too long taken the side of corporate interests over the people.

McBrearty said the biggest issues facing Michigan water organizers today are construction of the Line 5 pipeline, toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance) contamination in water supplies, and Nestle’s “water bottle loophole” that allows the company to extract water from the Great Lakes as long as it is in containers of 5.7 gallons or less.

When public comments were solicited on Nestle’s water extraction last spring, over 50,000 comments were submitted against, with only 75 in favor. But the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved the groundwater withdrawal permit, charging Nestle a miniscule $200 for annual access.

Nestle now extracts nearly half a million gallons of our fresh water every single day (essentially free of charge), bottling and selling it for profit. Meanwhile, far too many community water supplies throughout Michigan are contaminated by dangerous substances like PFAS and lead.

The Movement for Medicare for All

Meanwhile Michigan for Single Payer, Physicians for a National Health Plan, and DSA have been fighting to fix our broken healthcare system for years.

“Our own living bodies have been commodified,” said Sean Lehman, who co-chairs the working group. “We spend double what most countries do on healthcare with far worse health outcomes. Over half a million Michiganders are uninsured and are among 28 million nationwide who don’t have insurance.”

Nationwide, over 40,000 people die every year without care while millions more go bankrupt. “This is the violence inherent in our healthcare system,” Lehman said.

While Medicare for All has gained traction with “progressive” politicians (especially those with presidential aspirations for 2020), it’s important to understand that the phrase itself has already been twisted and misused by policy makers.

For this reason, DSA stands by five principles for Medicare for All; we measure proposed legislation against these standards. “Medicare for All” must:

• Consist of a single health system administered by the federal government

• Include comprehensive coverage (including dental, vision, mental health, and long-term care)

• Be free at the point of service

• Be universal for all residents

• Plan for a just jobs transition as the private market is phased out.

“Any Medicare for All legislation that doesn’t include women’s health services isn’t Medicare for All,” added group co-chair Kyle Minton, reinforcing a pillar of comprehensive care.

Jayapal’s bill H.R. 1384 aligns with all these principles.

So what are DSA’s next steps? Strategies include holding town halls with the three House Democrats from Michigan who have not yet signed onto the Jayapal bill (Slotkin, Stevens, and Kildee), phonebanks, and as the weather warms up, door-to-door canvassing.

Lehman and Minton said that talking with people on their doorsteps about M4A is far less intimidating than one might think. Once you get people talking about their health insurance, few will find any reason to defend the current system. “We’re speaking directly to people’s material concerns,” said Lehman.

Just as with many campaigns by the ecosocialist movement, the push for single payer in America is not the end but a beginning. Whether you’re ready to knock on doors for Medicare for All or want to do all you can to protect our clean water, there’s a place for you in Detroit DSA. Find us on Facebook for upcoming meetings and more ways to get involved.