On Saturday, January 13, about 130 comrades of all sizes, shapes, and hairstyles streamed into Oakland's historic Omni Commons meeting hall. The building, which began as a meeting place for an independent garbage collection co-op in the 1930s, was the staging ground for the latest iteration of East Bay DSA's Medicare-for-All canvassing effort. It began with a series of rousing speeches.
Medicare for All
"All workers, parents, caregivers, industrial laborers, tech laborers, freelancers, students, anyone trying to make a buck in the union-busting gig economy, everyone whose surplus labor is stolen by the bosses," said Hannah Ehrlinspiel, one of the canvass captains. "All of these categories of people are exploited by the owners of the means of production, and all stand to benefit from single-payer healthcare."
After a tutorial on the basic how-tos, canvassers headed into the Oakland streets, extolling the horrors of capitalist healthcare and the potential alternatives that exist to an enrapt audience. Like previous canvass outings, the door-knockers found a community that was eager and willing to support the vision of single-payer healthcare.
"The door-knocking experience that will stick with me most from this weekend was Crystal," says Liza Veale, an East Bay DSA member. Crystal is in her 30s and spared a few minutes from her cooking when Veale mentioned they were there to talk about Medicare for All. They quickly got into the fraught reality that Crystal is currently dealing with: her mother, no longer able to work, is between insurance plans.
"We were instantly hit with the full force of this woman's stress," says Veale. "She gave us a glimpse of the kind of scenarios that cycle through her head: if there's an emergency, just calling an ambulance will be $1,000. If something big happens, it will come down on her savings, jeopardizing the plans she has for her kids, or it could come down to her mother's house, jeopardizing the security of the family's future."
Teaching New Canvassers
Amanda Baldiga, a first-time canvass captain, appreciated how the more experienced canvassers took newcomers under their wings, to both show them the ropes and quell any fears they had. This allowed everyone to participate to their fullest ability and further entrenched the canvass' success. "It was great to see individuals who started the day nervous about the rap come back confident and elated by the conversations they were able to have with their neighbors," Baldiga says.
Among those experienced canvassers lending their wisdom to the fresh knuckles of the newbies was Ehrlinspiel, who has participated in seven canvasses since July. Ehrlinspiel's best conversation this time around was toward the end of the canvass, after a long, pleasant day, with only a few folks barking from behind closed doors that they weren't interested in whatever was being sold. "I don't blame them," says Ehrlinspiel. "I think capitalism makes us suspicious of strangers, especially when they're approaching the intimate space of your home."
Talking to the People
With only a few stops to go before returning to the Omni for a wind-down, Ehrlinspiel's team came upon a group of neighbors having an outdoor cookout. While most of the folks there hadn't heard of Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-All legislation, or about SB 562, the Healthy California Act, everyone was on board when Ehrlinspiel and company began their rap.
"People were just, like, 'Yes, of course! This is a no-brainer!'" recalls Ehrlinspiel. "Several were Medicare recipients, and they were some of the most vocal proponents of the idea that everyone should have access to this kind of care, and that the government should be responsible for looking after the health and well-being of its people."
What made the interaction particularly special was when one of the women in the group took Ehrlinspiel aside and introduced herself as a teacher at a nearby school. She'd hoped to find a way to work with East Bay DSA, to figure out how to bring a member into her classroom to speak to her students about health justice.
"This is what we mean by organizing the neighborhood!" says Ehrlinspiel. "In just one interaction, we managed to talk to a whole group of close neighbors and friends about how healthcare is a human right, we met an interested local teacher who'll hopefully talk to her colleagues about Medicare for All, and we got offered the opportunity to go talk to young students about health justice. Plus, we got to pet a really cute dog!"
But more than just petting dogs—which, frankly, is nearly reward enough—and more than simply providing information to the community, the canvass built solidarity with the neighborhood while empowering a new generation of socialist leaders and organizers. "I'm already working on the next canvass with three new people I met at this canvass," says Ehrlinspiel.
This was a common refrain from canvassers.
When Veale interrupted Crystal out of her afternoon food prep to commiserate about her mom's unfortunate situation in the current state of America's healthcare system, Veale not only found someone who wanted a solution, but someone who wanted to be put to work. "She was such a genuine, compelling talker, I thought she'd make a great canvasser, and told her so," says Veale. "What will stick with me most was how happily shocked she was to hear that."
After Saturday's canvass, Crystal's name went alongside another 219 names. With the thousands that preceded theirs, and the many thousands from DSA chapters around the country, this growing coalition is poised to lead the fight to finally bring healthcare to all.
"There's an opportunity in this country right now," says Veale.