“The New York Health Act was first introduced in 1992,” said a speaker standing on a rock on Monday morning, outside the First Presbyterian Church at 362 State St, Albany, NY 12210.
“How many more years do we have to wait?”
“Not one more!” replied the crowd of healthcare activists, trade unionists, nurses, AIDS and environmental activists on hand for the die in and rally.
A woman in a wheelchair was wearing a T shirt from 1990 from a similar action.
“This will be my 27th arrest,” said another woman, referring to her first with Father Berrigan.
By 10 am, hundreds of us had arrived from all over the state to push the democratic supermajority to act on this landmark healthcare legislation. With the filibuster blocking progress in Washington, DC, states are our best chance to create meaningful social policy and legislation.
“When we pass this, it will be a landmark for both the state and the country.”
“Nobody out, everybody in,” people chanted.
YuLing Koh Hsu welcomed Ken and I.
We can't have racial & economic justice w/o single-payer, said YuLing.
Standing there in the sun, everyone had a story.
I have seen adjuncts at our college lose their health insurance when they don’t get assigned classes; immigrants turned away from care, regular people with their claims denied for treatments, and friends forced to start co-fund me campaigns just to try to pay their bills. As if sickness is not enough, we are forced to beg for help or navigate a Kafkaesque bureaucracy to try to get help.
Outside the church, I ran into Bob Lederer, a veteran of ACT UP and Physicians for a National Health Program - New York Metro Chapter, who has helped get drugs into bodies of people around the planet for decades. I first met Bob when he was working on the AIDS Drugs for Africa Campaign, pushing Pharma to halt a lawsuit in South Africa against the Medicines Act which allowed generic manufacture of AIDS drugs there.
“I think the COVID pandemic makes clear we have no healthcare in the US. The way of paying it is flawed,” said Lederer. “It puts profits over people over and over again, particularly people of color.” Lederer paused. We talked about his work with the AIDS drug assistance program and all the advocacy throughout the years. “I was with ACT UP in 1990 when we went to the capital to push for universal healthcare and Medicare for all.”
Reflecting on all those ACT UP actions, Lederer said: “This is a continuation of that work. The horrendous mistreatment and lack of treatment of people with AIDS is a window to the failure of the society to care for everyone.”
As he was speaking, activists begin chanting: “Healthcare is a right, Healthcare is a right! ACTUP!”
“That was our slogan,” said Lederer.
“Health insurance is a lie” the crowd chanted.
“They don’t care if people die.”
“Fight, fight, fight, healthcare is a right!”
“Everybody in. Nobody out!”
By 1030 AM, we started marching, demanding our lawmakers pass the New York Health Act this legislative session! The Campaign for New York Health:
“We are the closest we have ever been to winning universal healthcare for all New Yorkers. New Yorkers voted out the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) with candidates that ran on the NY Health Act! New Yorkers elected a Democratic supermajority. New Yorkers pressured our legislators to pass the most progressive budget this state has ever seen. This beautiful movement made history in March by reintroducing the NY Health Act with majority support in the state legislature to make healthcare a right in our state by establishing a universal single-payer healthcare system. Everyone would have quality healthcare regardless of age, employment, or immigration status. ALL healthcare would be covered (including dental, mental healthcare, vision, long-term care and prescriptions). It would be a huge step towards health justice in New York, and around the country.”
The action was organized to keep up the pressure and make one massive final push before June 10 to demand the Senate and Assembly Leaders to bring the New York Health Act to a vote THIS session.
Marching through Albany, the chants and stories continued.
Members of the Poor People’s Campaign stopped to speak about their campaign, blocking the street at Washington and Dove, outside the offices of US Paul Tonko, calling for a congressional resolution to end poverty, including single-payer healthcare.
Sitting listening to the speeches, a man with t shirt calling for a halt on fracking, gave me a card:
“Protest License, expiration date, never. This license has been issued in accordance with the First Amending of the US constitution of the United State. Void under no circumstances, Valid with or without government approval.”
The back of the card offered the United States Constitution.
“Amendment I, Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression, ratified 12/15/1791.”
Standing there, Richard Godfried, a member of the Assembly for more than 50 years, the longest-serving member of the body and the sponsor of the bill, walked by.
Are we going to pass it this time, I asked.
Yes, his staffer confirmed.
If we don’t get it, shut it down, the crowd began to scream, starting the die-in at Washington and Hawk street.
There some of us theatrically died in on the concrete.
The streets were hot.
Still tomb stones and bodies filled the streets.
‘Died from a broken heart,’ declared my sign.
“Died from Preventable COVID deaths.”
“Died from political cowardice.”
“Died from Insurance Denied MRI”
“Couldn’t afford insulin.”
Laying there, a rally started across the street.
Cynthia Nixon was there calling for the passage of the bill.
Jabari Brisport noted we have the votes to pass the Health Act:
"This is legislation that's been introduced time and time again since 1992. This is the first time ever in nearly 30 years that we have a majority of co-sponsors on the legislation in both the New York State Assembly and the State Senate. So we have majority support in both houses and we just need to vote on it…"
An hour we stayed on the street, with no arrests.
Driving home, Ken and I talked through it all.
Photography, direct action, listening to the Rolling Stones and Nico, Siouxie and the Linda Lindaas, Victor Burgen and Umberto Ecco and lists, attempting to make sense of the infinite, looking at the streets of the city, its murals and artists, hopes and aspirations.
“The list doesn’t destroy culture, it creates it,” says Echo.
Hopefully the Senate and the Assembly act and we can add this to our list of accomplishments.
Make some calls Ben, said Ken.
There are only a few days to go in the session.
Hopefully, the bill does not die of political cowardice.
After all, if not now, when?
Thanks to yesterday’s action, more pressure is building for Albany to pass universal, guaranteed healthcare. We were so proud to see hundreds of people rallying and marching for a system that includes every single New Yorker. We are especially grateful to the brave people who staged a ‘die-in,’ laying for nearly an hour on the hot pavement in front of the Capitol Building to symbolize the deadly nature of the status quo. Activists were joined by Care Champions in the state legislature who are doing everything they can to move this bill with special shoutouts to Senator Gustavo Rivera, Jessica Ramos, Jabari Brisport; Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried, Harvey Epstein, Jessica González-Rojas, Anna Kelles, Yuh-Line Niou, Demond Meeks and Zohran Mamdani; and special guest Cynthia Nixon.
We know the moment will come when we win healthcare for all, and we want that moment to be before the legislature ends the 2021 session on June 10th.
Here’s what you can do to keep up the pressure on Albany this week!
- Keep calling, emailing, and tweeting! Contact your elected officials and make sure they know it is past time to #PassNYHealth.