United we care

The movement to win guaranteed health care for all people in California is more powerful–and more necessary–than ever before

CNA President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN and her sister take part in a CalCare day of action.

As positive Covid cases surge across California (and around the country), health care facilities are literally overflowing. Meanwhile our profit-driven employers have successfully lobbied the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to issue new, pro-corporate guidance advising Covid-positive nurses to just come back to work. Nurses have rightfully called this season of the pandemic a hot mess.

But you know what else we call it? A movement moment. Covid-19 has added a whole new level of urgency to removing the profit motive from our health care system — for good. That’s why nurses are heartened to see the grassroots movement for AB 1400, the California Guaranteed Health Care for All Act (CalCare), more fired up and organized than ever before.

“The whole idea of the health care system being a complete mess, and being expensive and inaccessible became quite a bit more magnified during the pandemic,” said Tina Rufo, a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, Calif., and a CalCare campaign volunteer. At work, Rufo does cardiology stress testing and says it’s tough to hear patients refuse testing for potentially serious heart problems, simply because they can’t afford it. The pandemic has driven home the importance of regular screening and care, to prevent the preexisting conditions that make Covid so deadly.

CalCare supporters project a critical message in Sacramento.

CalCare would pay for all necessary and appropriate care for California residents, including medical, dental, vision, hearing services, as well as primary and preventive care, reproductive care, mental health services, and more. With Covid underscoring the need for health care as a human right, the grassroots movement for CalCare responded to this pivotal moment by taking our fight to a whole new level. Just look at the numbers.

After AB 1400 was shelved last spring, we didn’t give up. Thousands of nurses, working people, and supporters stayed the course, committing to a long vision of change by keeping pressure on 33 key California Assembly Districts represented by members of the Assembly Health and Appropriations committees who could move this bill. And supporters didn’t just live in those priority districts; activists everywhere joined together to:

As union nurses, we could not be more proud of those incredibly huge numbers because we know how critical it is to build power one conversation, one text at a time. We do it for our patients, for the next generation, for people who don’t feel like they have a voice.

And on Jan. 8, the same day CDPH released its outrageous and dangerous new guidelines, CalCare supporters held a day of action, featuring 15 car caravans up and down the state, with nearly 1,000 cars participating, and a huge car rally and car caravan to the capitol in Sacramento. The day culminated in two building projections near the capitol, calling on state assemblymembers to pass AB 1400 now.

Mawata Kamara, a registered nurse at San Leandro Hospital in San Leandro, Calif. and a board member of the California Nurses Association has texted, made calls, and attended CalCare rallies. She says building collective power with the CalCare campaign is “what being in a union is all about,” as people unite in big numbers to enact change. Kamara was incredibly excited to hear that AB 1400 passed the California Assembly Appropriations Committee on Jan. 20 and would be headed for a floor vote, thanks to the ongoing, relentless advocacy of people in the movement.

“If this bill passes, it would be such a remarkable thing,” said Kamara “After everything we have gone through with this pandemic, it helped me believe in the power of solidarity, of everyday people.”

“I have been a union member all of my nursing career. I think that has played a huge part in my sense of solidarity with a movement like this,” said Rufo. “I have the power of the nurses behind me, and this movement has the power of nurses behind it. And that makes you feel more like you have a voice.”

Union nurses know better than anyone that when we stand in unbreakable solidarity, we can take on the most massively wealthy hospital corporations — and win. So we also know that with thousands of allies in this movement, we can stand up to the entire California health care industry — and win. We can set an example for the rest of the country. We can keep fighting until there’s guaranteed health care across the nation with Medicare for All.

How to hold an action in a pandemic: Get creative!

Despite the pundits and the corporations profiting off our existing system telling us we’ll never get where we’re trying to go, we know that when we move forward in numbers too big to deny, the people set the direction. Corporate health care never thought AB 1400 would come to a floor vote in the California state assembly, but here we are. No matter how long it takes, we will stay the course.

Day by day, year by year, household by household, community by community, text by text, call by call, postcard by postcard, we are rocketing toward the reality of guaranteed health care for all people as a human right. And it’s not only possible, thanks to this incredible movement, it’s closer than we think.

Join the CalCare movement today by clicking here.

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Bonnie Castillo

Union Nurse Leader & Medicare For All Activist. Executive Director of @NationalNurses, the Largest U.S. Organization of Registered Nurses. #TIME100