WASHINGTON — Progressive activists descended on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to push for Medicare for All, demand protections for abortion access and block a question about citizenship from being added to the 2020 census.
A few dozen protesters participated in a series of events, organized by the advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy, that were based around a common theme: the belief that the decisions of those currently in power are detrimental to the lives of the people, who must come together to fight back.
“I think that we on the left operate in a lot of silos, meaning that we prioritize our own issues,” Darius Gordon, the national field organizer for the center, told HuffPost. “We thought that today would be a great day to encompass all of these issues into one event.”
The day kicked off with a congressional hearing on Medicare for All, the first ever focused on that topic in the House Ways and Means Committee, followed by a press conference. Medicare for All, a plan for universal health care, is backed by 113 House Democrats so far. Both lawmakers and activists emphasized the need for change so that people aren’t bankrupted by medical care ― or forced to go without it entirely.
“Health care is a human right,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who has introduced a Medicare for All bill, said at the press conference. “Medicare for All means everybody in and nobody out.”
Dr. Jay Brock, a family doctor in Virginia, was among the activists standing behind the House members as they spoke. He has practiced medicine in Canada and has firsthand experience with that country’s single payer system, he told HuffPost.
“When you understand what the problems are, that we have with a multiple payer system, and if you are at all knowledgeable about the different options out there to fix it, it becomes really clear that single payer is really the best way to go,” Brock said.
The activists moved next to the Supreme Court to express their opposition to a citizenship question in the 2020 census, which the Trump administration is seeking to add. The state of New York, joined by a host of other states, cities, counties and advocacy groups, challenged the addition of that question to the census. The justices heard the case in May and are expected to make a decision soon.
“We will be counted,” activists chanted outside the court. “We will not be erased.”
Speakers at the rally emphasized the citizenship question’s potential to hurt political representation of communities of color, with projections indicating it will lead to a significant undercount. Documents unearthed in late May from a key now-deceased Republican political consultant reveal that he believed the question would allow for redistricting that boosted the political influence of “Republicans and Non-Hispanic whites.”
To end their day of action, activists gathered for one more protest, this time in the lobby of the Hart Senate Office Building. They quickly switched T-shirts to promote a new message: “Our Bodies. Our Courts. Our Democracy.”
Then the demonstrators joined together in a large circle and unfurled a banner with the same slogan. They chanted calls to overturn abortion rulings and improve access to reproductive care. Afterward, they sat down and repeated different speakers’ abortion stories line by line so that the numerous people watching from the balconies above could hear.
After security issued a second warning to stop the protest, the group walked back outside, chanting as they exited.
Ali Wicks, who attended the entire day of action with her family, told HuffPost that she came because “everything that matters to me is at stake right now.” She is part of an interracial family with a same-sex partner and two biracial children.
“Everything I see on the news right now scares me for the future and scares me for our future and scares me for the world my kids are growing up in, so I’m here to put my body where my heart is,” Wicks said.
She brings her children to protests to show them that “being an engaged citizen starts at every age.” She’s taking them to Homestead, Florida, in a few weeks so they can see a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors that some critics are calling a “prison.”
Tina Marie Davidson, who recently visited that Homestead shelter, traveled from Maine to Washington to attend this rally.
“It’s a desperate time,” she told HuffPost. “And people … have got to address their priorities and get out there because things are getting worse on every front, everywhere.”