By Alec Pruchnicki
Since the 1960s, I’ve been active in a variety of political causes. I learned back then not to be co-opted (a popular phrase during the ‘60s) by getting involved in “bourgeois” political action. Those who supported Gene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy worked hard, only to get Richard Nixon and several more years of war. What was the sense of getting involved with mainline political organizations which were either ineffective, corrupt, or overly conservative?
But times change. Over the last 25 years, I have been working to get a single payer health system in the United States. Such a system, sometimes called “Improved Medicare for All,” could substantially improve access to quality healthcare, control costs, and virtually eliminate uninsured individuals and possibly the closing of healthcare facilities, including hospitals. To get legislation to do this, we have had to talk to and work closely with elected officials at city, state, and federal levels. These were the very types of politicians we avoided. I always had the feeling that we were begging them to do the right thing on moral, ideological, or practical grounds, since we didn’t have large checkbooks or large voter numbers to back up our demands. How could we get their attention?
At the insistence of several friends, I decided to join a political club, the Village Independent Democrats. It had a reputation for being progressive (what we used to call “liberal”) on many issues, so I figured that was the club for me. After a while, I was elected to the executive board and became more involved in the club activities. Then something amazing happened. Four people running for various offices called me up and asked to have lunch or coffee to discuss their election. I met with all four, but only one, City Council Member Corey Johnson, got elected to represent The Village. Still, it was a start. Since then I have gotten to know my Assembly member, Deborah Glick, my state Senator Brad Hoylman, and Assembly member Dick Gottfried who has been a consistent supporter of a New York State single payer system. They all are single payer supporters. In fact, on almost all issues my positions and theirs are identical or very close.
Of course, there is a price to pay for this involvement—sometimes literally. I’ve gone to a lot of fund raising receptions since joining the club, but there are also monthly meetings, endorsement votes, service on committees, petition drives, letters to officials, telephone banks and nominating petitioning (“…are you a registered Democrat in this district…”) for those who can’t afford donations. There are a lot of issues of importance to The Village. There is also a big election coming next year, so I hope more people will join up and get active. If that doesn’t get people involved, what will?