Friday, May 23, 2008

Universal health care? What might have been possible...

Back when I first started doing radical queer direct action (in the early ‘90s), universal health care was almost a mainstream gay issue. So many people had seen a dramatic percentage of their friends die quickly and painfully of AIDS, and wondered: if more of my friends had health care, maybe they would still be alive. As part of the 1993 national “March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Rights” (I believe that was the official title), ACT UP planned a national civil disobedience for universal health care at the Capitol. This was a few years after the big actions they gave ACT UP national attention, but I think we were still hoping for hundreds of arrests. Indeed, a million people attended the main March (an assimilation spectacle if there ever was one), but I think ACT UP ended up with just over a hundred people for our arrest-oriented action, I can't quite remember -- I do remember that it was easy to get arrested, all you needed to do was to step onto federal property, which was a driveway, and boom. Although I wonder if you can even get that far, now.

But universal health care did not gain the attention we wanted it to (when I say universal health care, I don't mean the current scams perpetuated by Clinton/Obama that strengthen the corporate, profits-first system instead of providing a single-payer solution). Indeed, gays in the military became the banner issue for the gay mainstream, followed within a few years by the big M. With all of the current focus on the holy institution of matrimony, I sometimes wonder what might have been possible if, over the past 15 years, as much attention had been brought to bear on universal health care -- all of the energy, resources, engagement, movement building, rhetoric, strategizing... I think we would be so much closer to universal health care, and perhaps even a broad-based social justice movement that included a radical queer politic. Instead, people now look at single-payer health care in this country as nothing but a crazy dream, and somehow marriage is considered "gay," but not the right to health.

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