The party must renew its engagement with the healthcare for all movement

BY:Collin Kawan-Hemler| March 4, 2024
The party must renew its engagement with the healthcare for all movement


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

The opioid abuse epidemic demonstrates that wins on the healthcare front are critical towards our party’s strategy to defeat reactionary monopoly capital.

How does the U.S. working class interpret these public health crises?

I am writing from Philadelphia which—I humbly argue—is home to one of the most politically advanced segments of the U.S working class. In our previous electoral cycle, voters sent to City Council two Working Families Party candidates, Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke. Their victories reduced the GOP representation to one seat in the 17-member body. Today, Philadelphia City Council’s Minority Leader of City Council is Kendra Brooks (WFP). Philly presents a hopeful vision of what a strong multiracial, organized progressive movement can do to shift the balance of forces in our country in order to create more favorable conditions for the U.S. working class to build power.

Our progressive movement threatens the local elites who turn to the Philadelphia Democratic Party to defend their interests. The party’s leadership in Council and Mayor Cherelle Parker began 2024 with a campaign to restore “law and order” to Philadelphia. Perceptions of a “lawless city” have been stoked in part by far-right media personalities like Ben Shapiro who broadcast disgusting poverty porn. Ghouls like Shapiro make money off of filming vulnerable people in Kensington, which is home to the largest outdoor opioid market on the East coast. The MAGA movement weaponizes such content to radicalize audiences towards dehumanizing poor drug users. Viewers learn to use the word “zombie” to describe people with few resources to deal with their opioid addiction. Such noxious fascistic attitudes spread easily and deeply through social media algorithms. The MAGA right is framing the conversation about America’s opioid epidemic in a dangerous way.

It is evident in Philadelphia that the MAGA culture war strategy is giving cover for Democrats to enact reactionary policies that they claim will “clean up” Kensington. Local business elites who grease their wheels would like to see a sanitized Kensington that is friendly to real estate development. Mayor Parker’s 100 Day action plan identified more policing as the solution to the misery in Kensington. In early February, federal agents and the PPD stormed Kensington Avenue with armored vehicles and arrested dozens of unhoused people and people who use drugs. Conservative democrats are also deploying gratuitous aesthetics which they substitute for evidence-based public health policy. The so-called “Kensington Caucus,” which consists of City Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Jim Harrity, Quetcy Lozada, and Mike Driscoll, earned well-deserved mockery online after posting a ridiculous video. These elected officials tried on their new letterman jacket swag to the beat of Kanye West in the song “Clique.” Councilmember Lozada had no shame posting this soon after news broke that she conspired with a real estate developer to terminate the storefront lease of a significant harm reduction non-profit. Under Mayor Parker, the contradictions between Philadelphia’s bourgeois landlord and corporate class, and the working-class communities at the city’s heart are heightened in dramatically visible ways. Will the rest of the 2020’s recall the awful police brutality under former police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo?

History does not determine the future, however. In response to the failure of neoliberal capitalism that is the Kensington opioid crisis, a remarkable culture and infrastructure of harm reduction has taken root in Philadelphia. Many residents in communities across the region have a story of a loved one coping with substance abuse without adequate nutrition, shelter or healthcare. If one peels back the thin layer of bombastic misleadership by our elected officials, you would hear and see the anti-capitalist understanding that many Philadelphians hold about the opioid epidemic. In the face of collective abandonment by processes like deindustrialization and gentrification, ordinary folks facilitating Narcan trainings and managing needle exchanges do far more than bourgeois politicians to relieve the miseries of 21st century capitalism. Still, these efforts are a bandage over a deep crisis that deserves national solutions like guaranteed healthcare for all. If healthcare was recognized as a legal right in this country, then our elected officials would be under much greater pressure to present public health-oriented solutions, not carceral ones.

Despite the elevated image of Philadelphia in the American opioid abuse epidemic, it’s no secret that similar conditions exist across the country. Reactionary forces press so hard on dehumanizing and attempting to disappear the unsheltered drug users because their condition underlines our collective precarity under capitalism.  It is in our human nature to empathize with fellow human beings who are suffering. And once we empathize with another’s situation we are better able to dispel individualist myths of personal responsibility. The truth is, working class people would rather live in a society that values collective responsibility for everyone’s well-being, not the hustle or die dystopia the class enemy touts.

Comrades, it is our task as the Communist Party to direct the politically advanced sector of the working class which struggles on the front lines of the opioid epidemic into a revived national coalition to win healthcare for all.



    Collin is a member of the Philadelphia CPUSA club.

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