Nurses, Activists Converge in Sacramento to Transform Democratic Party, Press Case for Single Payer Bill, S.B. 562
More than 1,000 registered nurses and grassroots activists from across California converged on the state capital Friday for three days of action to challenge the status quo trend of the Democratic Party nationally and in California, and to press the call for the CNA-sponsored single-payer bill, the Healthy California Act, S.B. 562.
For many of the nurses and the hundreds of activists — dubbed “Berniecrats” who, inspired by the campaign of Bernie Sanders, won election as delegates to the California Democratic Party (CDP) convention — it was their first time as delegates.
After a day of RN visits to nearly every California state senator and Assembly office Friday urging their support of S.B. 562, the day culminated with an enthusiastic rally in front of the Capitol, followed by a vocal march to the Sacramento Convention Center where the state convention was getting underway.
The nurses and Berniecrats’ influence on the proceedings was apparent throughout the three days.
In her address to the full convention hall, CNA and NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro passionately argued that the path to uniting the party in California is to embrace a different set of priorities. After talk about how the “elephant in the room” was President Trump, DeMoro added that it is also “Republican ideology.”
“You know we have our share of blame as Democrats for what’s happened in this nation,” said DeMoro, citing the loss of 1,000 elected seats across the nation in the last eight years. “I know we can all unify in hating the despicable policies of Washington, D.C., but the truth of the matter is we have to find the things that absolutely unify us and set us on the right path.”
“The Democratic Party desperately needs to enfranchise disillusioned Americans with vision, courage, and a sense of purpose. The status quo doesn’t work for Democrats, and don’t tell us we have to be more conservative in more conservative areas.”
“Consensus for consensus’ sake is over,” she warned. “If the Democrats dismiss progressive values and reenforce the status quo, don’t assume the activists in California and around the country are going to stay with the Democratic Party.”
The way to start to “bring this party together, to set the nation on the right track as leaders in this country, is to establish a model of progressive leadership, and for the Democrats to unite on supporting S.B. 562,” DeMoro said. It’s not enough to say you support universal healthcare while failing to support the bill to achieve it, S.B. 562, she pointedly added.
After DeMoro spoke, a number of those who followed her to the podium specifically cited support for S.B. 562, including Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.
DeMoro’s challenge was also expressed by former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, a board member of Our Revolution, who spoke at the Friday rally, to a large delegation of Berniecrats Friday night, and on the floor of the convention with Berniecrat nominee for CDP chair Kimberly Ellis.
“There is something wrong, not just in the great state of California but throughout this nation, when we have to beg elected officials to do the right thing. So we are not going to keep begging, we are demanding, and if they don’t come through we will vote them the hell out of office,” Turner said at the rally.
She invoked the counsel of former South African President Nelson Mandela that, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Turner continued, “So I want you all, nurses and non-nurses, because that’s how we’re measuring folks now, nurses and non-nurses, people who believe in humanity to keep on pushing, keep on demanding. You in the great state of California will lead the nation and remember you have supporters all over this country.”
At the rally, CNA Co-presidents, RNs Malinda Markowitz and Zenei Cortez, also talked about how to win S.B. 562 and other progressive changes through concerted grassroots organizing. They highlighted the need to hold Democrats, who control the Legislature and the governor’s office, accountable to the voters, not the powerful health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
On the floor of the convention, the push for change came down to the hotly contested election for new CDP chair between Ellis, supported by CNA and the Berniecrats, and CDP vice chair Eric Bauman, the anointed candidate of the establishment wing of the party who has campaigned for the job for months.
Ultimately, Bauman was proclaimed the winner by a razor-thin margin of 62 votes out of nearly 3,000 votes recorded, with at least a third of the votes being handed to appointees of party officials and legislators who are anxious to hold their grip on the reins. These appointed delegates are the state equivalent of national Democratic Party “superdelegates.”
While Ellis and her supporters continue to raise questions about the vote count, DeMoro afterwards praised activists for taking on the establishment reflected in the extremely narrow vote.
The final result “has very little to do with what we do out as an organization out in the field,” DeMoro said. “So let’s talk about this, where do you go from here? You don’t give up. You double down.”
“For you to come, and us to come, this close is pretty amazing,” DeMoro said. “Don’t feel discouraged. You showed tremendous power and strength. These votes mean that you can take out just about any Democrat in the state if you continue to organize.”
As Los Angeles Times reporter Cathleen Decker afterwards wrote, the reign of the old guard in the CDP “effectively ended at this weekend’s state party convention, part of a shift both generational and ideological that is altering power across the country and in the nation’s biggest Democratic state.”