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A prescription for saving democracy: Is public health key to beating back fascism?

6 27 8
26.09.2021

The California recall had an important lesson for Democrats, on at least two levels: First, that protecting public health is a politically potent platform, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom himself stressed in a day-after interview.

"We need to stiffen our spines and lean into keeping people safe and healthy," Newsom said. "We shouldn't be timid in trying to protect people's lives and mitigate the spread and transmission of this disease." It was both the right thing to do and a key to driving turnout in what might otherwise have been a low-turnout election, he said: "Democrats, I hope, were paying attention."

On election eve, former Obama adviser David Plouffe had offered a similar analysis on "The Last Word." Looking forward to 2022, he said, "Democrats need to go on the offense with vaccinated Americans, and say, you can't trust this other crowd." The following week, on "The Beat," Democratic strategist Chai Komanduri made a deeper, related point about the political efficacy of anger, now being felt by the vaccinated toward the unvaccinated, for needlessly prolonging the pandemic.

Heeding this immediate lesson could well be the key to beating the historical odds by gaining seats in the 2022 midterms, as a recent DCCC memo also reflects. That is, as President Biden would say, a "big fucking deal."

But there's a deeper lesson that could be even more potent: Public health — promoting wellness and preventing sickness and injury on a societal level — isn't just about mobilizing voters in an emergency for one election cycle. It can also serve as a long-term, overarching framework to reframe our politics, to provide us with new common sense in addressing a wide range of diverse issues by highlighting common themes and connecting what works.

And that could be key to defeating the threat of resurgent fascism, both here and abroad. Which would only be fitting, considering how viciously proto-fascist threats have targeted public health officials across the U.S., contributing to the exodus of at least 248 public health leaders since April 2020, according to an ongoing investigation by the AP and Kaiser Health News.

In tune with this long-term potential, as reported by NPR the previous week, more than 200 medical journals (including The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine) issued an unprecedented joint statement warning that the rapidly warming climate is the "greatest threat" to global public health, even in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Climate change and biodiversity loss "risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse," they warn. "Urgent, society-wide changes must be made and will lead to a fairer and healthier world. We are united in recognizing that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory."

Two calls for action are worth highlighting. The first is about equity:

Equity must be at the center of the global response. Contributing a fair share to the global effort means that reduction commitments must account for the cumulative, historical contribution each country has made to emissions, as well as its current emissions and capacity to respond.

Second, a call for sweeping systemic redesign:

[G]overnments must make fundamental changes to how our societies and economies are organized and how we live. The current strategy of encouraging markets to swap dirty for cleaner technologies is not enough. Governments must intervene to support the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, health systems, and much more.

The statement as a whole, and these calls in particular, resonate with the broader social justice framework articulated as the "Green New Deal" — some of which, though not all, has been carried over into Biden's Build Back Better agenda. But this is just the beginning of how a public health perspective dovetails with Democratic politics. In addition to climate change, other Democratic policy concerns recognized as crucial issues listed by the American Public Health Association include environmental health, racism, gun violence, injury and violence prevention, healthy housing and reproductive and sexual health. The list also intersects with human rights in the field of global health, and deals with issues of income inequality, education, housing, incarceration, nutritional equity, literacy, health care coverage and........

© Salon


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