Healthcare Is a Human Right Model

Date and Time:
Saturday, October 31, 2:15PM-3:15PM

Presenters: Keith Brunner, Vermont Workers Center; Ngozi Chuku, Put People First! Pennsylvania; Zachary Hershman, Put People First! Pennsylvania; Jacob Hope, Put People First! Pennsylvania; Jonathan Kissam, Vermont Workers' Center; Ben Palmquist, NESRI; and Karim Sariahmed, Put People First! Pennsylvania.

Description: Join the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative for a discussion and interactive workshop on the six key elements of our campaign model: base building, political education & leadership development, human rights framework, media & communications, policy advocacy and movement building. We'll talk about how we put these strategies into practice in our campaigns in Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Maine, and we'll break out into small groups to workshop some of the strategies together.

Notes from the workshop:

The Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative’s member organizations are all multi-issue organizations that are using a specific rights- and values-based organizing model to build powerful people’s movements to build a just, equitable society.

Winning universal, publicly financed single-payer health care is a big part of that vision and the main policy goal for the HCHR campaigns.

The Collaborative’s founding members are:
• Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland
• the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI)
• Put People First! Pennsylvania
• the Southern Maine Workers’ Center
• the Vermont Workers’ Center.

The Collaborative’s analysis is that people are denied access to needed health care because the profit interests of the insurance industry are in direct conflict with the right to health care. This isn’t just about health care, but is part of much larger wealth and power inequities in capitalism. Race, gender and other social constructions divide us from each other and prevent us from coming together to fight for our right to health care. Single payer activists have already won the policy debate. The reason we don’t have single payer isn’t because we haven’t explained why single payer is the most rational policy solution. We need to build power to overcome the intense corporate opposition, and we need to be really strategic and intentional about how we do that.

The Collaborative’s theory of change is that corporate power and inequities run so deep that only a broad-based people’s movement with deep leadership from people directly impacted by the health care crisis and by racism, sexism, classism and other systems of oppression can build the power needed to challenge the insurance industry and win single payer health care. Therefore what’s needed is a deep, intentional organizing approach.

The Collaborative’s answers to some of the conference framing questions:

How do we build a social movement that connects with other movements and issues?
• We need a vision that goes beyond any one issue or policy. A human rights framework helps us place single payer within a larger context: our government is obligated to meet our needs and fulfill our human rights.
• Health care is a universal issue. Asking people about health care and listening to each other’s stories connects us with one another, helps us see the systemic problems in the health care system, and builds our commitment to the movement.
• Organizing is about relationship building. The only way we’re ever going to win this fight is if we have strong relationships with each other and are willing to make personal sacrifices for the movement. We need to build relationships of depth and trust with other individuals and communities in the movement, and we need to build relationships of depth and trust with other organizations.
• We need to figure out how to articulate the ways that what we’re doing aligns with other movements like the movement to end mass incarceration and the environmental justice movement, developing a vision beyond our immediate work and building strategic alignment together. Put People First! Pennsylvania has teamed up with allies on a medium-term campaign around a prison and surrounding community that were built on a toxic coal ash dump. The campaign brings together the HCHR campaign with campaigns for decarceration and environmental justice.

What will it take to move our state campaigns to victory?
• We need to organize statewide across rural-urban divides and racial divides by finding common ground in our health care stories and using a human rights framework.
• We need to focus on organizing poor people who are directly impacted by the health care crisis and by the intersecting oppressive systems of poverty, racism, hetero-sexism, xenophobia, and ableism. We are the ones who will have the passion and deep commitment to do the long, hard work that’s needed, and we need to be leading this movement in order to end these oppressions and develop transformative solutions.
• We need to organize deeply, spending time on leadership development, political education, and relationship building to build leadership and commitment for the long haul.

How do we confront inequities in our work and our own organizations?
• We need to tackle racism, sexism, classism and other inequities head on with anti-racism training and practices. This isn’t a destination, but a constant and never-ending process that we always have to be intentional about.
• We need to prioritize the leadership of people of color, LGBTQ folks, poor people and others in our own organizations.
• This is strategic. Overcoming inequities has to be central in our work if we’re going to ever achieve an equitable health care system and an equitable society, and it’s the only way we can build enough power to win.
• In Vermont, two legislators introduced an amendment that would have cut people without documentation out of Green Mountain care. The Vermont Workers’ Center had done anti-racist training, done political education around what the human rights principles of “universality” and “equity” mean, built a strong relationship with Migrant Justice and other immigrant organizations, and had made sure its own membership was inclusive of people of different nationalities and immigration statuses. The Vermont Workers’ Center immediately responded to the amendment by organizing a big rally at the Capitol to demand that no one be left out. The sponsors withdrew their amendment.

The HCHR campaign model features six key ingredients. All the ingredients are concrete strategies to build a broad, deep, powerful movement. And there are toolkits with resources on the Collaborative’s website,, for each of these ingredients:
• Build permanent organization among people most impacted, including through creating organizing committees in people’s communities around each state, anchored by a grassroots base-building group that grows, develops and maintains grassroots leadership, and is governed by the people it organizes.
• Develop leaders in an ongoing process that raises consciousness, advances collective learning and political education, and enables fully participatory decision-making on goals and strategy.
• Use a human rights framework and apply human rights principles to all activities.
• Change the public and political debate by telling people’s own stories in a way that elevates people’s agency and leadership and illuminates the structural failures of the current system.
• Hold powerholders accountable for ensuring human rights.
• Grow the broader human rights movement by uniting constituencies and allies across issues and divisions and challenging oppression at all levels.

Slideshows, Photos, and Video:



Check out our new website, There you'll find more information on the HCHR Collaborative and our campaign model, links to our member organizations and campaigns, and a Resource Library and Campaign Kit that together feature almost 200 resources and explanatory guides to the six key ingredients of our campaign model.

Download a one-page handout on the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative and our campaign model.

Download Voices of Maryland's Healthcare Crisis and the Rising Human Rights Movement, a report by Healthcare Is a Human Right - Maryland and NESRI.

Other campaigns also use human rights in their messaging. Campaign for a Healthy California, for example, has developed this info sheet with human rights-based principles for health care. Though the Campaign has a different campaign model than the HCHR Collaborative model described above, the Campaign would like to share this info sheet as a resource for other campaigns.

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