Every social movement has an anthem. Civil rights marchers sang “We Shall Overcome”, suffragettes sang “Shoulder to Shoulder”, and the labor movement has “Solidarity Forever”. Until now, the single payer movement has lacked a theme song to unite its members. Here at Public Citizen, I’d like you to help us choose one. I’ve listed my top 10 songs for single payer. Leave us your suggestions in the Comments section below.
Eighties music fans will probably remember these Australian political rockers. They made a poignant plea for separating healthcare from employment by asking, “If the Blue Sky Mining company won’t come to my rescue? And if the sugar refining company won’t save me? Then who’s going to save me?” If we had single payer, we wouldn’t rely on companies to “save us” from medical bankruptcies by providing health insurance. Everyone would be covered. No questions asked.
This anthem against the entrenched interests opposing positive change rings even more true today. Almost twenty-five years after its initial release, the song still explodes with energy from the get go. The anger expressed by those who have been left behind is palpable. When Chuck D says “Give us want we want/Give us what we need”. We know what he is referring to. The most basic of all human rights: health care.
Sixties icon Bob Dylan has been active on several social issues, but he nailed health care with this song. His powers of observation are quite perceptive. He states, “I’ve heard newborn babies wailing like a mourning dove and old men with broken teeth stranded without love.” Then, in this seemingly hopeless situation, an unidentified person (think doctor, nurse, etc.) says those magic words, “Come in … I’ll give you shelter from the storm”.
7. “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen
Who could forget Springsteen’s haunting voice over the solo keyboard in this ballad for the downtrodden. His poetic lines are moving: “I was bruised and battered and I couldn’t tell what I felt, I was unrecognizable to myself, I saw my reflection in a window I didn’t know my own face. Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin´away on the streets of Philadelphia?” After hearing that, how can we leave people out of our health-care system?
Pearl Jam and Soundgarden collaborated on this grunge classic. The revolutionary lyrics are just what we need to excite the single-payer grassroots. “I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence. But I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled.” Some of the decadent health care industries could certainly share some of their largesse with those in need that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, this song describes how our current health care system works. As long as you can pay, a doctor will see you. But as Willie Nelson says “when you run short of money, I’ll run short of time.” Too many Americans are a day late and a dollar short when it comes to getting the care they need. We need to take the “Cadillac” of single-payer care and “leave the old wreck” of private health insurance “behind.”
This feel-good funk standard might just give the long-suffering single-payer advocates the inspiration that they need. Keep the faith. Keep trying. You can make it.
What an amazing expression of compassion. The promise in the song is one we can and should provide to all Americans: “When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all, I’m on your side, when times get rough, and friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.” Decades later, these words still ring true and, hopefully, inspire us to achieve our goal.
Chris Martin brings a lot of passion to this song. His wistful lyrics convey a deep desire to “fix” our broken health care system and those left without appropriate care. He sings with sincerity “When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep … When you lose something you can’t replace … Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones and I will try to fix you”. The combination of melody, tempo change, and message make it an exquisite song.
Many casual listeners would assume this was a call by Eminem for Dr. Dre to come back to making music, but they would miss the true meaning of the song. The haunting chorus, “I’m about to lose my mind, you’ve been gone for so long I’m running out of time, I need a doctor” is an existential plea advocating for the uninsured and the 45,000 people a year who die because they don’t have health insurance. For shining a light on the problem of access to care in a very catchy way, this is our number one choice.
Dave Sterrett is the health care counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.