Caring Fiercely: Nurses Tell Dems Why They Won’t Sit Down, Be Quiet in Fight for Single Payer

Nurses will always stand up loud and proud for the lives we’ve vowed to protect.

As California’s single payer bill, S.B. 562, continues to occupy its parking space in the California Assembly — courtesy of Speaker Anthony Rendon’s decision last month to table the bill — nurses in California have noticed a familiar trend. The more we continue to stand up and speak out, holding elected officials accountable for doing their job of legislating on this lifesaving legislation, the more our advocacy is painted as too loud, too strong, too soon.

Much like the suffragists, who were jailed and even beaten for what was seen at the time as an audacious, unladylike stand for women’s right to vote, the collective voice of nurses, as we stand for healthcare as a human right, has even been chastised as threatening. This attempt to paint a public health movement as a “threat” would be surreal if history hadn’t given us previous examples, but when the status quo faces changing against its will, as we have seen in recent weeks, it will lash out against the intentions even of professional healers.

The California Nurses Association comprises nearly 100,000 registered nurse members, a great majority of which are women. We have dedicated our lives to helping and healing the people of California. Every day, we nurse until our muscles ache. We nurse until our hearts ache — all while we personally face the highest rates of workplace violence out of any other industry.

We will never quietly go away. Not until our patients have guaranteed access to healthcare.

Registered nurses do this physically and emotionally demanding work because, through the process of becoming RNs, we have taken an oath to protect our patients.

Let’s illuminate what that protection looks like in action: It looks like hundreds of nurses coming together in recent weeks, as the California Assembly has continued to press snooze on single payer, volunteering their time off work to show up in the capital and in assembly districts to say, “Healthcare is a human right!” and “Guaranteed healthcare now!”

Those who call for temperance in the passion of our patient advocacy, who conflate registered nurses with Internet trolls and call our activism “militant,” misunderstand something critical. Love, in the face of danger (and all nurses know that without guaranteed healthcare, their patients’ lives are at stake), becomes fierce. But it never stops being love.

California Nurses Association has been called “the union that roars.”

Those who take issue with the fierceness of our commitment to the health and safety of our patients require an expanded vision of how care is best expressed.

"If we don't get no healthcare, you don't get no peace."

When lives are at stake, nurses know better than anyone that care is not quiet and passive. It does not wait. There is no better time to care — or a softer register in which to express care. For patients without access to affordable treatment, for families facing crushing medical debt, the time is now, and nurses have the tenacity to stand up and speak up, to march, canvass and say, “You must do better!” to elected officials for inaction on single payer.

This is not “hardball.” It is not militant, a “tactic,” or any of the other rhetoric that attempts to shift focus from the nurses’ lifesaving message to the volume of our voices when conveying that message.

This is love.

Hundreds of healers and our allies showing up en masse to advocate for the health and safety of Californians is what it looks like to care. Simple as that.

This is what it looks like to care.

This is not “hardball.” It’s patient advocacy.

There is still time for Speaker Rendon to prove he also cares by moving S.B. 562 forward, given that the legislative session does not end until mid September. While he may believe inaction will cause nurses to grow weary and return to the bedside, shamed for our “inappropriate” behavior, and leave our poor elected officials alone, that is an underestimation of nurses’ strength and heart.

The California Nurses Association has been fighting for single payer for decades and, in this moment where it feels more possible than ever to achieve, the nurses will not go quietly away. Not today. Not ever, until our patients have guaranteed access to healthcare. In fact, if nurses can shoulder 12-hour shifts, day after day, saving people’s lives, with hardly enough time even take a meal break or sit down, we have a message for California Democrats:

Nurses do not give up.

We don’t give up; we show up. In the capital if that’s what it takes.

We will never be shamed into silence when our message is advocacy on behalf of all the vulnerable lives we’ve vowed to protect. At our full height, at the full volume of our voices, CNA nurses will continue expressing the great depth of our care for the people of California by standing up for single payer. We ask Speaker Rendon and members of the Assembly to actively stand with nurses in that movement by freeing S.B. 562 and doing the hard, critical work to move it forward. We CAN do this. Our patients deserve no less.


As nurses continue to stand up for our patients, by standing up for single payer, we want to bring YOUR healthcare stories to our legislators’ attention. Please share your patient stories, and we will work to ensure that elected officials cannot ignore the voice of the people in this movement for healthcare as a human right.

Bonnie CastilloDirector of Health & Safety at @NationalNurses, Director of RN Response Network; I’m an RN & healthcare champion who believes healthcare is a human right!