The struggle to obtain quality health care in communities of color here in the United States didn’t start with the battles and debates around Obamacare, Medicare for All, and universal coverage that we are engaged in today.
Premiering at this week’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, is a short documentary calledTakeover, about one of those struggles. Direct action was taken to force change to happen—action which the Young Lords took over 50 years ago, on July 14, 1970. It’s an important story, and one close to my heart; as one of those activists who took direct action that day, it’s also part of my own personal history.
Let’s start with the trailer:
Here’s a concise synopsis of the film.
A new film called “Takeover” follows the 12 historic hours on July 14, 1970, when members of the Young Lords Party took over the rundown Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx in New York City. The Young Lords were a radical group founded by Puerto Ricans modeled on the Black Panther Party. Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, a co-founder of the Young Lords, helped organize the action. Using archival footage and modern-day interviews, “Takeover” chronicles their resistance to institutions founded on wealth and white supremacy, and their collective struggle for quality, accessible healthcare. “The takeover really exemplified what the Young Lords were about,” says director Emma Francis-Snyder, who says she wanted to capture the heroism of the activists. “There’s so much emotion and planning and courage that comes along with direct action,” Francis-Snyder says. “We understood that to get the system to listen and change, you had to disrupt it,” adds González. “You had to find a way to force people to pay attention to the problems.”
Let me first congratulate filmmaker Emma Francis-Snyder, who persisted over many long years to bring this important piece of mostly forgotten history to today’s audiences. To date, there are still many young people who are unaware of what a group of young folks with an average age of 17, could and did accomplish—taking on not only city government and the health care system, but also the police.
In discussion with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, DN co-host Juan González—a founding member and Minister of Education of the New York Young Lords—raises a key point about why we took over the hospital.
From the episode transcript:
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think the reason we took the hospital is because we had been involved — and I think it’s underappreciated, the amount of work that the Young Lords did in what we would normally call today public health. It was not just the issue of the treatment in the hospital and the services in a dilapidated, rundown hospital that the city had been promising to tear down for decades but hadn’t done, but it was also all of the work that we did in lead poison detection, tuberculosis detection, drug detoxification, acupuncture, using acupuncture for the first time in drug treatment, that was developed by the Lords and the Panthers at Lincoln Hospital, that there was — in other words, health was a major, major concern of ours at the time.
But we understood that to get the system to listen and change, you had to disrupt it. You had to find a way to force people to pay attention to the problem. So I think that’s the main thrust of all of our actions that we took in this wide area of public health at the time.
Our first action was to force New York’s Sanitation Department to pick up the garbage in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) where the rats ran riot; children were often taken to the emergency room with rat bites, or roaches embedded in their ears. The stench from the uncollected garbage in the alleyways and streets was horrific.
We moved on to addressing lead poisoning, which today’s activists are familiar with due to the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan. We forced the city to pass legislation to get landlords to remediate the lead paint used in the tenements that most of the folks in our communities lived in.
In 2019, I covered many of our actions in “'Mapping Resistance': Activism past and present and the New York Young Lords.” We established a Ten-Point Health Program, which became a model for later struggles around health care which we hear reflected in today's debates; it’s a legacy that we hope could be adapted and utilized by today’s activists.
Young Lords Ten-Point Health Program
1. We want total self-determination of all health services through an incorporated Community-Staff Governing Board for the Hospital. (Staff is anyone and everyone working at the hospital.)
2. We want immediate replacement of all government administrators by community and staff appointed people whose practice has demonstrated their commitment to serve our poor community.
3. We demand an immediate end to construction of the new emergency room until the Hospital Community-Staff Governing Board inspects and approves them or authorizes new plans.
4. We want employment for our people. All jobs must be filled by community residents first, using on-the-job training and other educational opportunities as basis for service and promotion.
5. We want free publicly supported health care for treatment and prevention. We want an end to all fees.
6. We want total decentralization--block health officers responsible to the community-staff board should be instituted.
7. We want "door-to-door" preventive health services emphasizing environment and sanitation control, nutrition, drug addiction, maternal and child care, and senior citizen services.
8. We want education programs for all the people to expose health problems --sanitation, rats, poor housing, malnutrition, police brutality, pollution, and other forms of oppression.
9. We want total control by the community-staff governing board of the budget allocations, medical policy along the above points, hiring, firing, and salaries of employees, construction and health code enforcement.
10. Any community, union, or workers organization must support all the points of this program and work and fight for that or be shown as what they are--enemies of poor people.
Back then, we did not have the tools activists have today. No Twitter, no YouTube, no Instagram, no cell phone videos. Our primary organizing tools were going door to door, holding community political education classes, and publishing our newspaper, Palante. Palante means “go forward.”
I drew this cartoon for the paper to illustrate conditions at Lincoln.
We believed then, and still do, that quality health care is a right, not just a privilege for those who can afford it. Clearly, we still have work to do.