Fong is on the Executive Committee of Phoenix Democratic Socialists of America and is a 2019 DSA Convention delegate.
Benjamin Fong is a Lecturer Barret Honors College Arizona State University.
Benjamin Fong received his PhD in Religion from Columbia University, where he was also an Affiliate Scholar at the Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. His interests lie at the intersections of philosophy, psychology, critical social theory, and the study of religion. His first book, Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, which seeks to strengthen the psychoanalytic dimension of first generation critical theory in the hopes of rejuvenating its conception of subjection in late capitalism, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press. His next project will examine particular episodes from the history of the strange relation of psychology and religion in the west beginning in the eighteenth century, with an eye toward addressing contemporary theoretical and methodological debates within religious studies. He has published in The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Psychoanalysis, Culture, & Society, and has also written posts for The New York Times' philosophy blog, "The Stone," on Freud and neuroscience.
DSA pressures Stanton on healthcare
In May 2018 local leftists were pushing Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton to support single-payer health care before he resigned to run for Congress.
The Phoenix chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America submitted a citizen petition to the City Council on May 2, urging Stanton and the council to support a universal system of national health insurance like the so-called Medicare for All plans that have been introduced in Congress.
Because Stanton must resign by May 30 in order to run for Congress under state law, DSA members believe this could be their last opportunity to compel him to take a stand on single-payer.
Citizen petitions are a simple way to force an item onto the City Council’s agenda. Per the city charter, any individual can submit a written petition, and the council is required to act on it within 15 days. As a result, the council must take some action on DSA’s petition at its formal meeting on Wednesday.
Council members could approve DSA’s symbolic resolution supporting single-payer health care, or approve a version of the petition that does not go as far as the DSA health care goal (which is a single, tax-funded public health insurance program for all U.S. residents). Council members also might deny the petition outright.
Of course, the City Council doesn’t set national health care policy, which city staff noted in a brief response to the petition: “The City Council does not have the authority to change federal law.”
So, approving the petition would mean a statement of support and nothing more.
DSA members, however, see an election-year opportunity to push Stanton on an issue that has become a litmus test for Democrats.
“In this political climate, a lot of Democrats are trying to establish themselves as progressive candidates,” said DSA Phoenix member Taylor Hines, 31, the chair of DSA Phoenix’s health justice caucus. “I think this is just another opportunity to show that they are serious about progressive reforms.”
The petition cites Stanton’s own words on pharmaceutical companies (an industry he said is “directly responsible for stunning rises in opioid addiction that destroys lives, tears apart families and burdens taxpayers at every level”) and the Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“an all-out assault on the people of Arizona”).
DSA members acknowledge that wholesale approval from the City Council of the Medicare for All petition is a long shot. After all, the Council has several conservative members who will almost certainly vote against the petition. Council members might deny the petition or dodge its central request by making a generic statement in support of health care reform.
DSA members are also closely watching Councilwoman Kate Gallego and Councilman Daniel Valenzuela to see what they say on the subject. Both are Democrats who plan to run for mayor once Stanton resigns.
Stanton’s run for Congress presents him with a question familiar to Democratic candidates in Arizona: Does he endorse single-payer health care and risk alienating Arizona conservatives for whom “socialism” is a dirty word? Or does Stanton ignore single-payer, possibly losing a progressive base of supporters, especially if single-payer becomes a staple of Democratic campaigns in the future?
DSA’s gambit may worry some voters who are interested in seeing a Democrat hold onto the seat in CD9. Stanton will please the socialists in the audience if he endorses Medicare for All, but he could damage his own congressional ambitions in the process.
But DSA members point to polls that show a majority of Americans support single-payer health care. DSA member Benjamin Fong, who submitted the petition to the City Council, said that the tide is decisively turning.
“I think this is going to become a real demand for any Democratic candidate in 2018,” Fong said. “It’s a chance for Stanton to show early on to people who are potentially progressive backers that he’s going to take a strong stand on this — that he’s not going to waffle on health care.”
Fong, a 36-year-old faculty fellow at Arizona State University’s honors college, also criticized the “technocratic approaches to healthcare” favored by centrist Democrats like Hiral Tipirneni, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in last month’s CD8 special election.
“They claim to be strong on health care, but they don’t support Medicare for All,” Fong said.
When making the case for Stanton to support single-payer, DSA members cite an August 2017 resolution from the Arizona Democratic Party in which the state party endorsed Medicare for All by ratifying the People’s Platform, a progressive laundry list of goals from a Sanders-affiliated organization, Our Revolution.
There are around 180 DSA members in Phoenix, according to Howard. Also backing the citizen petition is the local chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America. According to Ken Kenegos, a nurse and the health care coordinator for the Arizona PDA, as many as 100 people turn out for the organization’s Phoenix meetings.
“I like to call our system, ‘It’s your money or your life,'” 69-year-old Kenegos said, arguing that the American health care doesn’t have to function this way.
He predicted that Stanton will try to dodge the issue on Wednesday.
“I think he’s a pretty seasoned politician, and I’m not real crazy about that seasoning,” Kenegos said.
DSA Immigrants Rights Committee
In September 2017 Benjamin Fong, secretary of Phoenix Democratic Socialists of America, was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America Immigrants Rights Committee.
In March 2019 people involved with the Democratic Socialists of America Ecosocialist Working Group research committee included Paul Chakalian (Phoenix), Sean Estelle (Chicago), Benjamin Fong (Phoenix), Ted Franklin (East Bay), Jeff Glass (Austin), Andrew Dana Hudson (Phoenix), Taylor Hynes (NYC), David Jones (Western Montana), David Schwartzman (Metro DC), Hannah Ruth Tabler (Wichita), Sus Sunhee Volz (Philadelphia).
In August 2017 the Executive of Phoenix Democratic Socialists of America consisted of...
- Devin Howard - Chair
- Taylor Cifuentez - Vice chair
- Benjamin Fong - Secretary
- Trevor Keeley - Treasurer
Medicare for All
Socialist Forum Editorial Committee
Socialist Forum (DSA) Editorial Committee, November 2018.
- Arash Azizi
- Benjamin Fong
- Martha Gruelle
- Rafael Khachaturian
- Dan La Botz
- Chris Maisano
- Rivka Maizlish
- Kalena S. Thomhave
- Micah Uetricht