Getting to Know Melinda St. Louis

Public Citizen News / November-December 2019

By Elizabeth Gonzalez

This article appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

When not singing in a band or writing original songs, St. Louis is running Public Citizen’s Medicare for All campaign. St. Louis grew up in Morgantown, W.Va., and Pittsburgh, Pa., and received her bachelor’s degree at Penn State and her master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University. She began her activism in high school when she started an Amnesty International chapter after finding the organization’s table at a U2 concert. Since then, St. Louis has led multiple campaigns that challenge corporate power and promote economic justice and human rights.

St. Louis has worked in Washington, D.C., all her life. She began her career as a regional organizer with the Campaign for Labor Rights. St. Louis then moved on to Witness for Peace, where she moved up the ranks from policy analyst and educator to executive director. St. Louis joined Jubilee USA Network as its deputy director in 2009 and for two years directed policy analysis, strategy and advocacy. In June 2011, St. Louis became the international campaigns director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and in November 2018 she transitioned to run Public Citizen’s Medicare for All campaign.

Q: What does your day-to-day work consist of?

St. Louis: I work to expand and deepen the coalition of organizations that are actively engaged in campaigning for Medicare for All. I am working with a team to engage Public Citizen’s members and grassroots allies around the country to urge their members of Congress to co-sponsor Medicare for All legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and to pass city and county council resolutions that support Medicare for All. I also craft easy-to-digest messaging and educate the public and policymakers in an effort to counter the misinformation campaign waged by our corporate opponents.

Q: What would you say is the most misunderstood idea about Medicare for All?

St. Louis: The idea that the health care system we have today is working and benefiting all Americans. The reality is that we can’t afford our current, for-profit, fragmented private health insurance system. We spend more than double on health care per person than any other comparable country and yet we allow 30,000 people to die needlessly due to lack of health care each year. We absolutely can afford to provide comprehensive health care for everyone in the United States without spending any more than we currently do on health care if we eliminate the profit and waste from our fragmented system.

Q: What sparked your interest in campaigning for Medicare for All?

St. Louis: While working as international campaigns director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, I collaborated with my dear friend Zahara Heckscher, who battled advanced breast cancer, helping her to get arrested three times in an effort to raise awareness about the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s “death sentence clause” that would lock in extended monopolies for biologic medicines needed to treat her cancer. She passed away in February 2018, and her strength to fight for access to affordable medicines for all inspired me to take this opportunity to continue the fight against Big Pharma and build our grassroots campaign to guarantee health care to every U.S. resident.

Q: You sing in a band. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

St. Louis: I sing in a band with the managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. In addition to a repertoire of danceable covers that we play at weddings, we have started writing original music! I also really like writing political song parodies and chants.