* Was a leader of the Students for a Democratic Society at Harvard University in the 1960s
* Longtime Communist Party member
* Advocates “single-payer,” government-run healthcare
Peter Orris was born in Los Angeles in 1945 and was raised in New York City. His father, Leo Orris, was a physician and a member of the Communist Party.
At age eleven, Peter Orris joined the Students for a Sane Nuclear Policy, which opposed the testing of atomic weapons. Around that same time, he participated in the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, a nonviolent march supporting the recent Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation. In 1958 and 1959 in the District of Columbia, Orris took part in both the first and second Youth Marches for Integrated Schools. Also during his high-school years, he became involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1963 Orris served as an intern for the national headquarters of the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
While studying biology at Harvard College, Orris continued his political activism with CORE and SNCC. He also aligned himself with the Northern Student Movement and the Civil Rights Coordinating Committee, and he joined the radical Students for a Democratic Society as well as Harvard’s Socialist Club.
In the spring of 1964, Orris went to Mississippi to participate in the Freedom Summer voter-registration activities organized by SNCC. Arrested at one point for disturbing the peace and picketing at a courthouse, he was held in a Mississippi jail for ten days, during which time he staged a four-or-five-day hunger strike. Orris also participated in a sit-in at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, to promote the agendas of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
After graduating from Harvard in 1967, Orris went on to earn a master’s degree at the Yale School of Public Health in 1970, and an MD at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University in 1975.
In 1972, Orris and Quentin Young were among the founders of the Chicago Area Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit organization of unions as well as health and legal professionals.
By the 1970s as well, Orris had become a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). In 1976 he was nominated as an elector for the Illinois CPUSA presidential ticket of Gus Hall and Jarvis Tyner.
While still a CPUSA member in 1987, Oris collaborated with Quentin Young to establish Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization advocating a “single-payer,” government-run healthcare system.
On November 16, 1989, Orris helped sponsor an event held by the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights (CCDBR), a CPUSA front group to which he belonged. The event was a tribute to the artist Leon Golub and the left-wing activist/philanthropist Lucy Montgomery, both of whom had recently died.
In December 1991, Orris and several hundred CPUSA members signed a document titled “An initiative to Unite and Renew the [Communist] Party.” Orris and most of his fellow signatories, however, left the Party soon thereafter and established the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS).
In 2000, Orris served on the welcoming committee of a memorial service which was held for Richard Criley, a longtime CPUSA activist and a leader of the CCDBR.
In July 2002 at San Francisco State University, Orris was a panelist at a CCDS national conference on the theme of “Disarmament and the Military Budget.”
A longtime advocate of “single-payer,” government-run healthcare, Orris was one of several medical professionals from the Doctors Council of SEIU who traveled to Washington, DC on June 25, 2009, to participate in a massive Capitol Hill rally in behalf of healthcare reform.
In September 2015, Orris spoke at “Beyond the Affordable Care Act: Lessons from Other Countries” — an event run by the Healthcare Access Coalition, which favors a single-payer system.
Orris today is the head of the clinical department at the University of Illinois Medical Center. He is also a senior attending physician in the Division of Occupational Medicine at the Stroger Hospital of Cook County, where he has worked since the early 1980s.
Over the course of his professional career, Orris has served as an adviser with the American College of Physicians, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the AFSCME, the American Public Health Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Public Health Committee of the Chicago Medical Society, the SEIU, UNITE-HERE, the National Physicians Alliance, Greenpeace USA’s Toxics Campaign, and several corporations in the Chicago area. He also has been a member of the American Public Health Association and the SEIU’s Board of Physicians for Responsible Negotiations. And he was once the board president of the Chicago Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Orris’s sister, Maxine Orris, is a New York physician who received her medical training in Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba.
For additional information on Peter Orris’s professional activities and affiliations, click here.
Further Reading: “Peter Orris” (Eyes on the Prize Interviews, Keywiki.org); “Barack Obama and the Socialist Healthcare Scamsters” (by Trevor Loudon, 11-26-2009); “Oral History with Dr. Peter Orris” (11-21-1995).