Occupy Evening Shift

Bearing Witness

Mr. Green and I stopped by this morning and heard that help would be needed to keep a peaceful presence at Burnside Park, when the Occupation would move to the State House.

What with one thing and another, I didn’t get Downtown until about 6pm, after the demonstration, and I decided to stay at the Park and find some useful thing to do.

Sometimes that useful thing is simply being there, which I’m good at so that’s what I did.

I stationed myself at the plywood booth and kept people company. I spent a long time talking to a woman who, in my nursing opinion, urgently needs preventive care and education now. She is one of the many underinsured. She pays a lot for catastrophic insurance but has a heavy co-pay for the medications and tests she needs, which sometimes makes that care unaffordable.

I felt a little like a mechanic, trying to convince someone that their engine will fail down the line if they don’t get their oil changed. And knowing that the driver is using every penny to fill the gas tank to drive to work. To earn the money to keep the car. The difference is that a car is replaceable and a human life is not.

So next time I stop by with coffee I’ll bring some information about health care options for that percent of the 99% that has no health care security.

What stays with me is the good cheer of the Occupiers even in biting cold and facing each day without any idea what the next 24 hours will bring.

People stopped by the booth, some Occupiers, (including one guy in a wheelchair who has been putting in effort that endurance athletes would respect), old people, young people, donators and hungry people.

A young couple showed up with a tin tray of felafel and hummus. We put them out and explained to people what those fried chick pea balls were and recommending the hummus if you wanted to really appreciate them. I came away with part of a large bag of spinach there was no way to cook in the Park, so I’ll have to invent an Occupy Rustic Urban Greens recipe.

Someone stopped by with gloves, much appreciated.

This week there was another report of a fire department that refused to put out a fire because the the homeowners had failed to pay a fee. I posted on this once before, and got a refutation from a firefighter who said he knew the details of the case, and who said that my post set off his PTSD. Is it possible that our Nation has fallen into such confusion that we are breaking the hearts of the most brave and dedicated of our citizens?

What is the American spirit? Is it the spirit of the bucket brigade, the barn raising, the men and women filling sandbags when the levees break? Or is it the spirit fear and scarcity? The politician who gets elected on promises of tax cuts? The politician who fuels resentment against the poor? Is it the spirit of the gated community–raising the walls and narrowing the gates, believing that resources are valuable and humans are cheap?

I was sitting in Burnside Park, and did not get to hear the Native American drum ceremony that was performed at the State House. The history of the Narragansetts has much to teach us about change, accommodation, justice and injustice. Who has the right to Occupy what is debatable.

We are here now, under a full moon in an unnatural December when the weather has just turned from a prolonged mild fall to winter.

In the cold, in tents, We the People are petitioning for justice. It’s hard to pin this down, without leader or slogan. 99% is a lot. This is the tipping point where the economic pain affects so many people that a cry for justice cannot be ignored.

It’s amazing that Occupy Providence prevails. What the Occupiers are doing is being there. Like Gandhi’s fasts, it gets to you. Day after day– they are there. They are there for all of us.

Save RIPTA

For all my voting life I have been pulling the lever for transportation bonds that put big bucks into highways. I do it to authorize the pocket change for public transit included in the small print.

Being both a car owner and bus rider I say it’s time to balance the funding and build up RIPTA.

Fuel costs, congestion and a tough economy make convenient and accessible bus service a good choice for commuting to work. If drivers spend less time in traffic jams that’s a plus for our economy and air quality.

RIDE transports Rhode Islanders who use wheelchairs to essential doctor’s appointments. Without RIDE, private ambulances would have fill that need, at a much higher cost to taxpayers. We save a lot with wise use of public services.

Our aging citizens are afraid to give up driving– even when they don’t feel safe– because they have no good alternative. We need more public transit, and will continue to need an increase year by year.

I was downtown last week, waiting 40 minutes for the #42 Hope Street— a busy route. It reminded me that every cut to numbers of runs leaves people waiting longer. For someone who takes the bus every day to work that’s a bite of their time, an example of how cuts are a tax.

Advocates for RIPTA are meeting at the State House this Wednesday, 8/17. You can get details here…
Save RIPTA Blogspot

Testimony at the State House

We waited in room 313 for about seven hours to testify, but we were grateful to have chairs. I give credit for everyone who stuck it out, regardless of their point of view. Even Chris Young waited until after he had testified to start with the cops and get thrown out.

This is my written testimony– by the time we were called we had decided to shorten our remarks as it was after 11:00 and people were wilting. Wild night, but now I have to get to work.

Marriage is not just a privilege, but a responsibility. I’ve had patients whose spouses were introduced as ‘friend’ or ‘room mate’. They were afraid of how the staff might treat them, but love is hard to conceal. We knew when we were dealing with a couple.

There’s a saying in nursing, ‘discharge planning begins on the day of admission’. You look for a responsible party, usually family. If it were not for the support of family and friends, the state would be impossibly burdened and still fail to meet the needs of citizens suffering illness, accident or misfortune.

Married people care for one another in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.

John Green and I were married 22 years when we got a phone call that his mother had died, suddenly and unexpectedly. As we faced this loss together, I knew that I would someday need to lean on him. Marriage sustains us when we must say goodbye to our parents and elders.

There is great benefit to society when committed couples marry. They publicly and legally take responsibility for each other.

What benefit to the rest of us justifies denying homosexual couples the right to legal marriage? Who are these people who claim to be protecting my marriage? I’ve been married 28 years and they don’t speak for me. They slander my friends and acquaintances who happen to be gay. They act like my church, which has blessed same-sex unions since the 1970’s does not exist. They say gay couples are a threat to marriage, but Massachusetts is doing just fine.

Rhode Island is facing challenges to do right by our families and children. Education, employment, safe streets and affordable housing need our urgent attention. This is what will really protect our families. Encouraging couples to take on the responsibility of marriage will lift a burden from the state, and bring justice to our citizens.

Loved and Missed

A candlelight service was held last night at the State House for Dave St. Germain. It was the right place, Dave was such a presence there. It was a warm night with a gentle breeze, unlike the many bitter winter days we gathered for the causes that Dave devoted his life to.  His brother-in-law spoke and his family received condolences from his many friends. Dave’s life was a long and complicated story. We say the system failed him, and as his friend I regret not staying closer. I knew that he lived with pain, but not that he felt despair.

A system is made up of individuals, each one human and fallible. People usually want to do the right thing. In a more merciful world we would do it more often. Dave worked for that world, and that is what he leaves us.

MERI Rally at the State House

Marriage Equality Rhode Island

Just a quick post before I go to the gym.

It was almost Spring this morning but by 4pm a fierce icy wind was blowing, chilling the long line of people waiting to get into the State House.

I don’t know how many attended, but the center and the two staircases were full. I couldn’t see over the crowd, and had to go to the third floor to find a space at the railing to look down at the speakers. Unfortunately, it was hard to hear up there looking down at the tops of people’s heads.

It was a happy, spirited gathering. There were many distinguished speakers, among them Mayor Cicciline, candidate Lincoln Chafee, Sen. Frank Ferri (who got huge applause), candidate Patrick Lynch, and Sen. Rhoda Perry.  I saw lots of Unitarians, the East Greenwich congregation and my minister James Ford of First UU in Providence. Several other members of the clergy, in suits, vestments, yarmulke, were standing in front, a testimony to the existence of liberal religion.

The organizers did a great job, keeping it focused and just long enough.

Rainbow Flag, White Marble

It gives me kind of a buzz to hear all these tributes to the right to marry. Kind of revives the romance.

Looking at the size and diversity of the crowd, a strong and empowered gay community and as many straight supporters, a range of ages and races and personal style, clergy, politicians and a group of Brown University medical students– it’s clear that the time has come to respect marriage as a civil right.

I attended a hearing at the State House about a year ago on competing bills that would ban or legalize same-sex marriage. A member of the senate said that he intended to make gay marriage a ‘litmus test’. Certainly politicians have won votes by demonizing gay people, aided by religious groups that want the government to enforce their moral code.

My own marriage would have been invalid in some states prior to 1967, when Mildred and Richard Loving took their case to the Supreme Court and won for everyone the right to marry who we love regardless of race. I sometimes wonder what kind of hate and fear would have been created by politicians looking for a ‘litmus test’ if we had to fight the battle for interracial marriage state by state. It is still not comfortable for many people. But Mildred Loving, in one of her last public statements before she died, gave her support to same-sex marriage.

I also notice that interracial marriage is uncommon. The fact that it is legal did not create a rush to marry across racial lines, and it didn’t even cause same-race couples to break up.

The New York Times has a weddings and celebrations page. Most of the couples pictured are opposite sex, same race. Some weeks there are no same-sex couples at all. Not even in sinful New York. I hear that in Massachusetts heterosexuals still marry. In fact, they do a pretty good job of staying married.

But we’ve heard it all before. The legislature was going to have a hearing on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Coincidentally the hearing was postponed. Looking at that happy, motivated and very large crowd I think I know why.

UPDATE: The ProJo says there were more than 400.

Rally at the State House

Just got back from a candlelight vigil for health care at the State House. Organizers from Progressive Democrats of America estimated the crowd at over 200.

The three Town Hall meetings were exercises in facing hostile crowds but this rally was like coffee hour after church. A few counter-demonstrators tried to interrupt the speeches, but the moderator, Dave St.Germain, had a bullhorn and the antis were pretty much ignored. Dave kept things focused and paced the event so well that people stayed to talk afterward. He introduced speakers who shared a personal perspective on our health care system–

Hanna Watson, a medical student, had a patient who brought her small daughter to a gyn office visit. The woman had no general medical doctor, and she did not dare to go to the emergency room for a cardiac workup she desperately needed. They say you can always go to the emergency room, but the bill will soon follow, and the bill collectors are relentless.

Nancy St. Germain, (not related to Dave) who was introduced by Rep. Langevin at the Warwick Town Hall, shared her experience of losing her job and her home when she was hospitalized for brain cancer. She had good insurance–until she got sick. Her story shows how easy it is to lose all you’ve worked for when your benefits are tied to your job.

We broke up into small groups to share our stories. A full moon was rising, downtown was beautiful and the candles were flickering. I spoke with a pediatrician, a med student and a small business owner. There was a woman whose friends, in their fifties and too young for Medicare, could not get insurance. There was a man who was self-employed, could not get insurance, and ended up with a huge debt when he had an accident.

I was struck by the diversity of the group, in age, race and politics. Some held signs for single-payer, some for public option. All of us were there because we want to see every American get health care when they need it. In the greatest country in the world we shouldn’t settle for less.

One legislator who supports health insurance reform, and who knows more than most about survival–Jim Langevin, spoke at a rally at Women and Infants earlier today. Rhode Island’s Future covers the event.

ProJo.com covers both, and the comment section is active.