On Hartford Ave.

It’s not yet 6am and the brain isn’t awake yet, so here’s some quick impressions of last night’s Town Hall at the Johnston Senior Center.

I made a sign, ‘Health for America, Yes We Can’ in red, white and blue. I could have made one that said, ‘I would really prefer that a single-payer system like the Federal Employees insurance benefit enjoyed by Congress be made available to all but I’ll support an incremental reform like the public option now under discussion because I believe in harm-reduction and I’ll welcome any change for the better’. But the traffic whizzing by on Hartford never would have been able to read that.

The anti people had it easier. They had slogans like–‘No more taxes’. I’m sorry, I think this is dumb. We are going to pay taxes, our right and responsibility is to make sure the taxes are spent for the common good.

Anyway, since the strip of sidewalk at the entrance of the Senior Center was occupied by anti-reform people, I decided to plant myself there to make a visual statement of support–get some diversity out there.

I was next to an anti-tax guy, and I tried to start simple. ‘Do you think that every American should be able to access basic health care?’ He said the insurance companies needed reform. He started to consider that no one should be shut out of health care due to lack of money, but then backtracked. This was off the ‘no tax’ message, end of discussion. He moved to the other end of the sidewalk, and some time later another anti-tax guy showed up smoking what had to be the world’s biggest cigar. He looked real proud, I guess he had the tobacco equivalent of the Hummer. If he ever gets lung disease, are we supposed to tsk, tsk him about his ‘bad choices’? (a stupid sanctimonious phrase I hate. show me any human who never made bad choices.)

I was there about 2 hours. Passing cars honked but it was seldom sure who they were honking for. Two of us were holding signs for health care reform when a tall, blonde woman joined us with an anti sign. We eventually started talking. She complemented me on being capable of making a sign. “I didn’t know that liberals could make their own signs, I thought they just took what the Unions gave them.” We had a fascinating discussion.

She continued to use the word ‘liberal’ the way some use the word ‘queer’, that is, not in a good way. I’m still processing that having different politics would make me seem so alien to her. But I suspect she reads Ann Coulter.

I suspected other things about her. I’ve been baptized three times, never took. The most recent was in Apponaug Pentecostal Church. I have a sensitive nose for the odor of sanctity. I guessed that she was religious, and I came out as a Unitarian, just to be contrary.

She ended up telling me that the Holy Spirit told her I would accept Jesus into my heart as Lord and Savior. She was saying these words of love and holiness with eyes full of anger, with a voice high with rage. I would have been scared, but I’ve been through this before, at a much younger age. I have no use for generic love, especially when they hate everything I believe in.

The discussion stuck at the same point as all the others I’ve had at three Town Halls. Anti-tax, Christian, whatever, they say that if Americans have to die for lack of health care, that’s just how it is. They made bad choices, we can’t afford it, they should just go to the emergency room, that’s our safety net.

I left the sidewalk and checked out the Senior Center. Feelings were high, but it was an orderly question and answer session. Only one or two Larouchites remained to peddle their magazines, from a table outside the door.

Good people can disagree on how to make health care available to all Americans, but when we can’t agree whether, I don’t know what to say.

‘Yes We Can’ was the spirit that put a man on the moon. Yes, we are a great nation, and we can build a system that works well and effectively. ‘No We Can’t’ is the spirit of fear and retreat. Any action we take will be messy, will require investment today for rewards later. Inaction is worse. The least we can do is start bailing, what we really need is to patch up the holes.

How to Play God

Fascinating post on Daily Kos today, about real doctors who played god and decided who was to have a chance at staying alive.

It was the 1960’s, kidney dialysis was just being developed, and there were not enough machines to go around. Who would they treat, and how did they choose?

In nursing school we had an exercise where we had to discuss a case of 3 patients and 1 heart. Who would get the transplant? There was no right answer, the exercise was intended to get us to define the questions.

Do not doubt that Americans are dying every day, needlessly, because insurance lobbies and politicians have decided to ration care. Kidney dialysis is common today because the government stepped in to make this lifesaving treatment available to ordinary Americans.

We could reduce the number of Americans who need dialysis if we made the choice to ensure that everyone has access to primary and preventive care.

The Tough Practicality of Dr. Martin Luther King

The heat, the humidity, the hate, the stupidity… It’s hard to think straight. To my Republican friends, I apologize. The Larouchites defy categorization, and Larouche likes to run in Democratic primaries. He did pretty well at times in the South.

Of course, in the South they have a saying. ‘Just ’cause the cat has kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits.’ The Democratic Party doesn’t want anything to do with him, but they can’t legally keep him from claiming any label he wants.

Larouche accuses President Obama of failing to adopt the single-payer plan he is advocating–

There is no rational argument that can be made against LaRouche’s proposals. They provide health care and funding sources—whereas the Obama plan provides neither. What Obama’s does, instead, is to provide a British-Nazi-style apparatus to kill people, as part of a British imperial drive to utterly destroy the only threat to their world domination, the republic of the United States. And that must be stopped.

I don’t know how long Larouche has had any interest in health care, but he has a history of attacking politicians from both the left and the right flank. I don’t stay up at night worrying that the Redcoats are coming, but some do. The British, of course, have a single-payer system that insures all their citizens.

Insuring all our citizens is not an agreed goal. I talked to a lot of people at the Town Hall meetings, and often the same ones who were carrying signs about the evils of rationing explained to me that some Americans were just going to have to die of preventable diseases.

Reasons offered–
We don’t have enough doctors.
We don’t have enough money.
They made bad choices and chose not to buy insurance–tough luck.
Women have too many babies they can’t afford. (This from a man who said he was a pro-lifer)
The Constitution doesn’t mention health insurance.
They can go to the Emergency Room.
Most of them are illegal aliens anyway.

I am not an economist or a Constitutional scholar. All I can offer is my own witness to the waste, stupidity, heartlessness and mis-allocation of resources that I see every day in our current ‘system’. I think that some of the anger being turned against efforts to fix this mess comes from a sense of the insecurity most of us face with our job-linked insurance. We need reform and we need it now.

I recognized the Larouche disciples because I had encountered them in New Hampshire, in 1977, when I was part of the Clamshell Alliance organization against nuclear power. The Clam was an education in all that can go wrong and right with a political organization. I remember hearing rumors that provocateurs had infiltrated, and finding the thought laughable. We were quite capable of fouling things up on our own without outside help. But years later Freedom of Information Act records showed that there were indeed spies and provocateurs.

Which leads me to the tough practicality of Martin Luther King. Nonviolence and civility are morally powerful tools for persuading opponents and winning allies. They are also powerful safeguards against infiltrators who try to undermine your cause by provoking violence in word or deed.

When I went to the Town Hall, I did not name-call, my sign was pro-reform, not anti anyone. I talked to people and tried to use persuasion. I clapped for Rep. Langevin, to let him know he had supporters, but I didn’t boo anyone.

To my Republican friends, I would ask you to strongly disown the Nazi and ‘death panel’ rhetoric, and all who use them. If the Larouchites show up with their sign tell them that they do not represent your views. Stop accepting their magazines with the vile picture on the back cover. To my Democratic friends, I would remind you that non-violence and civility are the tools of the strong. There were a good number of people in West Warwick who were not from there. There will be no shortage of provocation. Counter lies with truth- the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

At Warwick City Hall

If I had known I would have brought a sign. I got there at 3:30 and the anti-reform people were out in force, at least a hundred were there already. The pro-reform people arrived later, but enough were able to get inside to form a loud cheering section for Congressman Langevin to balance out the loud boos.

A couple of young men had set up a lunch table as a slam at ACORN, who they believed was going to lure hundreds to the site at noon by offering box lunches. I didn’t see ACORN anywhere, and the lunch table was wilting in the sun.

I got into conversation with one of them, a guy named Ryan. He had studied government and business, I work in nursing. I told him what I see happen to Americans who don’t get coverage until their health is wrecked and they qualify for disability. He acknowledged that people die for lack of care but said we can’t afford to cover everyone, and we don’t have enough doctors. If people choose not to get insurance they take the consequences. ‘This is not a Democracy’, he said, ‘it’s a Constitutional Republic.’ Not being a political scientist, I had no answer for this. I heard the same words exactly from a questioner inside later, so this is a talking point, clearly.

Ryan and I talked back and forth, but finally could agree only on the point that disease is bad and cures are welcome. At least the conversation was civil. I told Ryan that this ‘Nazi’ talk was offensive and he denied that anyone from their side would use such language. I was almost embarrassed to have brought it up. But before the line of citizens was allowed into the hall, someone had set up a huge picture of Barack Obama with a Hitler mustache, and later I saw a woman holding a glossy magazine with the same picture on the back cover. There was a bald guy with a bullhorn wearing ‘Joker’ makeup, I tried to make eye contact but maybe my nurse’s scrubs put him off, he avoided me.

A couple of Brown medical students were there in doctor garb advocating for the public option. Some friends over age 65 came with signs for health care reform.

Chris Young’s associate, a pretty young woman I have seen with him at hearings before, was holding an anti-abortion sign. This led to me getting into another conversation, with an intense man who decried ‘ripping babies from the womb’, but supported the Governor cutting insurance for pregnant women because women shouldn’t have babies they can’t afford. I guess I’m fortunate that my father was in the Army when I was born, and my mother got government health insurance.

To both of these men I argued that Medicare lifts a burden off my generation by giving us peace of mind about our parent’s medical care. Neither of them really had an answer to that, other than that Medicare’s okay, but we don’t want any expansion.

Having arrived so early I was toward the front of the line, I think about 400 were able to get in, filling all the seats and the gallery in back, with about 10 people in wheelchairs down front.

A screen displayed myths and facts about the health care legislation.

The Congressman was calm, had answers to all the questions, and firm on the benefits of reform and expanding coverage. There were many questions, mostly from the opposition. Many had come prepared with speeches, they were generally able to be heard.

It would have been even better if a loud contingent, mostly in the center of the room, had not taken the call to shut down discussion so literally. They hollered, they booed, they even drowned out questions from their own side, prompting others to yell, ‘shut up’. They set a nasty tone and slowed everything down. Chris Young hollered, he was escorted out, he came back and began hollering at intervals again. His associate shrieked, but only once. Thank you for your restraint, miss.

One of the most interesting moments was when a man with an accent asked if the plan would fill America’s hospitals with illegal aliens working as doctors and nurses so that we wouldn’t have to pay citizens. He heard it on Glenn Beck.

Many of my fellow-workers in health care were born outside of the US. They are here legally. We all undergo background checks every time we change jobs. Is it going to be open season on them now? A woman sitting in front of me, when Congressman Langevin asked ‘who are the uninsured?’ shouted–‘illegal aliens!’

The town hall wrapped up sometime around 7:30. The shouters managed to obstruct enough to prevent a large number of people from having a chance to speak by slowing things down.

Outside, the crowd was exuberant, the cameras were there. The anti-reform group had won the PR contest.

We don’t have a health care system. We have a fragmented mess. I think some of the fuel for this anger is a justified sense of insecurity. I think the blame is misplaced and that delay and half-measures will cost more and accomplish less.

I had a sense of religious zeal when I heard people speak about the ‘free market’– a faith I don’t share. But I’m a Unitarian, and I believe in the worth and dignity of every person, so religion motivates me as well.

I was not expecting to be face to face with nice, well-informed people who conceded that Americans will die for lack of care, but that’s how it is. It’s a philosophical gap I can’t get over.