Friday, November 6, 2009

"All We Want is Medicare For All"

The foggy mid-October air was charged with a certain excitment as the twelve of us approached the office building in hopes of making a strong statement for our cause. For many of us in that group, including me, it would be our first civil disobedience arrest. Several police officers were waiting for us on the corner as we went to cross the street. They were there to warn us that the building was on lockdown in anticipation of our planned action. Therefore, we would not be able to enter the Blue Cross insurance office on the third floor. That was fine with us. We were there to get our point across in whatever way we could. At least a hundred people participated in the Mobilization for Health Care for All demonstration that morning.

At a time when healthcare reform is in the national spotlight, our participation is an important part of the process. Not only does it show the politicians what is important to the American people, but we are also making the issue more real to the average citizen. It is criminal that a nation that can afford to be the number one military power and presence cannot provide adequate health care to its residents. It's not that we can't afford such a system of service. Instead the problem lies in the fact that taking care of our health has become a business like any other. Medical service has become a commodity to be bought, rather than a human right.

In such a business, the goal is not the well-being of the "customers", but a maximization of profit. Insurance companies have found that they can make more money by finding ways to deny care, even to the very people who are paying them (the less money they spend on actual care, the more they can keep in the bank). For example, at the rally on October 15th, Hilda Sarkisyan spoke the the gathered crowd and surrounding policemen about her 17year old daughter Nataline. In 2007, Nataline was denied a doctor requested liver transplant that would have saved her life, because the insurance company claimed that it was an "experimental" procedure (a claim that the doctors faught hard against). Her family was fully covered by insurance giant Cigna. If the Sarkisyans had lived in a country like Canada, perhaps, where health is not a means of making money, but a service, maybe Nataline would be here now. Perhaps she would be in college at this time. And if the transplant did not work, as it was a "high risk procedure", at least she would have been given a chance.

On the fifteenth of October, we were there at Blue Cross to fight for the rights and lives of people like Nataline. Our arrest that day was symbolic, a picture of people willing to sacrifice their own freedom in order that change might come. The organizer of the action, our friend Sam Pullen, took that sacrifice a step further. He refused to cooperate in a way the would let him be released that day. Sam's mother was denied a life-saving bone marrow transplant by Blue Cross many years ago and he wanted to carry her story with him to jail. She eventually got the care she needed because she fought the insurance company to get it. Sam's efforts last month were successful, landing him 5 days in jail and the eventual dropping of all charges. More than that, he brought awareness to the issue through news media interviews and brought a "cause" to the inmates that weekend. He speaks of the experience with a rightful sense of pride.

What I will never forget from my first civil disobedience action on October 15th is the unity I felt with the others who were arrested that day. While the cops were organizing themselves to take us away, we sat in a large circle, blocking the doors to the building. We sang songs of justice and held hands, brandishing our bright orange T-Shirts which screamed in purple capitals,"PATIENTS NOT PROFITS! MEDICARE FOR ALL!" There was some fear and apprehension (especially in those of us for which this was a new experience), but we stayed strong throughout, never losing our voices. Along the way, we made friendly with the authorities who dealt with us and found support for our cause in the places you may not expect to find it. Though the ordeal was over by mid-afternoon for most of us (we were released by 4:30), it is far from actually over. Not only does it live on in the memories of many and in the news stories it generated, but the fight for health care for all goes on. The Mobilize for Health Care for All campaign has continued since its grand beginnings on the 15th of October to include at least twenty other cities, over 60 more arrests and more action in Los Angeles, as well.

And even if the Health Care reform bill turns out to be a huge disappointment (as it looks to be right now), we will continue to push on and to sing, "all we want is Medicare for all!"

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