But luckily, we know how to fix it!
It’s been a week since I returned from the Healthcare-NOW! conference in Houston and I think I’m finally coming back to Earth after feeling like I’d been zapped with some magical sort of enthusiastic energy and renewed resolve.
This was the first time I’d attended a single-payer conference and I was blown away by the variety of people and organizations represented there from all over the U.S. And I have to say that the Texans who hosted us proved that, contrary to certain Republican presidents and presidential candidates, the Lone Star state is full of smart, passionate, talented people whose minds and hearts reflect the size of the state they live in. And Cathy, a special shout out to you for reminding me of that all-too-rare-these-days instrument, the auto-harp!
And how exciting to meet some of the “stars” of the single-payer movement! Chicago’s own Claudia Fegan, past president of PNHP and chief medical officer at Chicago’s Stroger Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital); Healthcare-NOW!’s Katie Robbins, who I’ve come to know through e-mail and videos of her delivering Kleenex to John Boehner’s office and leading the Healthcare for the 99% mic check outside St. Vincent’s Hospital in NYC; the inspiring Vanessa Beck, who I never met while she was in Chicago, but who is now leading Healthcare-NOW! forward in Philadelphia and who was an early supporter of DUH; and Margaret Flowers, Congressional Fellow for PNHP, liaison with Occupy D.C., and while small in stature, huge in energy and dedication to the cause.
If there was one thing that was a disappointment, it was that there wasn’t time to actually sit down and have a conversation with any of those activists, let alone my fellow attendees. In addition to seeing the familiar face (and fantastic hair!) of Marilena from Chicago, I met her ChiSPAN cohort Peggy Lalone (finally, after months of Facebook friendship); I was lucky to meet Rachel from Cleveland (whose last name I’m sorry to say I forget) on the plane and we shared a taxi together, as well as being table-mates on Saturday; Laurie Simons and Terry Sterrenberg, producers/directors of “The Healthcare Movie” were so inspiring, as is the film; Laurie Wen, doctor/activist from NYC; Beverly from New York; Michael from Oregon – so wonderful to meet one of “my people” from the AIDS community in the midst of a crowd who probably had little or no knowledge of what ADAP even is; Kathleen from Texas who facilitated our table’s group on Sunday; Lisa from Georgia who touched my heart by adding DUH to the end of her single-payer anthem; Burt, who generously gave me advice drawn from his years of experience in Congress; and to all who welcomed the announcement of DUH with eager enthusiasm, if I hadn’t already KNOWN it is the right thing to do, your support would’ve confirmed it and certainly now serves to spur me on. I went there hoping to form alliances with people around the country who would want to participate in DUH, perhaps “mobilize their base” to join in, and I left feeling like a good many of them would indeed work to make sure that DUH is too big to fail.
So, yes, there can be no argument that we have a huge problem with our healthcare system in this country. But we also have a growing army of universal healthcare activists who are ready with the solution. Over the course of 14 hours, 150 people from dozens of states talked about maximizing our message during the election cycle; forming alliances with the Occupy movement; what we can do to keep Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid functioning as we continue the fight for universal healthcare; building and improving our specific organizations; the importance of divesting our money away from the insurance and pharmaceutical companies; and forming relationships and coalitions with organizations fighting for other worthy causes (immigrants’ rights, environmental groups, workers’ rights, etc.).
There was a ton of energetic, creative, intelligent work crammed into that weekend and I think we all left feeling like there is more to come, whether it’s in our individual organizations, our local and state legislatures, our personal social circles, or through the opportunity that DUH gives us to draw the attention of the nation to our fight. But though we know the work will have to continue, all the conference participants left with the reaffirmed knowledge that none of us are alone in this fight.
As Ken Kenegos from Healthcare for All Texas put it, “You can’t opt out of healthcare – you’ve got a body, you’re involved.”