Thank you to the GOP members who voted no

Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted no. John McCain joined them. Photo by Getty Images.

 

John McCain had a choice. He could play politics and be the darling of the right wing, or he could do the right thing.

The future of the Affordable Care Act lay in his hands.

Thing is, this likely was to be his last hurrah.

Diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, he likely has little time left to him. I was afraid the irony might be lost on him — a politician who had fought against the ACA, getting the best medical care available to anyone and able to allow tens of millions of people to keep, or lose, lifesaving access to health care.

Would be make the connection? Would he see the importance of access to care for everyone, or would he continue to play politics with people’s lives?

I was truly afraid he would stand on the wrong side of history.

He chose to be on the moral side of history.

But the beautiful story in all of this is the two Republican women who stood steadfast in the face of derision and threats.

Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska never wavered in their opposition to the theft of access to care for tens of millions of Americans.

When Murkowski was threatened with official punishment in the form of retaliatory action against her constituents, she shut down her committee’s hearings on appointments to the Department of the Interior, which was the source of the threats against her.

Sen. Capito caved. I don’t know what the enticement — or the threat — was that changed her vote, but Collins and Murkowski stood firm.

I took some heat this morning because I mentioned McCain before the women in a Facebook post. I call bullshit on that.

McCain walked the farthest in his position. Maybe it was because he wants to see the whole law repealed; maybe it was because the stark reality of his own mortality has humbled him. Whatever the reason, he has saved access to health care for tens of millions of Americans.

We knew we had the votes of Murkowski and Collins; McCain’s was the miracle vote.

And while we’re talking about heroes, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii also has cancer — stage 4 kidney cancer. She also traveled to Washington to vote, making her every bit as heroic as McCain. The media haven’t picked up on it they way they did McCain, so we all need to thank her for her heroic effort.

I have written thank-you notes to all four senators.

But we have won just one battle. The occupant of the White House will not let this go. He has promised to attack it and kill it with a thousand cuts. We are not out of the woods.

So, let’s take some time to breathe this morning, but tomorrow we have to resume the fight. This is not over until every human being in the United States has full access to health care.

 

I can’t sit down

 

Marching to the Capitol with a cardboard “coffin” on Wednesday morning. I was arrested for chanting, “Kill the bill!” Photo by Religion News

 

I have been arrested again, this time for trying to speak truth to US senators.

On Tuesday, 32 of us went into the Senate gallery to watch the vote on opening “debate” on a bill that could rob 50 million Americans of access to health care by 2026.

I was hauled out of the gallery before the action began because someone noticed I had a 5×7 photo of my late son. I just thought he might like to see the circus. Honestly, I wanted to hold him up for John McCain and Mitch McConnell to see.

I spoke before we marched to the Capitol from a church a quarter mile away, begging senators to be truly pro-life and drop their effort to murder tens of thousands of Americans each year by taking away their access to health care. A portion of my remarks was picked up by Now This and the video is circulating on Facebook. I’ll be honest, I’m a little tickled by that. The more people who know about my son, the better. We have to put the faces of real people suffering the real consequences of these people’s actions.

I know some people just stumbled over the word, “murder.”  It seems so harsh. But there is no other word to describe an action that you know will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people.

So, we marched, then we stood in line for two hours waiting to get into the gallery. I got a little star struck watching Al Franken walk in. I had listened to a podcast of him being interviewed by Larry Wilmore on my drive up to Washington. He’s so smart and so funny. He’s shorter than I thought. I looked over at Mitch McConnell and remarked to the woman next to me that I think he looks even more turtle-like in person.

But before John McCain walked in and voted to open “debate” on a bill that no one has seen, I was hauled out of the gallery for having a photo of my late son. That’s right, I’m a dangerous subversive because I carried a photo.

As I was speaking to a cop, who was taking down my personal information, I heard the chanting start. Now, I don’t know if I was about to be arrested or simply banned from seeing the Senate at “work,” but I looked at the officer and took a deep breath.

The officer, whose name is Michael, and who is the same age my son was when he got sick, said, “Don’t do it.”

“I have to, ” I said. I turned my back to him and started chanting. Then with him behind me, I walked over to the line of people being taken out of the gallery.

It was a little like “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” where Spock, who is not charged with a crime, walks up to stand with Kirk and the others, saying, “I stand with my shipmates.”  I could almost hear my son laughing as that thought entered my head.

I kept chanting as Officer Michael caught up with me and held my elbow. They cuffed us behind our backs as we waited for the elevator, and my nose started itching immediately.

They took us to the building’s garage, where we were searched. As they took our jewelry, wallets, even the tissues I had tucked into my pocket, we sang freedom songs and hymns.

We sang in the paddy wagon, and we sang in the converted garage they had set up to process us. We sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “Hold On,” “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Not be Moved.” A rabbi among us taught us a Hebrew song.

The officers were all respectful and kind. Several of them even joked with us. One admitted quietly to me that he respected and admired us. Another whispered to me she was honored to be in our presence. They had several coolers filled with cold water and a half dozen big floor fans to keep the air moving in the garage to keep us comfortable. They took off the cuffs and cuffed everyone in front, which is a whole lot more comfortable. We sat on cafeteria chairs and chatted.

There were a few from the North Carolina Moral Monday Movement, including Rev. Rob Stephens and Jennifer “Jeff” Ginsburg, a hospice nurse who was arrested with me in Raleigh on May 30. Jeff, by the way, runs a small box turtle rescue operation, which makes her an expert on turtles. She agreed that McConnell is an evil turtle.

Others, including Dr. Margaret Flowers and Rev. Traci Blackmon, walked with us and sat with us, but didn’t participate in the action because of their previous arrests.

We were supposed to be given a $50 fine and released, but we were charged with disrupting the Senate, which is a slightly more serious charge and means we all have to go back for a court date.

If they think that intimidates me, they should think again. I’m fighting for the lives of every American. I’m fighting for health care as a human right. This fight is way bigger than one bereaved old woman.

After we were released, we were all hungry enough to be grateful for the cold pizza that was waiting for us across the street from where we were being held.

We called an Uber car to take us back to the church for the belongings we left there. The driver was a Muslim man from Afghanistan, who, when he found out who we were, refused to accept payment from us.

“I don’t take money from heroes,” he said.

After I gathered my things and started walking to the Metro station near the Capitol, I saw Sen. Lindsay Graham in the crosswalk. I approached and stuck out my hand.

“Senator Graham,” I said, “I’m from North Carolina.”

“Then we’re neighbors,” he said, smiling.

“I know you’re in a hurry, but I need to speak to you for just a moment.” I pulled out my photo of Mike. “This is my son who died from lack of access to health care. He was a good man, a hard worker, a community volunteer and the light of my life.”

He looked at the photo, somewhat shocked at being accosted, I think.

“”Please, please, sir, I beg you to think about the lives that will be lost, the families who will grieve, before you vote on any health care bill.”

“I will,” he said as he handed the photo back to me.

He voted against the first bill that night. I like to think he saw Mike in his head, but then he voted yes on the second bill.

I am exhausted. I am worried about my own health — I have a bunch of kidney stones — but I have access to decent care and I have to fight for those who do not.

I slept well last night, knowing I have done the right thing and that I will continue to fight these murderers. As long as my heart beats, I will continue this fight. This isn’t for or about me. This is about being truly pro-life. This is about loving my neighbor.

I’m not a hero, I’m just a person following my conscience and my faith. I know how it feels to lose a child, and I live in fear of losing my only surviving son, of outliving both of my children because of the greed of a few powerful men. This is what moves me to action.

I am standing for the lives of my fellow human beings.

I can’t sit down.

 

 

The irony of McCain’s cancer diagnosis

Photo by NBC News.

Not that many people get this, but is is more than a little ironic that John McCain’s brain tumor postponed the vote to take away access to health care for millions of Americans.

McCain was a sure “yes” vote on the “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act that Sen. Mitch McConnell was pushing. I don’t know that this diagnosis will change McCain’s mind on that vote.

Still, I would not wish this on him and I am grateful that he has access to the care he will need if he is to beat this.

My son never had that chance.

I’m being criticized today for saying this because McCain is a mean-spirited man who has fallen in willingly with thugs and thieves. He was set to help take away access to health care for 23 million Americans.

That is the aiding and abetting of murder.

To me, that doesn’t matter right now because when I say everyone deserves access to quality health care, I mean exactly that.

No one deserves to die the way my son did. No one. Period.

It would be the height of hypocrisy to stand up in public and say no one deserves to die the way my son did and then turn around and wish it on someone else, even if that someone is not a good person.

Conservatives say they don’t want universal health care because some people just want a handout.

That’s bullshit.

In my 30 years as a reporter covering social justice issues and in my nine years of health care advocacy work, I have not met anyone who just wants a handout.

My son wanted health care. He worked hard and he went to school and he was a community volunteer who gave selflessly of himself to help others.

And don’t tell me, “OK, your son deserved to live, but some people are lazy …” Who the hell are you to decide who deserves to live? Where do you get off condemning someone to die because you deem them too lazy, or too mean?

No one deserves to go without access to health care. No one. Period, end of discussion.

I don’t know John McCain personally, and I am not going to judge him other than to say he has done and said some incredibly mean-spirited things. Still, he does deserve health care.

I am grateful that his family doesn’t have to watch him die from medical neglect. Having watched my son die from lack of access to care, I am steadfast in my desire to see no one else die that way.

 

 

 

 

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