Sunday, December 30, 2007 8:57 PM
Sunday, December 23, 2007 11:28 AM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
DENVER – Full of irony. That is how I would best describe 2007. I began this year with fear and anticipation and with a healthy dose of shame thrown in. And I will begin 2008 with more depth of spirit and fewer illusions.
As 2007 dawned, we were still living with our daughter and trying to find ways to stay emotionally afloat. Anyone who saw ‘SiCKO’ knows that there was much more going on in our family than just health care woes. Our financial failure had made us much more vulnerable to the judgments of those around us – including some who found it acceptable to openly assess our lives and offer their superior advice about why we landed ourselves in trouble and how we could lift ourselves out.
Funny how financial weakness seems to make it open season for that sort of thing. Some folks reserved their judgment and waited to see if our appearance in 'SiCKO' would lift us out of our financial problems or at least give us fame and a little fortune. A few even pushed us onward toward whatever the experience would bring our way.
But in early 2007, we could not have seen how our inclusion in Michael Moore’s ‘SiCKO’ and the release of that film would alter that reality for us. Oh we knew the obvious consequences like the vitriolic musings of conservatives who wince and whine and fuss and fume at the mere mention of Michael Moore or the less obvious issues, such as the loss of income and loss of relationships associated with our post-SiCKO-release lives.
By early summer, our lives began to transform. We were now in a small apartment of our own, and the film’s pending release included travel plans to various cities for the openings. New York City, Washington, D.C., Denver, Los Angeles, Atlanta – all in nine days. Ironic how we were not certain where our next rent payment would come from but jetting around the country.
Then in July, I testified for a committee of the House Judiciary in the U.S. House of Representatives. The healing of spirit that had begun on a movie screen in Manhattan blossomed into political resolve and outright commitment.
We began intense political activities including visiting our own Congressional members in Washington, formed a patients' political lobby group (American Patients for Universal Health Care or APUHC), and planned a national health justice vigil.
We took part in the first leg of the SiCKO Cure National Road Show -- traveling to 12 states, 22 Congressional districts and scores of cities from Illinois southward through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. We met thousands of kind and generous Americans who believe the health system is beyond the point where small fixes will suffice.
I flew to speak at Wellesley College in Boston, Seattle Central Community College and in Pueblo, Colorado, where lively discussions of 'SiCKO' brought out students, faculty, providers, patients, pundits and lots of other people who care deeply about making the health care system better for us all.
We end 2007 on the highest of notes tempered with reality. I face joining the ranks of the uninsured of this nation for the first time in my life. My COBRA premiums are too high and the company issuing the policy threatened cancellation when my last payment was a couple days late due to a check sent to me being delayed by harsh winter weather. I probably won't win the reinstatement battle and will have to purchase some sort of high-risk pool coverage or do as so many millions of Americans do know -- go bare and pray.
Larry is covered by Medicare and a supplemental policy which we just found out is doing him little real good and costing us an extra $90 a month. So we'll adjust that and take a chance that we've made the right adjustment. And we're just one American family wondering what will happen with our coverage and our care in 2008 should we get sick.
But we'll also march confidently into 2008 knowing that this year, real political change is possible if we all want it badly enough. Out there on the happy American trails, we hope to see you and add you to our army of new friends and fellow citizens who really do still believe in the power of this democracy and its power to heal even this crisis.
As I told some leary co-workers as we headed for New York back in June for the 'SiCKO' premiere, "So long, I'm off to change the world." Won't you join us? Thanks to 'SiCKO' and to Michael Moore and to a few brave U.S. Congressional members, that's not an empty invitation. We are in this together and thank God we are.
Cheers and Happy New Year to all.
Thursday, December 20, 2007 1:53 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
DENVER -- 'Tis the season for Christians to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We reflect on that manger scene more than 2,000 years ago, and we look with wonder on all that our faith and the grace of God has given us.
I join in the spirit of this season, but I also feel a sense of loneliness and sadness when I think about what modern day Christianity has proclaimed as the legacy of our Prince of Peace.
Since my husband and I appeared in Michael Moore’s ‘SiCKO’ this year, we have become even more aware of the inconsistencies between Christ’s message of love and healing and what is preached today in many, if not most, Protestant Christian churches in the U.S.
Pastors, including our own in a small Wesleyan church here in Colorado, pray for our troops and for those in war zones thousands of miles away (as well we should) but will not pray for this nation to care for its sick or its poor. Oh, yes, at Christmastime we may take up special offerings for the unfortunates among us, but we dare not talk about the greed and the profit-mongering that strips the weak of any regress or respect.
In the most conservative, right-wing churches, pastors openly pray about political issues, and the anti-abortion issue tops the list of those purported to be the will of God and his son, the Christ child. Apparently, God wants to protect the unborn American babies but cares not about an Iraqi or Afghani child or mother or father. And the Christ touted by this breed of modern Christian would just as soon allow the sick to die as ask each of us to care for one another or truly love one another, as the Bible taught me many years ago.
I have heard a message of universal and loving care for the sick preached in a church in North Carolina where the African American congregation knows more about hurt and suffering than most of my suburban neighbors can even imagine. But in my own church, we whisper about my participation in the movement to provide universal health care to all – we speak in hushed tones as though we fear the godly might learn of a leper in their midst.
But then I remember what a dear friend of ours preached in her church many years ago on Christmas Eve in 1993. We went to church services that evening to try to reconcile our hurt about a horrific crime in our neighborhood pizza parlor, where our young son Russell worked. Four of Russell’s co-workers were shot and killed and another seriously wounded by a disgruntled worker. Russell had just punched out and come home when the former employee staged his rampage. We were so grateful Russ was spared but struggled with the reasons why the others were not.
Mother Carolyn Davis, Episcopal priest, preached that night that Christ was not born into a perfect, sin-free world. No, she said, “Into this mess He was born.” And she said He came to bring hope and love and the message of true peace among all men and women. Into this mess, indeed.
So this year, I welcome my Christ, once again, into this mess where we seem to be so stuck on selfishness and vanity and greed and where we are often so certain that we are better than those who suffer. And I welcome Him again with hope for a brighter future where the principles of his love are not threatening but embraced in a nation and world so deeply in need of healing.
And, yes, I pray for the day when my church family returns to the true meaning of God’s message for all, where healing the sick and loving the poor is a sign of our strength and our love not of our neighbors’ weakness.
Merry Christmas to all my ‘SiCKO’ friends and family. And to my fellow Americans who know in their hearts and souls that we are better people than what we have been showing one another in recent years, I wish us all a more compassionate and a more prosperous new year. I believe the two ideas are forever intertwined, and as a Christian I believe we can share both with one another. In fact, I think that’s what my Christ hoped we would do – even for the least among us.
Labels: Donna Smith, SiCKO
Friday, December 14, 2007 3:49 PM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
MORGANTOWN, West Virginia -- The SiCKO-Cure Road Show crew spent the day in West Virginia meeting with medical students, physicians, local activists, nurses and community members though a heavy rain fell and threatened to leave flooding in its wake. Just as they have found in every city and state they have visited since leaving Chicago on Nov. 11, the road show team met concerned Americans with thoughtful questions and deep worry. Many mentioned friends or family members with no health care coverage or who had suffered at the hands of the current health care system. And all knew the time for change has been upon this nation for some time.
At West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, the Healthcare-Now road show team led a lively discussion of health care reform issues followed by a showing of an HR676 video produced by the California Nurses Association (CNA) and Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) and a Q&A session.
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
ROCKY MOUNT, North Carolina -- The road show team of the SiCKO-Cure National Road Show rolled into Rocky Mount on Sunday afternoon and met with committed members of the Black Workers for Justice local.
Though none of North Carolina's Congressional members is currently signed on H.R.676, Rep. John Conyers' National Health Insurance Act, those gathered in the local worker hall committed themselves to a future screening of 'SiCKO' and to forming a working group to address political action and to assist local people with health care issues and concerns with current programs.
When the road show crew from Healthcare-Now rolls into a community, it isn't as if one of the current presidential candidates has arrived with a flashy and spirited entourage. The crew brings news of the possibilities for organizing local support for pushing Congressional members for their co-sponsorship, and the road show builds on community and shared vision not celebrity or the political winds of a primary election season.
An interesting commonality in the communities visited from Illinois in mid-November, through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and finally North Carolina has been the solidarity of common people who understand the inherent injustice of the current health care system in the U.S.
As the road shows winds its way toward the final stop on its first regional sweep, the priorities of the American people seem much more inclusive and united than any team member might have imagined. Left behind are groups of leaders and fighters who vow to carry on the push for H.R.676, single-payer, universal health care for all.
Thursday, December 6, 2007 11:45 AM
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
GOLDSBORO, North Carolina -- Rev. William Barber preached the word of God and the message of H.R.676 on Sunday when the SiCKO Cure Road Show team came to town. More than 100 parishioners swayed and prayed and rocked and rolled as their exuberant pastor lifted the message of health care for all up for contemplation and celebration.
'Amen, brother,' and 'Yes, pastor, yes,' called out the members of the Greenleaf Christian Church as Rev. Barber asked if having heath care is a basic human right. Then Barber asked Liv Boykins of Rep. John Conyers' office to step to the pulpit and share the road show team's vision for a new and brighter way for each American to enjoy the benefits of H.R.676, The National Health Insurance Act.
Donna Smith, American SiCKO, and Elyse Seigle, of HealthCare-Now, joined in the Sunday services with Boykins, and the congregation embraced all three women as well as their message of hope and human compassion.
But Barber shared more with his flock. "We must remember," he said as he spoke in support of Conyers' universal health care bill, "we must always know,'Power concedes nothing. It never has and it never will without a struggle,'" the pastor hearkened to the words of Frederick Douglass. He told his church that being ready for a fight to secure this most basic of rights should underscore the validity of the cause.
The congregants cheered and clapped and let a few Hallelujahs ring out. In unabashed support for a more just health care system, the pastor embraced the issues presented and promised he would lead his church members in calling on North Carolina's Congressional members for co-sponsorship of the bill.
Barber also praised God for bringing Boykins his way as he had been praying for new direction in another matter in which he may wish to have some additional Congressional attention. The pastor has been working on the case of James Arthur Johnson, a young black man who spent three years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit.
By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
SEATTLE – Though hurricane force winds and torrential rains blasted the Seattle area throughout most of the day on Monday, students, local activists and interested community members took the weather in stride as they gathered to watch ‘SiCKO’ and to talk health reform with me – since I am one of the subjects of the film, they had sponsored my trip to the area and I am deeply involved in the health care reform movement.
The Seattle Central Community College classroom was the perfect venue for viewing ‘SiCKO’ and those present could hear sirens blaring and storm weather continuing as the afternoon showing began and later on as an even larger group turned out for the evening event. More than 280 people attended the viewings and the Q&A sessions afterwards.
Some of the students who attended made hasty farewells as they set off to deal with flooded basements and the meeting with landlords to begin drying out from the rains.
While a few of those present wondered about the Cuba trip Michael Moore took when filming ‘SiCKO,’ most wanted more information about how to help assure that real change will occur in health care reform on the national front, and many wanted to learn more about HR676, the National Health Insurance Act currently gathering more Congressional co-sponsors to add to the 86 representatives already on board supporting the single-payer plan.
HR676 would set up publicly-financed, privately delivered health care for every American resident. The bill was originally co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. A national road show promoting HR676 is currently touring the southeastern states and will wrap up in Pittsburgh on Dec. 14. The road show is co-sponsored by Healthcare-Now
, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)
, the California Nurses Association (CNA)
and the National Nurse Organizing Committee
The Seattle single-payer, universal health care group that sponsored ‘SiCKO’ showings and Q&A sessions with me is called “Right to Health Care Now!”, and it began after several community members saw ‘SiCKO’ during its original release and began holding forums to discuss the issue and actions to be taken in support of reform. The group holds its organizing meetings at 7 p.m. each Monday evening in Room 4183 at Seattle Central Community College . Phi Theta Kappa, the college honor society, and OWL, the voice of midlife and older women, also co-sponsored the events on campus, along with several other campus organizations and clubs.
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