Sunday, August 17, 2008 9:13 AM

You Don't Speak for This SiCKO

By Donna Smith, American SiCKO
Founder, American Patients United
National Co-Chair PDA's Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign
Communications specialist, California Nurses Association/NNOC

CHICAGO -- During every national election cycle at about this time in the big races, I start to want to scream into the great abyss of political hype flying around. "You don't speak for me. You haven't seen what it's like to live in America's real middle class for a long time," I want to thunder as loudly as they do their messages of kinship with me.

I am a middle class grandmother. I grew up in Illinois. I was raised to care about God and country. I may not have achieved a great level of renown, but I think I have just as much right to weigh in on this nation's future as those who claim to know me but just don't.

Whether it's Lou Dobbs blowing hard on CNN about his affinity for the great middle class of this nation (and his salary is what?) or Barack Obama or John McCain claiming empathy by slamming down a shot and a beer (and the last time they bought half a tank of gas because payday was still three days away was when?), none of these people know what middle class life feels like right now, today in middle America. They may grab a position or two that they know is sexy enough to get media attention, but they don't get it -- they do not get me -- and they won't be my best advocates unless and until they do.

Let's talk healthcare, for example. And let's talk reality for middle class folks like me. This issue permeates so many different parts of my life. From where I work to where I shop, rising costs for healthcare invade not only my bottom line in wages and benefits but also every business and every product and every service I use.

I know gas prices matter too, but any wonk who claims to speak for me is lying if he or she fails to talk about what the costs of healthcare are doing in a much more insidious way. If today's price for a night in the hospital or an "extended" visit with my doctor was posted on every street corner like gas prices are, I dare say the conversation might shift. And while we're at it, let's post the cost each business paid for health insurance coverage for its employees.

Thank God I have insurance coverage through my employer. And thank God my husband now has coverage through Medicare. So, in theory, the issues of access to care should be golden for us and for millions of others in this nation. Yet I have to spend weeks waiting for care, get just moments being assessed for needed care, then weeks more waiting for more assessment and all the while missing precious work time and not being helped to feel better or have better strategies for preventative care. That is my middle class reality.

And let's talk everyday life, for a moment. I see gas prices rise and fall with little relationship to world conditions to which I am privy. I get the impression that the twists and turns of those markets have more to do with making money and then yanking my chain with prices that fall back just enough to provide minimal relief. During the points when the prices are surging, everything in my world gets more expensive, yet when the pump prices recede just a bit, everything else stays at the inflated price. I am not stupid, and that is my middle class reality.

My middle class reality is that at any moment I might not be middle class. And that reality is what keeps me in constant worry and always listening for some understanding of that reality.

SiCKO was released a year ago, and I often tell audiences I am the blessed one from among those people featured in the film. I have the honor now to work for a great organization -- the California Nurses Association -- and I can pay my rent and my basic bills again. And we even have a newer used car for the first time in eight years. I will never again be a homeowner, though. There are not enough working years left to repair my damaged credit following our bankruptcy due to illness while insured. I am afraid about the "what-if's" -- every single day. My security is tenuous. That is my middle class reality.

I watch my country's infrastructure crumble -- the potholes, the traffic jams, the weakened and old bridges. I worry about the gun violence our young people live with -- and I am married to a hunter, a man who loves guns used for sporting purposes. When I do get to fly, I am herded onto airplanes that may or may not take off on time or at all -- and I have no recourse for time lost, bosses angered or family members inconvenienced. I wonder if any of this will matter if the global warming issues overtake any of the momentary concerns and the planet does not survive our abuse.

And finally, I do love my country and our troops and my freedom. I am sad about our current world situation as I think about what World War II vets like my dad fought for and believed in. Are there times when war must be waged? Yes. But I am afraid we've completely screwed up our set of priorities and really do not like our warring for oil and world dominance while we send mosquito nets and missionaries into areas where tens of millions die enduring conditions we will not fight. That is not my middle class realty nor my values at work.

I am not safe in my homeland. I am bombarded by conditions over which I have no control that threaten my personal safety daily. Healthcare costs and all the deaths related to that crisis right here on American soil are evidence enough for me -- my personal safely is not being protected by anyone.

There are plenty of people in the middle class who could and should speak up during these troubled times. I just want those in the upper classes who claim they speak for me to stop it... tell me the truth for a change. You speak for whatever interest you find potentially profitable at the moment. But you do not speak for me.

I will speak for myself. You will not define which issues to rant about and impose on me. My daily life defines the issues for me. And as one of the middle class reality wonks in this nation, I can tell you I am pretty angry and pretty disgusted with all who claim to know better than I do what the world I live in is like.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007 11:38 AM

The Growing Storm III: 'SiCKO' Draws Activists Together from Seattle to D.C.

Part 3: 'SiCKO' Seeds an Expanding Movement

by Donna Smith, American SiCKO

DENVER -- Today I heard about another incredible post-'SiCKO' event in Seattle. Over 200 people packed the largest room at Seattle Central Community College to hear from a panel of inspirational caregivers, activists, and public health advocates. John Geyman of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) spoke as well as a nurse whose experiences left people in tears.

A volunteer who traveled to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina also spoke at the gathering. She sustained major burns from a propane accident and with no insurance, is now thousands in debt. That sounded all too familiar after watching the 9/11 first responders' stories in 'SiCKO.'

The panel was a success, not only because of the wonderful speakers who were able to tie together different aspects of public health, but because of the overwhelming number of energized people who were ready to become an active part of the movement for universal healthcare.

How awesome is this? From one Washington to the other. People are organizing for change and for action.

Before I left Washington, D.C., I sat back and marveled at the beginnings of this social revolution and how a movie like 'SiCKO' can play a role in that process. Will my generation finally take its blinders off, step up to the plate yet again and come back to the political table in force? "Make Love Not War," we cried so long ago. Are we now ready to cry “Health Care Not Warfare?”

As I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out over the Mall and the Reflecting Pool, I imagined what Martin Luther King, Jr., saw all those years ago. A sea of people – a sea of Americans -- joined to rally for change. It did not happen overnight. King’s dream of a better nation continues to fuel a passion for political activism, a non-violent transformation and reclamation of government by and for the people.

'SiCKO' is drawing us out of our homes and drawing many of us out of our shame and despair. And the tide is rising from coast to coast. People leave movie theaters energized for change and angry at delay.

Join up with one of the groups out there working or start your own and connect with us.

We stand at the ready from sea-to-shining-sea, waiting for our opportunity to take to the streets joined together to see that the human right of health care is granted to every American.

Here’s a partial list of groups so you – yes, you – can join in this movement. It’s time to reclaim America.

1. HealthCare-Now
2. Physicians for a National Health Program
3. Progressive Democrats of America
4. Code Pink
5. California Nurses Association
6. ROOT
7. APUHC - American Patients for Universal Health Care - email apuhc@comcast.net

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Sunday, July 22, 2007 7:13 PM

The Growing Storm II: 'SiCKO' Draws Activists Together from Seattle to D.C.

Part 2: Allies for Action

By Donna Smith, American SiCKO

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After an afternoon of Congressional testimony, it was on to dinner, where leaders were gathered representing student activists (Remember the Students for a Democratic Society -- SDS -- folks? Well, students are re-organizing that group), anti-gun violence groups, anti-war groups, the Progressive Democrats of America and my new group -- American Patients for Universal Health Care (APUHC).

We agreed that we need to cooperate on shared and coordinated action. Many groups are doing many things and doing them well. Rather than pursuing countless splintered causes, we must combine many of our efforts to create the necessary conditions for political change.

Many people acknowledged, as Tony Benn did so eloquently in 'SiCKO,' that the people who hold the key to change are those who feel powerless -- the poor, the frightened and the demoralized.

We need the voices of people who are locked in an every day struggle for survival -- paying the bills, staying safe in their neighborhoods -- far removed from the political groups advocating for change. We agreed we must pursue strategies to reach the working poor, people of color, people of faith, and the shrinking middle class.

We will meet every two weeks to coordinate, and I will keep you posted on upcoming events and actions. 'SiCKO' has galvanized communities troughout the land. It is truly the evolution of a movement. Keep pushing, and together we will create change.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007 7:00 PM

The Growing Storm: 'SiCKO' Draws Activists Together from Seattle to D.C.

Part 1 of 3
SiCKO Testifies Before Congress

By Donna Smith, American SiCKO

WASHINGTON, D.C. – There is a growing storm throughout America. 'SiCKO' has launched the health care reform movement into the national arena with lightning-rod intensity. Groups that have labored alone and new groups forming are joining forces to settle in for the civil rights battle of this generation. We will stand together for passage of universal health care reform. And we will not wait another generation.

It had already been an extraordinary 48 hours. I testified in front of Congress on Tuesday, July 17, and told them how angry I am that they have not acted on health care reform. I sat on a witness panel with incredibly intelligent and committed people from Harvard Law School (Elizabeth Warren) and Harvard Medical School (David Himmelstein, also the founder of Physicians for a National Health Program) and the Access Project in Boston (Mark Rukavina).

Me, Donna Smith, average American, testified with these people. I was and am in awe. In the packed gallery of the hearing room were nurses and national health care reform leaders. Leaders from anti-war advocacy groups were also there. Groups represented at the hearing included: the California Nurses Association, Code Pink, HealthCare-Now and the Progressive Democrats of America, among others.

In the hours before and after the hearing, I met with Senators Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and lobbied not with money but with my heart and soul.

Later on during my trip, I visited with Sen. Tom Daschle, who no longer serves in the Senate, but sure should still be there. Though there is nothing to be gained by him in meeting with me, and my station in life certainly does not compare with his, he never fails to make me feel welcome to speak my mind and heart. He was the first person in Congress ever to hear me out on health care crisis – and he applauds my ever-expanding activism.

But my activism is not the only political passion expanding for health care reform in the weeks following the release of 'SiCKO.' Americans are gathering in many locations throughout the nation to plan post-'SiCKO' action.

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