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Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office

Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case)–had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends–either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class–and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

-John Brown Speech to the Court at his Trial, 1859

The impending trauma predicted by the so-called Trump Care bill is something I have seen on the horizon for the past 24 months. The Affordable Care Act was a terminally flawed and irreparable law from the outset.

Economist Dean Baker wrote in October 2015 about the first problem:

Beginning in 2018, the ACA imposes a “Cadillac tax” on healthcare plans that cost more than $10,200 a year for a single individual. The intention of the tax is to discourage plans that cost a lot up front but don’t make patients contribute much at the point of service — through copays and the like… There are two problems with the logic of this tax. First, the reason most expensive plans are expensive is not the generosity of the benefits; it is the health condition of the participants. Most of the plans that would be subject to the tax have a disproportionate share of older workers with higher medical expenses. So the tax won’t primarily punish executives with luxurious, cushy plans; it will punish older workers who are more likely to have health issues. The other problem with the tax…is that it assumes people would seek out more cost-efficient care if they paid for it out of pocket. But new evidence…indicates that when people have to pay at the point of service, they often ignore necessary care. They don’t just skip frivolous or purely optional treatments; they choose their wallets over their well-being.

The International Business Times wrote about the second last summer with regards to their coverage of the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna merger fiascoes. Those two mega-mergers being blocked resulted in a systemic shock because it allowed insurers to withdraw from the healthcare exchanges without penalty, a mortal blow that was as predictable as it was terminal.

Trying to save the ACA at this point is like trying to save the Titanic after it breaks in half, simply not an option. The public option is unacceptable according to scholar Dr. John Geyman.

The only option now is a single payer healthcare system. To get this, I challenge Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed to introduce a parallel Senate bill to the one entered by Congressman John Conyers, HR 676, which is the gold standard of single payer healthcare. I have posted this bill online for all to see. The statistical data has undeniably demonstrated that the American voters, regardless of party affiliation, want this law passed. The only people who do not are the members of Congress and the 1%. I am engaging in a completely nonviolent act of civil disobedience to challenge them.

We are seeing a crisis of healthcare in our Black and Brown communities in Rhode Island. Women of color live on two fungible dollars a day. Childhood poverty, lack of access to basic services to promote emotional and educational well-being, infant mortality, post-natal maternal mortality, homelessness, hunger, and so many more systemic elements define their lives as consistently under attack by a country founded on their enslavement and genocide which continues today partially in the form called by Michelle Alexander the new Jim Crow.

While my favorite book, a manifesto of the beliefs driving my actions today, remains the biography of John Brown written by WEB Du Bois, I cannot help but close with a quote from another great hero of mine,

“While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free… I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence… I can see the dawn of the better day for humanity. The people are awakening. In due time they will and must come to their own.”

Those who read this with admiration or respect for my actions would be doing me an excellent favor if you would not mind coming and getting arrested also. It is going to take a lot of nonviolent civil disobedience causing the courts to get clogged up with prosecutions of people like me and you to win this battle. Be as radical as reality itself!

Special thanks to Professor Norman Finkelstein for writing his book on Gandhi, the folks at CounterPunch for publishing my work, and the students of Juanita Sanchez High School in Providence for teaching me more than I ever would have learned anywhere else in the world.

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Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.

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