Protesters rally in Des Moines, Iowa, against the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield company. (Photo: Monashaw2003 / Flickr)
Following a pattern of civil resistance in Washington D.C. and around the country, citizens in Des Moines Iowa on Monday risked arrest to press for the creation of single-payer healthcare, the establishment of healthcare as a human right, and an end to the deadly practices of Iowa's largest health insurance company, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Dr. Margaret Flowers, who has herself gone to jail for single-payer in our nation's capital, was on hand to speak in Des Moines. She called me with this report. Nearly a month earlier, on June 19, 2009, Des Moines Catholic Workers had delivered a letter (PDF) to Wellmark addressed to its CEO John Forsyth requesting disclosure of Wellmark's profits, salaries, benefits, denials and restrictions on care. The letter had not been acknowledged by Monday, ?nd the Catholic Workers and their allies decided to take action again.
Thirty people arrived in the Wellmark lobby in Des Moines and asked to see Forsyth or any of the members of the board of directors or the operating officers. They were told that none were available, and instead the police arrived. Nine of the 30 refused to leave and were arrested. Flowers did not yet know what the charges will be but suspected trespassing. The nine latest supporters of single-payer to go to jail for justice are:
Mona Shaw, Renee Espeland, Frankie Hughes (age 11), and Frank Cordaro, all from Des Moines Catholic Workers; Leonard Simmons from Massachusetts; Robert Cook; Eddie Blomer from Des Moines; Kirk Brown from Des Moines; and Chris Gaunt from Grinnell, Iowa.
These nine and others like them around the country represent, I think, the incredible potential to energize the American public on behalf of a struggle for the basic human right of healthcare, a potential being blocked by the work of activist organizations that reach out from Washington to tell the public that single-payer is not possible, rather than reaching into Washington from outside to tell our public servants what we demand.
Here's a blog from Digby acknowledging the reduction of the public option from where it started to next-to-nothing. It's not clear whether Digby thinks it would have been smarter to start with single-payer, in order to end up with a better compromise than what you get by initially proposing the weakest plan you'll settle for. But Digby argues that proposing single-payer from the start would not have given single-payer itself any chance of succeeding, and this is proven -- Digby says -- from the fact that the public option is having such a hard time succeeding.
I can't prove this is wrong. Everything Digby writes is smart and to the point. But this does omit an important factor or two. Namely: single-payer turns an obscure wonkish policy mush into a clear and comprehensible civil rights issue. Even with it blacked out and shunned by the White House and astroturfing activist groups, single-payer still has people sacrificing and going to jail for it. Nobody goes to jail for a public option.* Nobody even knows what it is. Nobody will even know whether they got it if a bill is passed until experts debate the point for them -- at which point it's too late. Making healthcare a right rather than a legislative policy energizes people, and that potential has hardly been tapped and should not be written out of consideration.
Even defenders of a public option depict it as a step toward single-payer, while missing the potential of single-payer activism in the short term to improve the public option. So, all agree that in the long run a movement for single-payer is needed. It can begin with phone calls this week in support of these measures and with a massive presence on July 30 in Washington, D.C.
* Note: Joe Szakos of Virginia Organizing Project went to jail this week for a public option, but nobody he'd organized went with him. His action, like that in Iowa, was protesting an insurance company, an entity that would be eliminated only by single-payer.
Photos from the event can be seen here.