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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

December 31st, 2011 3:21 PM

2011: A SiCKO’s Year in Review

Thought I might pile on the end-of-the-year reviews with a regular soul’s view of 2011 and a bit of a look forward to 2012.  I claim no special standing or expertise other than life experience and perhaps a healthier than usual dose of good fortune when I compare 2011 with years gone by.

Watching the blossoming of protest energy surrounding economic inequality in the U.S. and around the world has been a huge gift to me.  For decades I have felt apart from so many of the issues protestors lifted because the issues stood more distant from my day-to-day realities and the fight to stay financially afloat.  Being frightened of bills that may come in the mail and not being fully able to cover all my own costs in this very expensive world trumps every other issue.

Fighting the war on poverty used to be in vogue when I was younger.  But that energy and societal compassion drifted away in the 70s, 80s and 90s even as families like my own worked harder for less and found themselves struggling to meet even daily expenses like filling the car up with gas to get to work.  In the best of times, I paid our bills, kept a decent roof over our heads and kept the insurance paid.  A good year was one in which a tax refund might be in the offing to clean up leftover medical bills and start a new year with a relatively clean slate. 

Living such a life leaves little room for protests in the streets.  Keeping the kids fed, clothed and well is a victory that in the America I have known often takes herculean effort and courage equal to or greater than many might imagine.  Over the past two decades, increasing numbers of moms like me find that no matter what we do, our effort isn’t enough to build a decent life.  And no one seemed to be agitated en masse about seeing so many wealthy and greedy and selfish interests elevated over the more modest dreams many of us have had for freedom from economic fear and living just on the edge of poverty.  It takes a toll to feel so alone.

2011 was the year that loneliness began to abate.  From the cold days in Madison, Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of people stood together to call out Gov. Scott Walker on his plans to gut working people’s rights to organize in their own best interests to the early summer protests in  Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street by the nurses of National Nurses United and their allies, to the birth and explosion of the Occupy movement, finally the isolation of financial insecurity and income inequality can give way to rising up against the villains who have robbed so many millions of mothers like me of our dignity. 

Since the film SiCKO was released in 2007, the fight for healthcare justice and for access to a progressively financed, single standard of high quality care for all without financial barriers has been buried a bit like the issue of economic inequality.  Politicians sometimes talk about it, and some even make impassioned speeches pledging to fight for people like me.  But their reality is not mine.  Politicians are getting richer and richer while I fight to hold my ground with millions and millions of other people.

In early 2011, before Madison and before the Occupy movement ignited, Michael Moore and I appeared on a program to discuss healthcare reform efforts and how things stood four years after the film was released.   The work ahead to move the energy in the streets we’ve seen in 2011 into action that transforms our economic system, including healthcare delivery and financing, remains in 2012 and beyond.  But it has been a year of righteous unveiling of the pain and suffering and anger felt by those held captive – like me – by forces over which we’ve had little control.

Keeping the issues out front long enough to allow festering pain to meet cultural reality isn’t easy or very predictable in its course.  2011 was a year in which I felt like some of the more than 300 blogs and essays I’ve written since the film was released have been worth the barbs I’ve taken for writing them.  Even people who agree that healthcare is a human right and those who agree that getting as much of the greed out of the system as we can is a good thing can be very cruel to those who have suffered.  

Those who disagree with my position on single-payer healthcare reform are often not nearly as aggressive and insulting as those who think they own the truth about exactly how to fix the mess.  2011 was the year when the shared pain and anger of millions of people like me didn’t have to have all answers to be heard and to move public opinion on a wider scale.  That was and is comforting on many levels.

I expect in 2012, that sort of mass expression in favor of the sort of system that honors people over profits – in healthcare, in education, in environmental issues, in housing and other income inequality areas – will continue and grow louder in ways I cannot accurately predict right now.  That is so exciting to me.  So many days and nights after SiCKO was released, I spent in front of this computer screen writing and editing and thinking and getting upset and wondering if we’d ever move from the post-SiCKO period into making some dent in the death counts attributable to healthcare greed.  Now, after 2011 and all of its changes, I know we’ll make some headway.

After all, since the film was released in June of 2007, more than 196,000 people died in the United States due to a lack of access to healthcare that might have saved their lives.  Millions more have filed for personal bankruptcy and lost their homes and life savings.  More than 196,000 dead because we as a people valued profits over patients, profits over people, profits over life itself.  Since 2007, I have written approximately 315,000 words in support of a healthcare system that values life over profits.  That’s only 1.6 words per life lost, and I figure it’s going to take that and then some to keep moving the marker on that dreadful statistic.

In 2012, my book will come out, and in 2012, we’ll march toward healthcare justice on a path we’ll choose together but is yet unseen.  Dignity heals what this profit-crazed system steals from us all.  Rise up.

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