Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Donna Smith

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

February 15th, 2010 12:25 AM

A Mother’s Personal Mission: Healthcare Not Warfare

This week, the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign I help co-chair for Progressive Democrats of America becomes even more deeply personal for me. My son leaves for his volunteer tour of duty in Afghanistan. And I won’t be there to say goodbye. Because I advocate a position of peace, my son believes my priorities are off kilter, and for some time now he has believed that he goes to war so whiners at home can keep griping about less critical concerns — like healthcare or economic justice.

As is sadly the case with many parents and grown children, my son and I do not see eye-to-eye and that causes a distance of the heart that hurts everyone involved. Though separated, we are both on a mission.

Peace nearly always seems the better path than war to me, and providing healthcare for all seems the better offering than enrichment of the health-industrial complex. These basic energies drive me and millions of my fellow advocates to give time and money in anti-war efforts and also in the effort for healthcare justice. There is little personal enrichment for any individual advocate through this struggle aside from the shared hope that we may leave this nation a safer, healthier pace for future generations.

Healthcare not warfare is my life’s mission. I am as mission-driven as many of our best soldiers have trained to be, as this battle for healthcare is not for the weak of spirit or the meek. And it is a war that claims 45,000 American lives every single year. It’s a war carried out on American soil, by Americans allowing the preventable deaths of 45,000 of their fellow Americans, so I do think it’s a war we must fight as aggressively as any threat that caused that much loss of life.

Though some may not think sacrificing one’s home, life savings, personal safety and health is as deep a commitment to a mission as risking one’s life in military battle, I tend to think of all preventable suffering and death as, well, preventable.

But I do not see this as a contest of who suffers more or where death is more cruel. On a far-away battlefield with wounds from a foreign weapon or sick and suffering without healthcare in a cold and lonely spot in the U.S. somewhere – both seem awful, both seem something we ought to guard against whenever we can.

I have no easy answers when issues of national security are involved, and I am not naïve. I know that there is real evil in the world and those who would do harm unless stopped. But the minute we exclude ourselves from the looking-glass that shows how cruel human beings can be to one another, that is the moment when we will sacrifice our humanity to endless armed combat against those forces within and without that we fail to address as co-conspirators to those very harmful acts.

It is cruel to allow our own citizens to die when ill simply because they lack the money to buy access to needed healthcare. It is cruel. And it is a cruelty we seem to ignore fixing even when we could. Few volunteer to care for the sick and dying here. Most healthcare providers who claim to operate for the good of the communities they serve will allow the death and suffering as part of the collateral damage of their profit-making businesses. They’ll argue that they cannot give healthcare away – they’d go broke after all.

And halfway around the world my son has a hard time knowing that I too am fighting a battle for many who may never know the struggle or the sacrifice. Just as my son does not want this nation given over to any influences that might destroy all that we cherish as our shared heritage in this nation, I do not want my nation handed over to the selfish and the greedy that would do us as much harm or more and sell it to us as freedom. Somehow allowing the healthcare war deaths to mount has become a way to affirm your belief in the American way. I just cannot buy that reasoning any more than I can buy the rationale for all the foreign war dead.

I hear the clamoring from those who are anxious for a political win on the health reform front for those who support a single-payer, Medicare for all position to stand down and stop upsetting the push to pass the current bill(s) offered by the 111th Congress. Those who want everybody in, nobody out are being told our legislative time has passed, or it’s not here yet, and that it’s better to get some things for some people rather than get nothing – even if getting a little bit means giving a huge amount of the nation’s money (our money) to those who have delayed care, denied care and driven healthcare costs out of reach for millions and millions of people.

We are told to just trust the evil warlords of healthcare. Trust the for-profit insurance giants. Trust the hospital corporations and big pharmaceutical companies. More people will get insurance, we’re told. More people will potentially get care, we’re asked to accept. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good or the very good, they say over and over again. There is no illusion of getting to a healthier place for all. The motivation is pure greed.

At this juncture in my life, the whole healthcare not warfare effort is much more than a personal commitment to making a difference in this lifetime. As my eldest son deploys to Afghanistan as part of an air reconnaissance unit in advance of one of the U.S. troop surges, a part of my soul goes too. My son is not a young soldier. He is 35. He has a wife and a young daughter. He wasn’t ordered to deploy; he volunteered for this mission. After training for two months in Georgia and then Texas, he leaves for his year of service in the war zone. For the past 17 years, he has served in our military, and he has volunteered to serve in many difficult missions over the years, including on our own Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. He is a good and decent man, and I am sure he is a fine soldier, as my father was in World War II. But he is my son, and I fear for him. I fear for us all.

I would never want to see my son – or anyone’s son – go into battle to protect Anthem Blue Cross’ right to raise policy rates so rapidly that some people will have to give up health insurance and the healthcare they needed. That’s not a system of fairness and justice nor is it the America I want to hand down to my son’s little girl. Risking one’s life for a mission ought to mean that the goals of that mission are just and righteous.

My son, I wish you always Godspeed. And in the meantime I will fight on for a healthcare system in this nation worthy of the sacrifice you and so many others have been willing to make.

Healthcare Not Warfare. Peace is possible. I hope many will join us for our Brown Bag Vigils this week, as we can build a better future together.

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