By Donna Smith –
They arrived on May 26 to the DC courthouse in business dress and on time. The single payer supporters now known as the Baucus 8 who were arrested on May 5, 2009, in your United States Senate hearing chambers came ready to be arraigned on Tuesday morning and to find out what the formal charges against them would be. I witnessed the proceedings the day they were arrested, and I came this day to court to see the process through with these brave Americans who stood for all of us and demanded that a witness advocating for a single payer healthcare system be seated in at least one of the 41 witness chairs filled in recent Senate hearings on healthcare reform.
Just like the breathtaking simplicity of honor and truth I saw on May 5, 2009, as the veil of corporate influence over healthcare reform measures in our Congress was pierced by eight citizens who could take no more of the deceptions, I witnessed at the District of Columbia Courthouse an awesome display of compassion and honesty. And I left jolted once again by the experience.
Other citizens charged with crimes ranging from what sounded like minor incidents to more serious weapons and drugs and assault issues were also lining up in the courtroom hallway waiting for their arraignments.
One of their defense attorneys arrived and began passing around a clipboard with questionnaires for them to complete with the usual mundane information: name, address, contact information and any other personal history the lawyer felt might be needed. The lawyer’s clerk, a young man with glasses, a backpack and the look of an eager and idealistic soul ready to play his part in the day, walked among the Baucus 8 defendants asking questions and gathering information.
But suddenly he collapsed. In what looked like a slow-motion film, he flew backwards and hit his head on the hard floor of the courtroom hallway, and it was clear he was unconscious. While the rest of us stood frozen and stunned, the three doctors among the Baucus 8 floated effortlessly into action – Dr. Margaret Flowers at the young man’s head, Dr. Carol Paris at his side, and Dr. Pat Solomon at his ankles. His vital signs were being checked within seconds.
Across the hallway, the DC courts’ urgent care center offered little help at all. That office was barely opening and only one person poked her head out the door to see what was happening. I thought we were so lucky to have doctors who did not stop to ask if the young man was insured or had a means to pay or was in a facility where his insurance company had decided which doctors could touch him and which doctors could not – and the doctors, the Baucus 8 doctors, sure didn’t have to call and ask permission about how to help him. The Baucus-backing for-profit health insurance companies were not participating this day, thank God.
After what seemed a long time, the young man was eased up to a sitting position and was talking. The doctors stayed focused on him. It was a moment of shared humanity – and a stark reinforcement of professional calling of the doctors and nurses who are often pressed into service while they are also facing their own life issues and stresses.
This day the doctors of the Baucus 8 acted as they always have and always do – they acted in the best interests of the patient. Even though they were facing legal consequences for protesting the lack of a single payer voice in Congress and even though they had their own concerns, they quite literally dropped everything and acted on our behalf.
For me, this evidence of professional integrity and commitment spoke even more loudly to their message about healthcare reform. For Senator Baucus, this is a political process which will feather his cap and pad his coffers ever so comfortably if he keeps the for-profit interests protected and enhanced through this health reform legislative process. His health and his standing in life are safe and secure in ways most of us can only imagine – yet he would deny that health security to all Americans.
For the healthcare professionals Senator Baucus wants to silence, caring for and about patients is what this is all about. And I knew without fail that if it had been any one of us on that floor – unconscious and ill – we all would have been equal in those doctors’ eyes. Everybody in, nobody out. That what it means to fight for healthcare rather than expansion of health insurance profits.
My admiration for those arrested grows – and I hope for them the justice they so openly dispense to others. And next up in the arraignment pool? Some of the brave nurses and more doctors who also stood and were arrested in one of Senator Baucus’ Finance Committee hearings to once again demand a single payer voice at the infamous table of reform options will be arraigned next. Yet, the corporate interests in the for-profit health insurance industry that have doomed hundreds of thousands of Americans to ill health, financial ruin and unnecessary deaths continue to lead every health reform discussion.
My World War II vet dad used to have a word for the way the Senate is moving forward in the drafting of this health reform : “back-ass-wards.”
Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.