When the Medicare for All bus gets stuck, a neighborhood shows its true spirit
By Donna Smith –
After spending the past month on the California Nurses Association ‘Medicare for All’ bus tour in California, I am more confident than ever about the prospects of winning guaranteed healthcare for all under an improved Medicare model. Cradle to grave. For life. In California. Everywhere.
Our wonderful videographer, Erin Fitzgerald, has been traveling with us and capturing the stories Californians have shared along the way. In advance of our two stops in Santa Monica Wednesday, July 11, at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church at 1260 18th Street (3-6 p.m. health screenings and 6:30-8 p.m. town hall) and tomorrow at the West Covina City Hall (same times and events), Erin captured images from our stops so far and shared them in this video piece:
At West Covina City Hall, 1444 W Garvey Ave South, Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., July 12, Reggie Cervantes, 9/11 responder, and Dawnelle Keys, mom whose beautiful toddler Mychelle died because an out-of-network hospital wouldn’t treat her, will join me for a mini-SiCKO reunion. Join us as we talk about why Medicare for all for life would have been the only thing that might have saved us from been fodder for Michael Moore’s 2007 film.
There is no question that Californians want guaranteed healthcare for all. Only a small percentage of those we have reached out to have rejected the call. And those few seem fixed on their own isolated “I-have-mine-and-I-don’t –care-about-you” mindset. Those few folks are often turned around when medical crisis strikes, and though I never wish that on anyone else, I know that in an instant life as you know it can change and leave you utterly dependent on others for our lives.
So it was perhaps fitting that last night in South L.A. when we were just getting ready to pull out of our stop at the S.C.O.P.E. offices after the screenings and town hall, our bus got stuck. One wheel perched high in the air, we were straddling the whole of Florence Avenue and going nowhere. Within seconds, traffic started to back up and people in the neighborhood jumped to try to help us. One man tried to shove wood planks under the airborne wheel to give traction but the driver feared that with any additional pressure, that wood might fly out from under the wheel and hurt or kill someone. It didn’t work. So many good people tried to help, but it just didn’t work at all.
Finally, after quite some time, a police officer stuck his head in our bus and said, “What are you all doing in the ghetto?” That seemed an odd question to ask on many levels, but perhaps speaks to where we are in terms of our shared humanity and perceptions of that humanity. The police officer facilitated getting a huge wrecker to the site to pull the bus forward and, after significant effort, return our bus to the road.
It was interesting to me to see first the pulling together of community and then the intervention of publicly paid law enforcement personal and others to fix the problem. There was no consideration given to just letting us sit forever in that precarious spot. Seems like the right way to handle it when any one of us faces crisis outside our control. Could the bus driver have taken that turn and curb one degree or two differently and avoided the problem? Maybe. We’ll never know that, and that didn’t really matter. What mattered was that when confronted with a stuck bus and its stranded occupants, the local community came together to help.
I’ve been on a bus for Medicare for All that caught fire on the side of a highway in rural West Virginia. I have been on the SiCKO buses that traveled around the country with nurses educating people about the broken healthcare system and their demand for one single standard of high quality care for all. And now I’ve been on a bus that was stuck in South Los Angeles in a neighborhood where many people choose to avoid, but where the people who live there are both generous and equal in their shared need for healthcare.
Bus tours are grueling and we sometimes wonder about the costs and the challenges that come along with them. But always there are the amazing moments of clarity that come from being present with one another in ways that are so personal and direct. I have spent six months of the past five years on a bus fighting for Medicare for All for life. And I am so very lucky to have done so. But now, if you don’t mind, I’d like us to pull this together and win. And as the young father says at the end of Erin’s video, “Why not healthcare for the world?” Why not, California? We can do it.
Donna Smith is a community organizer for National Nurses United (the new national arm of the California Nurses Association) and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.