Monday, June 08, 2009

We need a symbol

More of my comments from the CAF thread:

Every American has skin in this game. Our job is not to glaze their eyes with statistics and polls. It is to remind them how broken the system is and to show them a way out.

I’m not much for futile, symbolic gestures, and the further left progressives go, the more popular those wastes of time become. Still, symbols can be powerful persuaders if done right. Harry and Louise, for example.

Recalling Firedoglake’s 2006 rubber stamp campaign, I suggested to Christy Hardin Smith a symbol everyone could use to drive home the problem with the broken health care system: stacks of medical bills.

My sister died at 37 from a metastatic sarcoma (the same thing that got Ted Kennedy, Jr.’s leg). I watched her die, went to her funeral and, in mourning, went back to pack up her apartment and sift through stacks of medical bills, trying to figure out what she owed to whom and how we would get them paid. This doesn’t happen in most industrialized countries and shouldn’t happen here. It's a disgrace.

We need a symbol to stand in for our failed for-profit health care system, a symbol that a) every American recognizes; b) every American loathes; c) most people have touched and have in their homes; d) won’t disappear with a compromise reform plan; e) anyone can mail to, send to or throw onto their representative’s desk, or wave over their heads for the media; and f) that our representatives themselves can wave over their heads during debate.

I think stacks of medical bills are that symbol.

I attended a local organizing meeting pushing health care reform Thursday night, and was surprised to find that the activists there had the same reaction many progressives in the crowd at AFN had. They want single payer and they are ready to fight for it regardless of what the White House supports.

One woman recounted a terrible story about her six-foot-plus son dying of colon cancer (he had a congenital predisposition to it) because he had no insurance and couldn’t get a yearly colonoscopy until he had Stage 3 cancer and was down to 110 lbs. Obama’s OFA is reportedly collecting thousands of similar personal stories from across the country.

Great. But the problem is that too many among the general public will be sympathetic, but unable to connect those stories, faces and names to their own lives. Most everyone has dealt with medical insurance paperwork. Instantly recognizable. Universally hated.

There will be some kind of mass rally in D.C., I expect. I see a touch of "Meet John Doe" or "Mr. Smith" in thousands of people arriving in D.C. clutching sheaves of medical bills, and medical bills spitting out of Capitol Hill fax machines for days (with videos posted on YouTube). A little something our reluctant Smiths can use for show-and-tell in the wells of the House and Senate. I don't think they grasp the depth of anger and frustration out here. They just need a little educating.

If this fight comes down to a few progressive activists and congressmen vs. an extremely well-funded insurance industry, the American people lose. This battle can’t be won with polls and statistics. It has to be won with boots on the ground and symbols that capture the American psyche.

No comments: