The Mad As Hell Doctors in DC
The Mad As Hell Doctors arrived in DC Wednesday and held a program in Lafayette Park, just across the way from the White House, calling for the passage of a single-payer, Medicare for All plan by the Congress. The event started off auspiciously, when my wife, Bonnie, and I “met up” with follow Firedog Lake/Seminal bloggers and supporters of Medicare for All, montanamaven, and ralphbon. mm traveled from Montana to get to the event, and ralphbon drove from New York. We greeted one another, started to get to know each other, as people do who have exchanged online but not really met, and received from some of the organizers what we later learned were “white ribbons of hope” to wear.
Within minutes of our meeting in McPherson Square, however, a surprise downpour hit downtown DC, and we found ourselves scrambling into a CVS for mini-umbrellas, and from there to a nearby Starbucks to await a let-up. About 20 minutes later, we emerged to find that the rest of the demonstrators congregating in McPherson Square had left for Lafayette Park about three blocks away. Chatting vigorously (especially mm) all the way, we hot-footed it over there and arrived well before the beginning of the program.
When we arrived, we found a small but diverse group of demonstrators, which I’d estimate at about 75 in size. The folks attending spanned all ages, but there were probably a disproportionate number of middle-aged and older people. Later on, the number taking part in the rally increased to probably a few hundred demonstrators. I found myself surprised by the low attendance at an event which marked the end of a cross-country caravan supporting Medicare for All. And frankly, I marveled at the success of the Obama Administration and the MSM in sucking up all the oxygen for reform, and getting it re-directed to the issue of whether or not to have a relatively weak public option as proposed in the quite inadequate HR 3200 bill. It seemed to me that the Mad As Hell Doctors had put in a great effort for the sake of very little return, at least as measured in attendance at their rally, and I confess that I was prepared to be disappointed by the next few hours of witnessing and participating in protest activity. Happily, though, I was very, very wrong indeed. Instead of finding the White Ribbon Rally disappointing, I found it uplifting. As I move through my account of the event perhaps you’ll begin to see why.
The rally was led by some of the Doctors who were part of the caravan, and also by some local DC/Baltimore area people who are part of the movement for single-payer. It was organized around the idea that many medical practitioners, both Doctors and Nurses are Mad As Hell, and won’t take what America’s broken health care un-system has to deliver anymore. Many of the Doctors (Paul Hochfeld, Katherine Ottaway, Barbara Blaylock, Michael Huntington, Joseph Eusterman, and Marc Sapir) have practiced medicine for years. One was retired. All are Mad As Hell, and some of the rally was given over to testimony by the Doctors and other practitioners about why they’re Mad As Hell. The testimony went over the main failings of the current system and its effects, and also placed these in the context of the concrete experience of the Physicians and other practitioners. It told stories of the single-payer movement. It was powerful, because it came from their experience as well as from their character and dedication to Medicare for All. It was delivered to us in a light and sometimes moderate drizzle that cleared up toward the end of the rally, amidst tears and laughter, and roars of anger, and cheers. It was more movement speech than standard political speech, and it was more about change and what was moral than it was about politics.
The rally was punctuated by music at various points. There were Grandmothers for single-payer, singing about it being the best plan. There was the AFL-CIO affiliated, Labor Chorus of the DC area, singing a movement song of South African origin adapted for the single-payer cause. There were folk singers singing new and moving songs they had composed specifically for the single-payer movement; one of which (but don’t make me guess which) will probably become the “We Shall Overcome” of this movement as it grows. And there were also opportunities to sing along and to use the music to motivate ourselves about the movement.
Every movement needs signs and slogans, and this movement has them. It’s got “Medicare for All,” “Everybody in, Nobody Out,” and Single-Payer for All, To Insure Us All.” It’s got “Mad As Hell,” and “The Best Health Care Plan is A Single-payer Plan.” It’s got one’s index finger waving in the air to signify Single-payer, and it’s also got the “white ribbon of hope,” to display all across America.
In addition to the speeches of the Mad As Hell Doctors there were speeches by representatives of groups allied with them, all telling us why they were Mad As Hell, such as Physicians For A National Health Program (Dr. Margaret Flowers, who often introduced others), the Prosperity Agenda (Kevin Zeese), and the DC area local and National AFL-CIO (which had just endorsed single-payer at its recent conference). And yes, there was Dennis Kucinich, making a surprise appearance, and giving a rousing movement speech toward the end of the afternoon’s festivities, lifting everyone even higher.
The rally, the stories people told, and the way they told them revealed that the Mad As Hell Doctors, and the single-payer movement they represent, is beginning to develop its heroes, in addition, to its signs, songs, stories, and testimony. Paul Hochfeld, Katherine Ottaway, Michael Huntington, and the other Docs, display dedication to the movement and selfless concern for the people of America enmeshed in the web of our horrible health care un-system. Margaret Flowers, is one of the people arrested at the Senate Committee meeting last May, and she has the kind of personal charisma that really fuels successful social movements. Kevin Zeese is a fire-eater, and another leader who will use civil disobedience in support of single-payer. There are also many others and there is obviously much commitment to carry on the fight for single-payer and Medicare for All for as long as it takes.
When the cheering was over, and the rally had ended, the Docs walked over to the White House across the street from the Park, so they could tie “white ribbons of hope” to the fence. Ralphbon, mm, and I followed them, and asked them to take some pictures with us that we could use for our diaries here. They agreed and we persuaded a passerby to use mm’s camera to snap a few pictures. Hopefully, these will appear in mm’s forthcoming diary on the rally, and our readers will get to see our smiling faces with the Mad As Hell Docs. In addition, you should also be getting Ralph’s and mm’s diaries as soon as they can get to them. I’m sure they will have different perspectives on the rally than I have. And as we know, the more perspectives we have on it the better our understanding of the rally will be.
I was involved in some of the earliest anti-war and civil rights demonstrations of the ’60s, both small and large, and over the years I’ve been to many political meetings. I’ve learned to discriminate between political meetings that are about elections, party gains, legislation pending in Congress, or other specific goals, and movement meetings which are about some “cause,” about righting wrongs, and about changing things comprehensively.
The Mad As Hell Doctors rally was such a movement meeting. Its purpose was not to get Medicare for All passed in the next few days, or next week, or this year. It was to recruit people to a social and political movement, to unite them into such a movement, to create social bonds and network people in order to build a movement that will be successful over the longer term in getting health care accepted as a human right in America that transcends the market system, economic concerns, and the profits of the insurance industry, and then getting that acceptance enshrined in Medicare for All legislation.
I ended up having a great experience at the rally because once I realized its purpose, I could join in with a full heart and understand that it was as successful at fulfilling that purpose as some of the best movement meetings I’d been to in the past. The small size of the rally makes it clear that single-payer is a movement that is still in early days. It hasn’t mobilized its public yet. It’s more like the civil rights movement in 1960, than it is like that movement in 1963. But many recent polls show that it has a majority of the American people at its back. And even though single-payer, Medicare for All, will lose out this year, I think the Mad As Hell Doctors rally tells me, at least, that this movement has the kind of stories, signs and symbols, songs, determination, cause, and people of courage and commitment, of which good and successful movements are made. So, whatever happens over the next couple of months, I think that the Mad As Hell Doctors, and single-payer advocates like Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese will be back next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, if need be, until this fight is won, the insurance companies are out of the business of funding essential health care, and every American can exercise their right to health care, whatever their background, or station in life, because “Everybody in, Nobody Out,” is, finally, an American reality.
(Also posted at the Alllifeisproblemsolving blog where there may be more comments)