Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lou Hammann's remarks at Thursday's single payer rally

AfD co-chair Lou Hammann was one of the campaign-finance activists arrested in the Capitol Rotunda Democracy Brigades actions, and in his talk at Thursday's rally in Washington, he reminds us of the corrupting power of money in politics--a problem that's only gotten worse since.

I don’t want to blur the focus of this rally, but indulge me for a moment or two.

Back in 2000 the Alliance for Democracy organized a series of demonstrations in the Rotunda of the Capitol to call attention to the need for campaign finance reform. Over a period of ten or eleven months, I would estimate that close to 100 people were arrested for exercising their rights of free speech. Our method involved civil disobedience. That meant simply that we did not behave in the public arena in a way consistent with some ill-defined “tourist standard.” We should note, however, that in the halls of that Capitol, lobbyists were free to move without any constraints. Why? Because they were engaged in “business as usual.” In practical terms that meant persuading the people who should represent us that the business of corporations has priority over the hopes, needs and judgments of ordinary citizens. Surely, such an army of professional lobbyists was not behaving like any group of “standard tourists.”

One of those demonstrations was meant to expose the virtual bribery of legislators by “healthcare industries” and their lobbyists. In a fact sheet that we had put together, we asked the question, “Can we possibly have Universal Health Care?” Our answer was, “Not when members of Congress and their parties have taken (in’99 – ’00 alone) $66,000,000 in political contributions from insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.” That was nearly a decade ago! There is no need to repeat what many here know about the quantity and distribution of money, privilege and opportunity that tempts (should we say, seduces?) people now in positions of power and authority. It is not the shadow of money that falls over the current effort at healthcare reform. It is real money—and everyone here knows how to track it through the legislative labyrinth.

It is just a fact, a decade later, that corporate money and privilege still flow through the halls and offices of those who govern our country. It would be naïve to suppose that prospective healthcare legislation is an exception to the rule of influence.

The excuse that many who resist a move to universal healthcare invoke is embarrassingly consistent. They tell us that it is simply impossible to create a system that shares risk and cost equitably and distributes services efficiently. But that is not a bona fide reason. “Impossible,” why? Check the money and corporate power that now flows through the halls and offices of government. If you ask for the judgment of many healthcare professionals who live with the inequities of the current healthcare system, they will tell you that it is impossible to endure any longer the unhealthy system of healthcare delivery that now holds us all captive.

And then there are the confusion and anxiety of ordinary citizens who can’t safely maneuver through the system of private healthcare: Surely they deserve a system that is not defined as an “industry” that puts corporate profits above their human needs—and human rights. In the current climate, being “patient” is hardly a virtue. The stories of how so many patients are abused by the strategies of insurance corporations are multiplying dangerously—“dangerously” both for the economy and for the real people whom we here represent. No need to invoke the millions of stories “out there” in the real world where people live with their bodies and minds and resources at constant risk. You can hear those stories in kitchens, living rooms and offices—stories of pain, sadness and disability, exacerbated by the cruelties of profit-driven healthcare.

The Alliance for Democracy has held from its beginning that corporate power has usurped the rights of citizens, the environment and government. Such power too often overrides the legitimate needs and human rights of those of us who live our lives in the real world, where exorbitant money and privileges are not the only things that give life meaning.

I am from Pennsylvania, where bills in both our house and senate are beginning to move the state toward a Single Payer system of Healthcare. The American democracy was born in our state. Surely universal healthcare is a real extension of this democratic polity.

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