I've either been self-employed or a small-business owner for most of the past 25 years, and, as such, I'm used to seeing insurance premiums go up at least about 12% per year. This year, United HC just raised my rates 18%, during a recession, when they're already making billions in profit. But the problem was just as bad when I had Aetna before. My insurance broker says there are no good deals for health insurance. In my experience there is no competition in this industry any longer, and something like a "public-option" government insurance plan is needed to force the companies to give back some profit in the form of reduced premiums or increased coverage.
Feeling that this problem is under-reported in the health care "debate", I've wanted to be able to express it in some public forum but, alas, in central Florida most politicians are Republicans and they have no interest in discussing the current health care system.
However, just yesterday I saw that there was going to be a meeting in support of health care reform in downtown Orlando (sponsored by Healthcare for America Now). So I bought my "supplies" and made a sign saying "My health insurance just went up 18% (again)" and headed for downtown.
When I arrived at the event, many people complimented me on my sign and asked me to stand for a picture. But at the entrance, I was told the event required a prior ticket (which was not indicated on their website). Fortunately, a man just outside was handing out free tickets to late arrivals and gave me one. Although the ticket collector-girl was skeptical, she took my ticket and let me in.
And so I entered the gymnasium and climbed up into the seats behind others so my sign would not block their view. I felt a little out of place, as the event was in a poor black neighborhood and it seemed there were few whites there. But all seemed to agree that some reform of the health insurance system was needed, and there several signs condemning corporate profit over health.
As we waited, people began chants like "Healthcare Now!" with an aggressive vigor. That's not really my style, but I thought my sign said it all, so I sat and took in my first "political" event.
Then, suddenly, I was surrounded by several angry young black event personnel and a white "union representative" demanding to know what union I was in and saying that I would have to give up my sign. Dumbfounded, I asked why, pointing out that there were many signs which said essentially the same thing. Then, within seconds, brawny policemen sidled up to me, and the other men accused me of sneaking into the event. I tried to explain that I came in just like everybody else, but, obviously a "decision had been made" that I must be ejected from this "private" event.
As I was "escorted" down the stands, more and more people noticed and began to jeer me, as if I were some sinister double-agent. I pleaded with them, saying, "I AGREE with you", but nobody listened. I even felt a strong undercurrent of racism from some present, as if any bearded middle-aged white guy with a SIGN must be up to no good! It seemed that the collective anger over health care, and even some black racism, of hundreds of people was directed towards me as the police lead me out!
At the front entrance, the ticket girl snarled and jeered at me, thrilled that I had gotten "caught". I pleaded with everybody that I was "on their side", but the thuggish policeman just shoved me and made sure that my footsteps lead me to shortest route off the property, and that I did not "loiter" on the sidewalk.
In trying to intuit what happened, I can only guess that some pompous, angry and perhaps (yes) racist "Organizer", seeing me behind the others and not yelling enough, concluded that I must have been a hostile plant, without even THINKING about my sign, and therefore flexed his muscles by sic-ing his minions on me. I do feel that there is a good measure of racism in the protests against health care reform, but overreacting to perceived racism can also become racist.
This whole dynamic calls to mind the many famous historical tales of mad collective Anger Gone Wild (like the French Revolution, for example), where people abandon all sense of reason and even begin "feeding on their own". Such a combination of ignorant and righteous mob anger is always treacherous.
And so ended my first attempt at "grass roots" civic participation!
One of my Montana readers emailed me at the same time. His comments are germane to my cousin's experience:
I am thinking it is time for someone to go away from snarky and call neo-cons’ and Republicans’ public utterances “silly” and “unserious.” When there is so much work to do, why spend all that time and energy going toe to toe with them? I don’t want to demonize them—they are motivated by an odd mixture of fear, greed and love of country. I get that. But they live it more proudly and confidently than they deserve to. Snarky is as snarky does and it makes the public debate stand on a foundation of derision—both deserved and undeserved. Which is not to say I don’t value clever exchanges in public debate. It’s just that I am not consistently clever enough(although I do have a moment now and then) to bang on things that way. Tell them they are silly and unserious, and let us get back to work. Why aren’t more bloggers trying to be like Mark Twain?
Going all Mark Twain means we laugh at everybody, including ourselves. And I'm for that, because I think what happened to my cousin, by people who are supposed to know better, is stupid, silly, and unserious. But we've got to uncover (and if we've got the gumption, laugh at) our own failings, and this was a complete FAIL on the part of Healthcare Now.
But right now, I'm not laughing.