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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

January 21st, 2013 11:23 AM

A Pauper’s Inaugural: Mrs. Smith Bids Washington Farwell

Today marked a new beginning of sorts for the nation.  At least that’s what an inaugural celebration is slated to be.  With much pomp and fanfare, public leaders, like President Obama are installed in their positions and the world pauses to watch.  But some of us held different sorts of transitional events today, and in my case, I departed the Washington, D.C., area with little hesitation and watched a new period of life dawn at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where the air is much fresher in so many ways.

In 2008 when I fought hard to live and work in our nation’s capital, I knew it would be challenging to advance work on a single-payer, Medicare for all for life health care reform effort.  I had no illusions in that regard.  And the difficulties I expected in fighting for reform all came to pass and then some.

Very few people in power in Washington – even those who are thought champions of an “everybody in, nobody out” system – are willing to risk their own political skins to stand for broader health reform.  Perhaps some just feel helpless against the power, money and influence of the for-profit forces of health providers, health insurance companies, huge pharmaceutical companies and the like.  Perhaps others do not wish to confront the anti-government zealots.  Still others don’t think a system based on insurance really is fundamentally broken.  The reasons aren’t as critical to me as the reality: few in power in Washington, D.C., are really on board with single-payer work on the national level.

The parts of the Washington scene I found most disconcerting were the systemic exclusion of people like me from the discussions and decisions about what people like me most need.  But, I remained determined to be heard and to make sure others would not ignore the needs of working people, working women, working poor, working without health care access, working without respect, working under the pressure of those who diminish others…  It isn’t an easy thing for every American who labors and who wishes to make a difference to do so.

Opportunity in America is tainted by human greed and lust for control over others. And Washington is full to the brim of the Beltway with that greed.  It isn’t just the Citizen’s United decision that dives that; it’s a much deeper and more fundamental reality of human behavior in America.  I sometimes grew as weary of those outside of government who were greedy to be anointed as power brokers as I did the politicians.  I met far too many people who were wealthy enough that they didn’t even need to work much who acted as though they could speak for me.  It was insulting too.

When the opportunity to return to Colorado opened up to me and with it the chance to be part of the terrific work going on here to advance health care for all without financial barrier, it was time to be honest with myself about the realities and the dimming potential for progress on the national front.  And it was time to embrace, and even celebrate, the parts of my background that are so little valued among the influential circles of the Washington elite inside and outside of our government but so celebrated in the state work underway in the state where I earned my college degree, was married and where my children were born and raised.

So as I was listening to the D.C. inaugural festivities on the radio and driving up to Denver for a meeting with my colleagues of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation, I’ll admit I found it more than fitting to hear James Taylor singing “America the Beautiful” as I was literally in the shadow of the purple mountain’s majesty above the fruited plain that inspired the lyrics of that song.  I was going to be a part, once again, of solid, meaningful and valued work – my work.  As an aside, I really found it odd to have a 21-gun salute in D.C. for the President’s celebration even as we heard mention of the Newtown killings.  That was just those sorts of incongruences that reinforced the wisdom of my decision to leave.

Saying farewell to Washington meant being honest with myself about the best chances for actually making sure a health care system that protects and honors us all becomes a reality during my lifetime.  And after another bout with cancer this year, time certainly seems more of the essence than ever.  My humble inaugural took place quietly, around a dinner table, in a dear colleague’s home.  Together, we celebrated the new potential ahead and recommitted ourselves to seeing that our state and its people all have the chance for a good and decent life.

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