Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation
As we continue to advocate for healthcare as a human right, at times I think it valuable to acknowledge those who aren’t in the spotlight or expecting to achieve immortality and personal accolades for their effort. Millions of quiet fighters push forward every day through a system designed to stop them. Millions of quiet fighters never start or end their battles waiting for a megaphone or microphone or camera to capture them and spread their brilliance far and wide. Millions of quiet fighters will not become this nation’s healthcare heroes, but they are fighting nonetheless.
During the past several years, my husband and millions like him have been such fighters. When an injustice presented itself in the course of their interactions with the obscene U.S. healthcare profit-making engine, quiet fighters wage the battle right on the spot for themselves and for all of us. They question the bills, they protest the co-pays and deductibles, they refuse costly tests ordered obviously for revenue-swelling and not healthcare reasons, and they have the audacity to buck the profiteers in the system when no media will be generated.
Sometimes the quiet fighters try to tell their stories and in doing so they find they are not alone by a long shot. But most of the time, quiet fighters aren’t seen or heard by anyone but their closest circles of family and friends. And sometimes the quiet fighters don’t even have help from those around them who do have wider influence in the social justice movement for healthcare as a human right. Quiet fighters aren’t making the intellectual arguments for change; they are living the conditions the intellectuals talk about. Quiet fighters weren’t born with the “superior intellectual gifts” of PhDs or MDs or anyone else upon whom formal education has bestowed its best initials and titles.
The arena of political and social advocacy likes to find its stars. Maybe in years past we might have listened more to the common person, but now even social justice movements look for “the look” or better yet “the look” combined with enough sound-bite savvy to predict or even validate a spokesperson’s potential. Already bestowed celebrity in the entertainment world is better as a first requirement for movement stardom, but self-created celebrity is an acceptable second option.
Some movements really enjoy identifying elite leaders who have stepped away from their quests for personal wealth to bless the rest of us with their talents. It’s as if having already attained wealth and power -- no matter how -- is an accepted mark of a successful person sacrificing personal advancement on behalf of the greater good. Better yet, we sometimes believe without much proof, that a wealthy, powerful person turned social cause spokesmodel has made a remarkable personal turnabout, almost a “born again” moment on our behalf, and we sometimes almost instantly believe their personal sacrifice trumps what others have gone through or are going through.
We have almost a second sense in our society about looking someone up and down and instantly determining their value to us in terms of status and influence. Is the price of the clothing, the cut of the shirt, the leather shoes or the haircut and make-up? Are they pulled together, head to to, as we want them to be? Are they thin and fit or average or even overweight?
Michael Moore is perhaps one of our most interesting representations of the phenomenon and what it takes to buck the cultural norm. It is his public persona is to wear the cap and shorts and comfy tennis shoes (wow, my age shows in that description, eh?). He would upon first glance be a rumpled guy from down the street who many might claim needs a bit more attention paid to personal appearance. But, his filmmaking talents and success have been enough to create the requisite celebrity to overcome those powerful cultural measures of what a successful advocate for social change has to look like. In the back of folks’ minds, Michael has either attained the success that overcomes what we want a powerful filmmaker to look like or his “look” has become over the years the uniform we expect him to wear as he advocates. His common guy look is part of his uncommon path to fame.
Look at our political arena right now – I know it’s difficult to do – but look. Sometimes it seems as though we do not care so much what a person stands for or might do for or to us that we care about. It’s the look and the ability to sell the look. Pretty, rich people can morph the look as they think we will want to see. Sleeves rolled up on that button-down mean hard work, right? How about a really big shrink-wrapped bus sold to us as a family RV for a little vacation? Photo op politics are everywhere.
But most of us will not overcome our looks and financial status groups to be afforded such credibility. Millions of quiet fighters fight on and pave the way without regard to the photo op potential. No press releases necessary. The fight isn’t for quiet fighters like my Larry to get coverage in the media; the fight is for quiet guys like my Larry to get healthcare justice. And it can be a lonely, scary fight when one of these fighters is also sick and needing care in a system without much justice at all.
So, today, on our 35th wedding anniversary, I wanted to say thank you to Larry and the millions of quiet fighters who rage on against the inhumanity of it all. I wish the path had been easier for him and for all patients who need help and have to fight unreasonable and ugly battles to protect health and modest wealth. It is bad enough to give up years of one’s life to illness only to find that you’ll also give up on ever having moments of rest or even relaxation in retirement. Modest dreams are replaced by healthcare justice nightmares. And there is no stardom in that.
In 1976, when we were on the verge of our new lives together, everything seemed possible. Neither of us could have predicted the path. You took the one less traveled by and it has made all the difference – though looking down them they were worn about the same. I offer that to the quiet fighters today as my rendition of Robert Frost’s famous poem, because no matter which path your struggle took you down, you keep walking that path for us all. And it did matter and will make all the difference when this nation finally stops elevating celebrity and status and wealth and power over human decency and the common good.
Happy anniversary, Larry. And happy trails to all the quiet fighters. Thank you.
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