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Donna Smith

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

August 25th, 2011 5:06 PM

This Un-Labor Day: Disasters Natural and "Un"

Not earthquake, not hurricane, not blizzard, not dark of night – no, it’s not the Postal Service, it’s the nurses you and I expect to be there for us and with us and among us when health disasters strike us without any warning or with as much lead time as any other natural disaster.  So, why would any one of us expect otherwise from our nurses as they survey the economic, societal and cultural damage done to America and healing needed from the “un”- natural disaster that overtook all working class people in the current economic crisis?

This September 1, come high water or other-worldly calamity, the 170,000 registered nurse members of National Nurses United will gather on Main Streets from Maine to California, in more than 60 locales, to stand stoic and strong and to demand that Wall Street pay for the “un”-natural damage done to Main Street.

You’ll never know the healing and the joy of it unless you gather with nurses to call for the sort of action that has been absent from the un-believable and un-conscionable goings on as elected officials have protected Wall Street and allowed their own constituents to languish.  Nurses do not do that.  Never have.  Never will. Nurses heal.  And they are calling for healing now.

When the earthquake shook my Maryland office and my home on August 23, 2011, while awaiting news about the approaching Hurricane Irene and as I mark the anniversary of Hurricane Andrew’s strike on my office and home in Miami on August 24, 1992, it gives me pause to consider how natural disasters have punctuated my life.  But it also made me observant of how much has changed in 19 short years about how working people in America are allowed to react to those natural disasters – and sometimes potentially life-threatening conditions --  and how those changes for workers reflect the “un”-natural disasters doing at least as much damage to our nation.

Working people must now more aggressively protect the pillars of profit-making rather than their bodies, their families or their homes lest during and after the natural disasters and storms of life they be judged uncommitted, lazy, slovenly and just too working-class to ascend into American socio-economic  greatness.  Kindness during calamity and decency – unless offered to those at one’s own rank and status or higher – has become all but passé in 2011 America.  This Labor Day is about as un-labor friendly a day as any we’ve ever seen.  Working people are under attack in so many ways.

I’ve seen about as much natural calamity as most other middle-aged Americans have, maybe more than some and certainly less than others.  I’ve seen floods and tornados (in Chicago, Denver and Maryland), ash falling as Mount Saint Helens erupted, and I lived in the evacuation zone of a rapidly advancing forest fire which was then followed by a massive mudslide on the hillside above my back yard (Grizzly Gulch fire, Lead, South Dakota, 2002).  We lived in Miami in the path of the northern eye wall of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and were grateful to have survived.   There have been massive blizzards (in South Dakota and in Maryland) and ice storms (in Chicago) that cut power and emergency access for days in a few of the places where I’ve lived.   And the very recent earthquake on the East Coast was only the second I’ve felt in my 56 years and certainly the biggest. 

The un-natural disasters I’ve seen have been every bit as troubling over the more than five decades of my life, but the most difficult to tolerate have been the most preventable.  I went broke.  Even with health insurance and while working more than full time.  At least as a natural disaster unfolds, everyone is in the same boat.  Mother Nature does not exempt the wealthy and powerful from her forces – though those with more money certainly can often protect themselves better and also are better protected by public services in the aftermath as many well-documented case have shown us all. 

But as financial disaster rolls through the nation and the world, especially in the most recent recessionary period, not everyone felt the disaster.  It wasn’t a disaster at all for many.  Some have become even more wealthy and powerful.  This was an “un”-natural disaster that will be followed by more and more of the same if we do not fundamentally alter the course. The captains of profit didn’t go down with the ships built by workers.  The captains of wealth and profit in America bought big, new yachts and hired cheaper crew members to serve their every needs as they turned their backs on the sinking ships on Main Street.

The nation’s largest professional nurses union, National Nurses United, and its 170,000 members are un-comfortable with the “un”-natural financial and societal disasters creating such an un-labor friendly Labor Day in 2011.   So, these caring, compassionate and committed community members will gather for their own un-Labor day events.  Join in person if you can; join by petition if you cannot.  But do join the nurses in stopping the un-natural disasters unfolding on Main Streets all over this land that are preventable and “un.”

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