Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Sharecropper's Healthcare Plan


My grandfather never held political office but he was born for the political arena. He knew the issues before the issues became stories. The summer of ’75 was my introduction to political campaigns, thanks to my grandfather who I affectionately called “Daddy”.

My grandfather was asked that year to work on an ambitious gubernatorial campaign that would include Blacks and Whites working together. This campaign would focus on the “The working man’s friend”. The lack of job security was one issue that united Mississippians. “Everyone needs a job,” was impressed upon my grandfather. The promise of bringing manufacturing jobs to a state that had relied heavily on agriculture caught my grandfather’s attention. Daddy was a lover of politics, but reserved a fair amount of skepticism for anyone in political office. One of his favorite sayings was “They all lie and will eat their young to get elected.” But Daddy seemed enthusiastic about this particular campaign. I was nine years old working beside my grandfather, the master of political campaigns.

Daddy learned every candidate inside and out and taught his grandchildren everything about grass root campaigning. Pick a candidate and Daddy could tell you about his childhood, his personal life, his military service, his political view points and most importantly, the issues. Daddy was not entrenched in party affiliations but believed financial independence for families was more important than a letter by the politician’s name. Lack of job readiness and the skyrocketing unemployment could not be ignored. “Stick to the issues,” my grandfather told us over and over as we knocked on doors and shared with everyone their vote was important. “Don’t debate fear and hate,” he would add. Fear? Hate? Wait a minute. Why was he mentioning fear and hate when he wanted us to help register voters, give out campaign cards and hang posters on electric poles along Hwy 61? I dared not pose my questions out loud…no one questioned my grandfather.

We hit the counties that were heavily agricultural. Not cities or small towns but the countryside where soybeans and cotton fields grew as far as the eye can see and little shanty houses were dotted every few acres. That is where I encountered the fear of the unknown that was meshed with hatred of learning the truth. Knocking on doors was an education of a lifetime. One encounter will always remain with me.

I knocked on the door of a sharecropper’s home. I was prepared with my best repertoire with a smile. An elderly woman answered the door looking at me like I was an alien from another world as I extended my hand to shake hers. I stood straight and tall in my campaign t-shirt with ribbons tied on my ponytails. I had a lunch box which I used to keep my campaign fliers, voter lists and property information. I shared about jobs and employment as if I was saying my Easter speech at church.

Her response to my banter was unexpected. She spoke with hostility as she informed me her land would not be taken from her. ‘They’ were not going to remove her from her home. “This is my land,” she repeated sternly as she pointed to no place in particular and no one was going to take it. I glanced out at the acres of crops planted up to the steps and looked back at her, announcing innocently, “This is not your land you, you pick cotton for Mr. Jones. Daddy wants to help you get a job so you can buy your own house.” (Mr. Jones, the owner of the land, lived in the big yellow house at the end of the dirt road that we could see from the front porch.)

At that moment, the Mississippi River dried up that day. A nine year old was telling an elder that she didn’t know what she was talking about and shattering her belief that she owned the land that she toiled for decades. Watching her expression change, I knew I was in trouble with her and my granddaddy.

Our beliefs, accurate or inaccurate, can help us survive challenging circumstances.The woman's world view was consistent with what most sharecroppers believed. Although they lived and worked on land that many would never own, many believed that the landowner would one day give it to them because they were told this by the owner, who in turn, benefited from them believing the lie. I handed her a property list from my lunch box that listed the landowner; it also stated he was a registered voter. She was not listed as a registered voter. She asked, “Where did you get this from little girl?” I said proudly, “Daddy. He got it from the court house.” Beaming, I told her to go to the court house and ask for the records from the clerk. My mother, who taught me about records and deeds, worked in the tax assessor’s office assisting homeowner’s file their homestead exemptions.

The woman grew pale and seemed to age as she told me she was going to tell my folks that I had sassed her. She sat down abruptly on a bench and as she continued to mumble it was her land. I did not know if I had educated her or killed her. I decided if I am going to get a whipping, I better make sure I told everything. I proceeded to tell her how much land Mr. Jones owned throughout the county. My words were backed up by the property list. But she continued to say she owned the land as if she was trying to convince herself. I remember another saying of my grandfather’s “Never argue with a fool, they will either win the argument or kill you.” Sensing her despair and frustration, I backed off the porch and wished her a good day as I skipped off to catch up with my cousins who were waiting. Hearing the bench move, my skipping was replaced by running. Fear for my safety made me run faster. The more things change the more things remain the same.

How many understand the issues that have polarized communities around the nation with fear of what ifs and misinformation? The town hall meetings shown on cable news are as confusing as the language being used to describe the events. The media has focused on the drama rather than the real issues.

Have you read the bill, HR 3200? Not the talking points given to industry insiders, pundits or politicians’ stomp speeches, but the actual bill itself. I have been reading the bill for the last month. I have not made it to page 500 of 1,081 pages document. I called my insurance agent to get his input about a particular passage and he was taken aback. I am self employed. My deductible is $10K and all visits are paid out of pocket until that deductible is met. This summer, I paid thousands of dollars in medical payments for my child who had taken ill suddenly. My monthly premiums are $398.00. I have never filed a medical claim in fifteen years. The doctors’ invoices are paid by me and the insurance company premiums are paid whether I work or not. The more I write, the more I feel like the sharecropper. I am working to pay for nothing.

I contacted my primary care physician to discuss a few issues about my healthcare plans for the future. I was asked to set an appointment. The consultation was going to be considered an office visit. I would need to pay $125. (Note to self, find a new doctor this week.)

As life intersects with today’s political scene, the sharecropper’s despair and frustration desribes how many feel about healthcare. We are faced with “choices” that many do not understand, will not be able to buy and will never be able to vote on. We cannot be like the sharecroppers who never received the benefits from being landowners because they did not know the truth about the property they labored on and did not own, we cannot accept what we are told. We must ask questions and educate ourselves about the issues. Talking points and massive hysteria will never stand up to honest scrutiny. Fear only breeds contempt and contempt will leave us with empty promises, political rhetoric and DC’s business-as-usual-culture.

We, the people, will never have the health care provided to our politicians under the golden dome. We elected them to serve us, all of us, but often politicians serve themselves first. Remember what Daddy said. “They eat their young.” HR 3200 has become an off shoot to issues that politicians will not speak truth to power. They are more concerned about maintaining their office than giving us real answers.

I have shared my thoughts about the bill with every sitting U.S. Representatives from the state of Tennessee and the White House. Have you shared yours? I urge everyone to read the bill for themselves, ask questions of insurance agents and doctors as well as your elected officials. I would like to hear more discussion around insurance reform which drives the health care bus but that's me. Let’s not accept the sharecropper’s stake in the reform debate. Instead let's hold our politicians accountable for the premiums our tax dollars pay for their insurance plans.

For HR3200 - http://docs.house.gov/edlabor/AAHCA-BillText-071409.pdf
For changes www.govtrack.us

15 comments :

blackgirlinmaine said...

Only got a second but this is a great post that many people need to read...I was just reading about a man who is against the proposal yet the more he talked it was clear he would benefit. Too many people are working from a place of misinformation and fear on this matter.

RiPPa said...

A most excellent read! It's 5am and I woke up to hear that Senator Ted Kennedy has passed on. Somehow I get the feeling that the ignorant among us are going to spin his death into a liberal conspiracy to get health care reform passed.

Anonymous said...

Tremendously thought provoking. Thank you for the "wake up" call.

Clyde 2X said...

very thought provoking. the story of the sharecropper is a perfect analogy of the current health care debate. Thank you for posting this.

Brown Man said...

Genma,

one of your BEST stories - will be pubbing this on my blog.

The sharecropper analogy was a showstopper.

Los Angelista said...

Thank you for sharing this. You made me think about how critical it is to independently investigate the truth. Very well done.

Jimboland Jots said...

A deeply touching story, well written and timely. How sad that so many poor people were disenfranchised for generations! I am glad that you shared this story, for it contains many lessons for us all.

James
Jimboland Jots >>> http://www.jimboland.com

The Ari | af | ya Universe said...

The bill's written in lawyerspeak. Doesn't mean you don't read it, it means it'll be tough reading. Definitely ask questions! Real issue is what clinicians can/cannot do under current regulations. Like EOL care or completing all trmts w a nonadherent pt population. This bill will legally change ppls misperceptions until emergency care's needed.

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking. You hit the nail on the head with the fear of the unknown.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post everyone should read. Reminds me about when I was registering voters. I was trying to register an enemployed man, who complained to me that Mondale would raise his taxes. I said "aren't you unemployed." He said "yes. But if I get a job Mondale will raise my taxes.

sadie said...

Thank you for this post. I live in DC and have no real representative. While I have shared my thoughts with Ms. Norton, I wish that I had someone with a vote to talk to. I think I just might write to each Senator and Representative, since they in effect run my home "state."

baxterblogs said...

Genma,
I'm so glad to know you. I feel privilaged that you have come in my life. This was one of the most touching and timely stories that I have read in quite awhile. The connection with the sharecropper and health care, brilliant!

I know you have many gifts, but your writing is an amazing gift. Seriously, I felt like I was on the front porch with you.

You, my dear, are an inspiration. Keep on Keepin' on!

wakemenow said...

Matt Taibbi has an excellent article in the September 2009 issue of Rolling Stone magazine titled: "Sick And Wrong: How Washington Is Screwing Up Health Care Reform—And Why It May Take A Revolt To Fix It".

Read it yesterday and I greatly appreciate Matt Taibbi's ability to see through the partisan 'politicking' and expose some of the lesser known stuff being proposed, like requiring people to accept their employer's plan even if it's practically worthless.

Do check it out! ;)

Houseonahill said...

Fantastically written. Your writing is very moving. Thank you for the break down as well. I hope we can all come together and do what is right for ourselves and our country.

I hope that our legislators here our cries for change now.

You really have a gift.

La Lubu said...

Excellent post. I haven't read the bill. But I've been on-again, off-again employed so many times in the past decade (crossing my fingers during the times of unemployment/no health insurance) that it's gotta be better than that.