New York, NY. December 10, 2009 -- On Thursday morning, a group of
friends and colleagues, mostly middle-aged, sat and chatted over coffee
at a midtown deli near Grand Central Station. Then Laurie Wen, an
organizer with the Mobilization for Healthcare for All, showed up with
a box of granola bars and a bag full of T-shirts, and everybody
cheerfully rolled up their sleeves to write the number of an attorney
on their forearms.
Two hours later most of them were in jail, and the "fourth wave" of
a nationwide campaign to use civil disobedience to push for a
single-payer plan had delivered its demands to the doorstep of Senator
Chuck Schumer's midtown Manhattan office.
It's a particularly poignant day for Rich Marini, one of the advance
team of people sitting here today -- and not in a good way.
"Ironically, today is the day that my company stopped providing health
care to its employees," says Marini of Staten Island, a programmer at
an IT firm called Tango Inc. "Henceforth all employees will have to pay
in out of pocket about $8,000 a year. We were all told we have the
"opportunity to re-enroll."
On the second floor of the deli, Laurie reminds everybody that in at
least 20 other cities across the country, people are sitting in at the
offices of health insurance companies and politicians. Senator Chuck
Schumer has raised the ire of these activists in New York because of
his role in recent negotiations in the Senate to lower the age of
eligibility of Medicate from 65 to 55. The catch: this is viewed by
many as a way to abandon the public option, or any anemic version
thereof that remains in legislation currently being considered by the
bit of horse-trading is seen by activists here as a paltry trade-off,
and one that reflects the senator's friendliness to the insurance
industry over the desires of his constituents. According to
OpenSecrets.org, Schumer is the biggest recipient in Congress of
donations from the HMO/Health Services category, raking in $99,650 in
campaign contributions this year. At press time a message left with
Senator Schumer's New York press office was not returned.
"The frustration of his constituents is very real," says Dr. Laura
Boylan, a neurologist who and member of Physicians for a National
Health Program while marching in a boisterous picket line in front of
Schumer's office before giving a brief address to the crowd. "He's
claimed to be for single-payer in the past, but he hasn't moved on
anything. I don't want to see any more people who have bleeding in heir
brain because they can't afford to take care of their diabetes. We're
not going away."
One thing that's impossible to ignore about this emerging movement
is the willingness of health care professionals here in New York, and
across the country, to risk arrest and the resulting legal headaches,
borne out of their experiences in the trenches of America's
dysfunctional health care system.
"In my work, I see a lot of poor women who won't be covered by the
Democrats' new plan," says Dan Murphy, a 35-year old medical student
with close-cropped blond hair wearing dark blue scrubs. Dan, who
specializes in OBGYN, is one of the first to link arms with fellow
activists in front of Schumer's office, obstructing foot traffic in and
out of the building. And he's one of the last to be handcuffed and
pulled to his foot before being deposited in a paddy wagon nearby. At
the end of the action nine had been arrested on the relatively light
charges of disorderly conduct.
"I think we're going to see many more of these, because the fight is
far from over," says Laurie Wen, busy exchanging contact details with
the legal observer on the scene. "Nothing important was ever won in
this country by us accepting crumbs."