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Iowa 2016: What Will We Do With People Like Me?

Supporters listen as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses a campaign event at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, January 30, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. (Photo: AFP/William Edwards)

It all seems an unlikely scenario. It also seems unlikely that a person such as me will have a piece published on Monday morning, February 1, 2016.  I don't hold the sway or nearly the level of expertise that so many, many others do in the political world.  It also seems such a pivotal time for the nation.  

Years ago when Michael Moore filmed my family for his 2007 documentary, SiCKO, one my sons was filmed asking me, "What do we do with people like you?"  He was wondering aloud what to do about aging parents who were drowning financially due to medical debt.  He was making it clear that his generation didn't want to sweep up the mess that was my life.  My heart broke.  My spirit was crushed. My child saw me as a failure and worse, my child saw me as a problem to be solved.

That is what this election is all about.  To the extent that Iowa sets the stage for what is to come down the road of this election season, the Iowa caucuses may begin to answer the question my child asked so many years ago.  What do we do with people like me?

When I view the current candidates for president of the United States, I can see only one who answers the question in a way that prevents any mother from ever hearing that from her son again.  You see, I had become such a drain.  As the profit-crazed U.S. healthcare system ground away at us with insidious persistence, I fought to make sure my children had access to as many opportunities as I could so that they might never have their dreams deferred or destroyed. I was only partly successful.  While I could protect my kids from some of the financial trauma for a time by working more and more, I forever altered their paths forward.  


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There were lessons my life taught about everything from engagement in ones own community to whether or not it is wise to take some risks in life in order to live fully and happily.  You see, my life stood as grim testimony to everything not to be and do.  My son didn't want to reach his fifties and have nothing to show for decades of work.  The inclusion of that very real conversation in "SiCKO" has never really left my mind.  It hurts still.  I hear the words.  "What do we do with people like you?"

Well, Bernie Sanders envisions and intends to help create some new ground rules so that in America no mother will ever hear those words from her son in that context.  Making the healthcare system just through an improved and expanded Medicare for all system —yes, a single-payer system—would have leveled the playing field much more for me. Then maybe the effort I put in to modeling a decent, hard-working, faithful, and happy life would have meant more.  As it stood and still stands to some extent, the damage done to me by the healthcare system rendered my experience, my knowledge, my education and my hard work laughable.  

When future president Bernie Sanders says he thinks healthcare is a human right, wrapped in those words is the promise that no one's life need be decided or defined by a for-profit corporation—like any of the health insurance companies, Big Pharma, large hospital corporations, medical collection agencies and all the others who build their empires and fortunes on the bottom line.  

I've only heard one candidate call for the kind of healthcare justice that ends the need for any child to see his mother's lack of financial success and struggle to stay afloat as a measure of her life's value.  That candidate is Bernie Sanders.  And I do believe he intends to keep his word to me on that issue and others.  I cannot change what happens to us nor can I repair what happened until now.  What I can do is support the change that must come to this corrupt healthcare system in order to allow "people like me" to look anyone straight in the eye and command just a bit of respect as an equal to anyone else.  #NotMeUs #FeeltheBern

Donna Smith

Donna Smith

Donna Smith Donna Smith is the former executive director of Progressive Democrats of America and currently a Medicare for All campaign surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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