Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Something's Happening Here ... What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear
I spent several hours yesterday serving as a peace marshal at a health care reform rally sponsored by Health Care for America Now. While the event was rowdy, it never veered toward anything nonviolent so I didn't have much to do other than watch and listen.
The target of the rally was the meeting of the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plans, which gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in DC. The choice of hotel was as tone deaf as the recent rate hikes announced by several insurance companies. One wonders who does PR for these folks. Are they simply so removed from the reality of this particular moment that they don't realize how they look, or are they so arrogant that they don't care how they look?
As one industry employee attending the conference said, “Why don’t you just pull up in Rolls-Royces and Porsches?”
It reminded me of the auto executives flying into DC on their private jets to meet with congress and ask for a bailout. Who advises these folks?
On the other hand, I'd ask the same question of the rally organizers.
Some aspects of the event were well planned. Some 5,000 people participated according to an estimate in this morning's Washington Post. The target of the demonstration -- AHIP's meeting -- was well chosen, and the speakers did a good job of posing health care reform as reigning in the well chronicled abuses of the insurance industry. For what it was, the demonstration was a fine and successful event.
But while I am all for taking to the streets in protest, more than a decade after Seattle the rallies and demonstrations with drums and puppets and street theater all begin to look and sound the same. It seems too pat and predictable, and too easy to dismiss. I wonder what it would feel like to ask participants to dress up rather than down, to walk in silence rather than making noise, to disrupt business as usual in a completely different manner, and to engage the issue in a way that challenges the system and demands its end in uncompromising language that does not simply demonize those who profit from it and support it.
What if 5,000 people, all dressed in dark suits or skirts, walked 10 across through the streets of the headquarter cities of the insurance companies and marched into those office buildings -- or into the arms of arresting police filling the jails -- presented tons of claim forms, or read off a list of thousands of names of people who died last year because they did not have insurance, or simply stood in silent mass witness to those lives?
Such a demonstration would take incredible discipline, and a huge amount of organizing and training not to mention money. In other words, it might take way more commitment of time and treasure than people are willing to give -- which may just be why we've been stuck with an inefficient and unjust health care insurance system for more than 100 years.
Then I spent last evening at a gathering of the Luke 6 community in formation. We spent our time studying the founding text. The sixth chapter of Luke is Jesus' sermon on the plain and Luke's version of the Beatitudes. Luke's version of these teachings is famously more challenging than that in Matthew 5 (which is challenging enough for me).
I was struck, yesterday in particular, by the opening stories of the Luke text. In it Jesus is practicing direct action and protest. He goes straight into the territory of those who oppose him -- the scribes and Pharisees. In Luke 6 Jesus goes to the synagogue and scandalizes the religious leaders with his teaching about what is appropriate to the Sabbath. Without ever speaking a personal word about the people he opposes, he calls into question everything that they support.
While they may have felt humiliated, their humiliation is never the point of Jesus' action nor of Luke's writing. Both the actions and Luke's account leave open the possibility of restored relationship while completely undermining the system that has broken relationships to begin with.
Like the rest of Luke 6, the opening stories present incredibly difficult challenges to those who would try to follow Jesus, in this case, into the streets. I ended up yesterday feeling completely inadequate to that challenge and rather glad to be on the rolls of Blue Cross than on the way to the cross.