Glen Beck's 9/12 Project was a bust. It got zero news coverage, the turn out was tiny -they promised hundreds of thousands - and 30,000 was called a "generous" estimate by the LA Times. Our VP of Doctors for America was in the DC area this past weekend...and went down to the mall area to check it out. She had a few important observations to share you.
_________________________________By Dr. Alice Chen -hospitalist at UCLA and VP of Doctors for America
What I saw today was horrible- tens of thousands of people sprawled across the Washington Mall waving signs proudly fighting against fascism and Communism and even death – all the suspected outcomes of health reform. It felt like the twilight zone. These were regular people who were just utterly misinformed. It was like watching a person with severe emphysema smoking or a diabetic ordering a large milkshake and a double cheeseburger. Tens of thousands of people who believed they were fighting for their liberty and their future but were actually obliviously fighting against their own self interest.
I saw a sweet little girl holding a sign that she clearly drew herself that said "Please don't ruin my future!!" I wanted to cry. I wandered through that crowd in disbelief and found myself asking aloud, "Why? Why would you do this?" No one heard me.
I tried very hard not to engage anyone even though I wanted to shake every person awake and tell them to open their eyes to reality. Eventually, I encountered a woman who was doing a documentary and asked to interview me. The next thing we knew, we were surrounded by a crowd of people who started questioning me in utter disbelief that I was there in favor of reform.
I had a man point to his very cute son and tell me that Obama does not believe he is a person because he is under the age of 2. I had a woman tell me that the reason she has no health insurance is because she is paying taxes that are spent on gender-switching operations and abortions and maternity leave and taking care of illegal immigrants. She was also horrified that mental health was being covered; she got some nods from the crowd, but I knew that statistically speaking, people in that crowd have people who are close to them who have serious mental illness. I had a man tell me that he actually read the part of the bill that talks about advanced directives and decided that it was all a slippery slope that would cause us to kill people who are sick and older. The same man is on military benefits, and I told him that nobody was taking that away because in America, we take care of our military. The crowd disagreed.
We have so much work to do. This was a wake up call. These are not simply "crazies." These are Americans who believe in American values but truly believe that reform will take away their rights. They have a fundamental distrust of the government and especially of this current government, yet they do not recognize that the government paves our roads and pays for our police officers and firemen, funds our troops, takes care of our veterans, runs our public libraries.
I realized that I live in an echo chamber. I am surrounded day in and day out by people who are working in favor of reform. Today I learned that the opposition are real, honest people. It is teachers and veterans and mechanics and business owners. It is people across this country who believe that reform will hurt them.
It is easy to decry the people in that crowd as being stupid, crazy, fringe elements. But these are fellow Americans. These are hard-working Americans who believe in this country, who truly believe they are fighting for their liberty and freedom and for their families. I tried as much as I could to stick to the high road. I repeated again and again, I am a doctor and I am fighting for all of you to have health care.
I got the crowd to agree on a few points: I do not want insurance companies to deny care for preexisting conditions. I do not want them to take away your insurance if you get sick. I want to make sure we have enough primary care doctors. When the discussion got heated, I got them to agree again: we all want to have health care, we want to have control and choice, and we want to be able to make a living. And we agreed that we are lucky even to be able to have these discussions in public, to speak our mind and to disagree to our heart's content. I pulled out Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I cooed at a baby. I countered a woman who said she had a copy of the Constitution with her by telling her that I had it too (in my iPhone). When questioned, I answered that I do believe in God. I smiled and cajoled and exuded as much charm as I possibly could.
My best moment, I think, came when I went around the circle and looked each person in the eye and said, I support reform because I care about you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you. And I could feel the connection. I knew they believed me. At least on that point, they believed me. It helps when your job entails meeting complete strangers day in and day out and caring about them as if they were family.
Do I think I changed hearts and minds today? No. Do I think I made some headway? Absolutely.
So what does this mean for our movement? To me, it means that most of us have to step farther out of our comfort zones. We have to engage in dialogue. We have to prove first and foremost that we are real people who are patriotic and compassionate who support this reform. And the best thing about fighting for reform as a doctor is that I am not fighting to get something for myself. I am fighting for all Americans. And I can say that without batting an eye. That is the difference that a doctor can make in this fight. I have no self-interest in this fight beyond wanting to wanting to see less tragedy and suffering in the world.