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Much Work To Do- by Dr. Alice Chen

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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

The last time I was in a crowd on the Mall, it was Inauguration Day. The atmosphere was one of hope, trust and belief in our collective ability to be more and do more, to take care of one another and to reach for our potential. It was of faith in America and our collective future. Today, the 9/12 Project - an anti-health reform rally - there was an atmosphere of defiance, of mistrust of the government, of a deep-seated belief that if every person does not watch his own back, then someone will take away their liberty. It was of fear that we are doomed. The contrast was truly striking. In January, I was swelling with pride and hope. Today, I was struggling with shock and disappointment. But I believe in the core of my being that we can be a better nation, that the government can be one that is for the people, of the people, and by the people.

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.

I am done with sitting in my own echo chamber. I am done focusing on the little things that do not matter. I want to act and act now – today, tomorrow, and every day until we have shepherded this legislation safely through Congress and onto the President's desk.  We have much work to do. And I am ready to do it. I hope that every American who believes that we can fix this system for the better will help us bring this legislation home.

Share Your Comments


  1. Lila Rosenthal


    Alice, you need to run for office. Thank you for this beautifully written account of your experience. I agree with all of your reflections about the nature of people who oppose reform. I have decided that as a group, they have in common fear. We mock what we don't understand, and they simply need help to understand. you offered them that help, an important introductory primer on the facts. That is what we all must do- engage opponents of reform in a non-judgemental way and let them know we support this because we CARE!

  2. Beverly Nuckols, MD


    Wrong, wrong, wrong, etc.

    1.Take a look at the pictures of the crowd. (I'll let you search google news for yourself, since any reference I might give is not as good as data you find for yourselves. There were hundreds of thousands of people. I was not at this rally, but I was at the January 22 March for Life We had a count of over 300,000 - from those at the rally who had cell phones and who sent a text message to the organizers at the time. Comparing my pictures of the March (taken on top of the Newseum) with the pictures from Saturday lead me to believe that there were many more in attendance this month than in January.

    (There were concurrent rallies in cities all over the Nation, by the way.)

    2. I would not celebrate the lack of news coverage. Instead, wonder at the reliability of media that would refuse to cover the March. Why wasn't there more coverage and what else is not being reported?

    3. Much of the worst that is wrong with our current health care is due to government interference: Medicare with its "Sustainable Growth Rate," HMO's, Medicaid dollars that go to the schools rather than to health care, that "donut hole" in Medicare Part D, no tax incentives for individuals.

    4. I wish Dr. Chen had taken the time to listen, rather than talk. The people at the March on DC spent their own money and time. They are much more knowledgeable (and competent to judge the effects of the currently proposed legislation on energy and healthcare payment than Dr. Chen believes. Again, look at the pictures on line and note the wit and originality in most of the signs. Note that there is indication from these phrases that they've actually read the proposed bills and are extrapolating from past experience. This is not ignorance, this is not blind fear of change. This is goal directed action based on logic and insight informed by history, both recorded and personal.

    5. That little girl will have to pay taxes to repay the debt we are saddling her with. Our National Debt has been purposefully tripled since January of this year.

  3. Beverly Nuckols, MD


    I'm sorry, that should have been "Dr. Krauthamer," not "Dr. Chen."

  4. Raghu Ballal


    Thank you, Dr, Chen, for the wonderful observations on Sept. 12. I truly believe that the right wing propaganda machine with "fear" as their trump card has successfully hijacked the nation during the past 30 years. The 20% of the public who oppose anything Pres. Obama proposes is the same 20% who were keeping Pres. Bush in office despite those horrendous "malpractice" of his presidential tasks! The same propaganda machine has successfully mesmerized the gullible to think that a government "of the people, by the people and for the people" is really a monster compared to the soulless, impersonal, corporate entities, who worship profit as god, and greed as virtue! This came about when their god-incarnate, Ronald Reagan declared that "government is the problem, and not the solution". That Glen Beck could even round up these many people to come out shows their command of the airwaves. I lost faith in the country's ability to think rationally when they re-elected George W. Bush, the second time!

    I am surprised at Dr. Nuckols's remarks! One point she makes about Medicare part D. I still remember the late Sen. Kennedy lamenting loudly when that bill was passed by the Republican congress, about the extraordinary boondoggle it gave to the Pharmaceutical Companies! So, it is not the government that is at fault, but the special interests that control the government! For the government to be really of and by the people, special interests should be eliminated as the source of funds for electing our representatives!

    Raghu Ballal, M.D.,Ph.D.

  5. joe


    Dr. Chen: Consider:

    Social Security - Bankrupt

    Medicare - Bankrupt

    Fannie Mae - Bankrupt

    Freddy Mac - Bankrupt

    US Postal Service - Bankrupt

    FDIC - Bankrupt

    Medicaid - Bankrupt

    Let's let the federal government run our health care system. That's a great idea considering their track record.

    Please get a clue!

  6. Hargoosh


    Dr alice, YOU are insane! I was in DC and the secret service personally told me over 2 million people were at that 9 12 March and there would have been more, but the President shut down all roads and the Metro into DC!

    What the heck is wrong with your head? If I keep googling you surely I will find an Obama Emanuael Chicago connection! You are a total disgrace to your profession! Probably you should consider returning to communist china, practice medicine there. If this HC reform pases and we socialize medicine you will have no more big money.

  7. DGR


    I read on . . "Two years ago, I took care of a businessman in Los Angeles"

    Crohns disease, malnutrition, . . . sounds like he needed to try a gluten free diet. I don't know when doctors are going to get this connection to food. This would correct a LOT of problems that we face today medically/physically as a nation.

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