First Steps

By Nikki Weisenburger

A response to the previous post, the recent passage of health care reform, and a reflection on civic engagement…

I understand where the anger of the previous post comes from; in fact, I feel a lot of it as well. Pro-choice women should be in the legislature and more women in general should be elected to public offices. Women got the vote 90 years ago, yet there is still an overwhelming majority of men in public office (And don’t get me started on racial, sexual orientation, and gender identity makeup). And yes, the health care reform passed is a carcass of what it was and what it should be. However, I have to admit that I was watching the vote count with bated breath, jumping up excitedly when the tally of “yeas” hit 216. I rushed to get a happy post on my facebook page with the caveat that I hoped the reform did not limit abortion coverage. When I realized in the morning that the reform had been passed with the Nelson amendment, I was torn. Was it ok for me to be happy that something we have all been fighting for these past years finally passed, even though it limits the right to coverage that women need? The right I fight for every week when I volunteer for Planned Parenthood?

A few weeks ago, I got on a bus with about forty other people from Minnesota and Wisconsin and we drove for twenty-six hours. We finally made it to Virginia and my friends and I excitedly rushed to the city bus to take the hour trip to DC and sightsee. The next morning, we got on the tour bus in VA and headed to DC once again.

This time, we were headed into the unknown, a protest that began in Dupont Circle. We joined thousands of union workers, students, citizen activists, health care survivors, and other concerned citizens and we walked the blocks to the Ritz Carlton where the AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) conference was being held. We were there to protest the ridiculously high salaries of the health insurance companies’ CEOs and the millions of people essentially murdered by a faulty system championed by these same CEOs. We were there to be sworn in as deputies to make a citizens’ arrest of the insurance CEOs. The energy was amazing. Thousands of people came together from all over with the common idea that everyone deserves health care insurance. It’s a battle many of us have been fighting for years. Our bus had the honor of having driven the furthest. We yelled with the crowds, held our signs proudly, and simply stood in solidarity. They were some of the most powerful hours of my life.

After a satisfying meeting with Congressman Keith Ellison, we got back on the bus for another daylong drive home. We were exhausted, exhilarated, and hopeful for the future.
Then, I heard that health care reform was being voted on in the House and, if it passed, would go to the President for a signature. I was so excited! It felt like our protest had actually made a difference, even if all we did was remind our Representatives that the people need reform. Demand it. Then I heard that the bill that was passed was limited and perhaps would even remove current rights such as those to abortion. Though, I admittedly do not know much about what actually passed, only that includes the terrifying Nelson amendment and that it is not what the progressive community held as an ideal. I thought long and hard and discussed it with others. How should I feel? Especially with the different facets of my person and my recent experiences tearing me in two.

I find that I cannot be completely hopeless and angry about the historic signing of this bill. I was there. I was part of the movement, am part of the movement, and continue to be every day as I fight for women’s rights. As we all do as feminists. In order to continue believing in the movement, I have to believe that this small step is the sign of better things to come. I have to believe that this week will go down in future history books as the first step towards health care reform in the United States. And I will be proud, when asked by future generations about these times, that I can honestly say I stood up with my fellow citizens and made my voice heard.

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