The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

March 19, 2011

Health Care Is a Right in Mississippi — why the Affordable Care Act Matters Around Here

When I was an activist with ACT UP in New York, we would often chant, “Health care is a right!” while picketing government official‘s fundraisers who refused to help men and women dying of AIDS or even acknowledge them with a comment more civilized than “good riddance.”  The thought that health care might indeed be a government-acknowledged right, not just a universal necessity, was relatively new in American discourse.

However, a year ago this week, I watched the congressional roll call on CSPAN on the vote for The Affordable Care Act, sometimes called pejoratively Obamacare, as if “care” were somehow a dirty word, and I remembered my dozens of friends who died from AIDS in the 1980s, sweet, young  gay men who might have been by now honest bankers, elected officials, scientists on the way  to important discoveries, and tenured faculty members.  I cried imagining how different their lives would have been if only there had been such a bill in place for them when they were in crisis.

But this isn’t New York — this is Mississippi, where I live now.  ACT UP is a distant memory.  The people around here, not activists, not fabulous urban gay men in the big Northeastern Cities, but ordinary working folks with families — they are the ones who are being told by the new Republican congress that the Affordable Healthcare Act is unnecessary, an invasion of their privacy and a stripping of their freedoms.  Can this be so?

Not according to a Mississippian named Kelly, who was kind enough to show me a  photo of her lovely family and  to allow me to tell a bit of their story in relation to this wonderful piece of landmark legislation.  Let me share with you Kelly’s family photograph right here  — a shout out to the Jacobs family, who are — Chase, Graham, Paul, the one the folks lovingly call “Mamasita,” Jennifer, and  Kelly herself :

The Jacobs family needs the Affordable Care Act passed by congress last year -- don't we all?

This typical, American heartland, apple pie family has benefited, Kelly tells me, from the Affordable Care Act in the following ways:

  • First, Paul, the fifty-something guy in the beige hat and sun glasses wearing a pretty hip t-shirt for a guy his age — he works full-time and has insurance, but he suffers from Lupus, which if untreated might end his life.  The so-called Obamacare has made him able to stay active and working because he has not had the Lupus called a “pre-existing condition” by an insurance company, and as such, he can afford medication and doctor’s visits that might otherwise be out of reach.
  • The despised Obamacare has also allowed him to have the kind of humane security we all need — to know that if we ever need to or want to leave a job, we can take our insurance with us or find other insurance in a manner that we can afford, even if we have suffered in that job change a drop in income.  This goes for Jenny and Kelly, too, of course.
  • Mamista, the lady next to Paul who looks beamingly proud of her tribe, holding the family kitty cat, she is still covered under her Medicare benefits — despite the rumors to the contrary fueled by insurance company activists, who see this law as a loss in profits, nothing at all has been taken away from her, and she has the peace of mind of knowing that these people who are literally surrounding her in love, her support group through her golden years, won’t have to give up their own health to take care of her in years to come.
  • Chase and Graham, both college students at the top of the photo, looking young and rowdy — their momma doesn’t have to worry — they can be covered on her insurance because the Affordable Care Act makes it so they can stay on her insurance until they are 26 , whether or not they are in school.  That means that the Jacobs family, which is doubtless making significant sacrifices to have two sons in college right now — Kelly didn’t tell me this, but that’s surely only because people from down here in Mississippi are a whole lot less whiny than they are in Brooklyn where I used to whine — they can better afford to pay tuition and college-related expenses and don’t have to worry about Chase breaking his arm on the hockey team (honestly, I don’t know if Chase plays hockey) or Graham slipping on an icy stairwell and hurting his knee because GOD FORBID these things should happen, they can see a doctor and get treated as needed.
  • Jenny is able to know that she can work freelance if she wants to and still buy into a community pool insurance, a whole lot cheaper than trying to buy insurance as an individual in the pre-ACA days, where a woman of childbearing years might as well have tried to insure a luxury yacht moored in pirate-infested waters near Somalia as buy herself some regular, don’t-make-me-lose-my-home-and-car-if-I-need-an-MRI health insurance.

Many people on the Left were hoping for a single-payer plan in the mix  of Obamacare — I know I was.  Many people on the Right have not fully absorbed the idea that — chant it with me — health care is a right, health care is a right — but ALL of us benefit from a healthy America, one where people don’ t go to the emergency room with a stroke because they didn’t have insurance to afford, say, cholesterol drugs.  We were the only developed country on the planet that had no particular governmental plan to handle this universal need, and now we do.

It is an important part of our evolution as a nation that Americans can get treated for ailments without losing the family farm now, and we have the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress (like my rep, who is just fabulous, The Hon. Bennie Thompson, D-MS) to thank for it.

I remember my friends who died of AIDS fighting for an evolution in our thinking about healthcare with a particular wistfulness this week, but I am glad that the law that has come about does not just benefit an urban gay male population — rather it is for every one of us, whoever we are, whether we would have picketed as I did or not.

Chant it again, and call your Senators and remind them — health care is a right, health care is a right.

February 21, 2010

Mud

Gorgeous now -- but wait until it melts!

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth” — Matthew 5:5 (KJV)

This is what Jesus says.  He fails to mention anything specifically about mud.

As a city dweller, allow me to add this proverb from my own heart — he who inherits the earth inherits the  mud.

One of my favorite high-calorie drinks used to be called a Mississippi mudslide.  I know now why they call it a Mississippi mudslide, as opposed to, say, a Connecticut mud slide.

Mississippi has a lot of mud.  New York City, thanks to a whole lot of concrete, has only limited amounts of mud.  The only time I ever had to consider wiping my shoes off from a walk through the city was when I was in Central Park.  I remember one subway ride in Queens in the early 1990s — I saw a girl with tattoos on her arms, a nose ring, and a pair of doc martin knee-high boots absolutely covered with mud, and I knew instantly where she had just been.

I leaned across the car and asked her, “How was Woodstock?”

She leaned back smiling, glad I understood, and said, “Green Day was awesome!”

No other imaginable occasion would have created such a mess on her shoes.

Today, my Ugg boots are covered with mud.  the bottoms of my jeans are muddy.  There are little muddy paw prints on the loveseat in my living room.

I scrub, but mud returns.  There seems to be no end to mud.

I have tried to embrace the ethos of mud – – it is, after all, where life happens.  No mud — no agriculture — no agriculture — no salad — no salad — no chi-chi brunches.  Heaven forefend.

I saw a picture in the New York Times of Michele Obama on her knees in mud digging to make an organic garden.  She was wearing a cute navy cardigan, as I recall.  I told myself that this was going to be part of our lifestyle here in Mississippi, the growing of at least a few herbs and tomatoes.  Nothing could be more wholesome than that, I thought.  Fortunately, my husband is not as squeamish about mud than I am.  I have discovered, to my city girl horror, that mud ruins a manicure.   I need gloves.  I need knee pads.  I admit it.  When it comes to mud, I’m a wimp.

I thought to myself, post mud-phobia discovery, that I was going to create an outdoor room.  When I met my husband, he was living in our house with a male roommate, and the two of them had some beat-up old plastic chairs and a charcoal grill.  Otherwise, it was mostly mosquitoes and last night’s beer cans.  I would be like those intrepid folks on HGTV and create a true outdoor space.  I bought a gazebo with matching chairs and a table.  The gazebo is basically a canvas tent with mosquito netting.  I bought a propane grill.  Now we were getting someplace, I thought.  I even negotiated free delivery of my purchases.

The next day the store came with a forklift.  When they drove the forklift all over my new back yard, bringing gazebos and grills, they got stuck in the mud and tore up the turf.  I was left with some unassembled items and a bunch of tire tracks on the ground.

Martha Stewart says to get a metal rake, some grass seed, and plant to patch up such disasters.  I trust Martha Stewart, insider trading and obsessive-compulsive disorder notwithstanding.  I like the  image of myself looking like her in garden gloves, garden clogs, coordinated pastels and khakis, holding a  metal rake with a hopeful smile. I thought I would give it a try.

Then, it snowed the largest snowstorm the South has seen in years.  The photo above is from my back yard — the quaint little barn covered with white icing — that’s mine.  Even the tire tracks left by the forklift look lovely under the frothy white.

Then, in a day or so, the snow melted, leaving more mud.

Now I am thinking that gravel is my best hope, gravel and flagstones.  Maybe a little fire pit.

My step-daughter and her fiance inform me that the region has a leisure that embraces the savagery of  what I consider a problem to be tamed.  It’s called “mudding.”  Those SUV commercials we in the urban North have seen, where SUVs are off-road and brave their way through gallons of muck, well, that’s considered a fun thing to do.  The point, I am told, is to get as muddy as possible without getting stuck.

Mudding increases one’s carbon footprint, I am sure.  However, now saving the Earth, the mud, doesn’t seem like a purely good idea.  Green or not, it may be that the mud had mudding coming, with all it does to provoke us to wrath.

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