Happy Spring, Happy America

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Peace March, Northampton, Mass.

Peace March, Northampton, Mass.

Spring arrived at 1:32 Saturday afternoon. while I wasn’t paying attention. Here in the Western Massachusetts hills, the spring equinox most often marks the beginning of the third half of winter – more freezing weather, more snow and, even worse, ice storms.

Amazingly for these parts, it’s seemed for about a week that winter’s back was broken. We’ve been having a run of warm weather since the first of March – temperatures between 10 and 24 degrees above average for the most part. Where we would normally have five-foot snow banks alongside the driveway where the sun don’t shine, now we have only a few smutty piles that the plow has left. Most years, spring gets here the first week in May. I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of winter, but I’m going to take a chance and start seeds this weekend, unless the weather turns mean.

Saturday, while I wasn’t paying attention to spring’s arrival, I was at a peace rally in Northampton, a small and delightful city with a government progressive enough to let (guessing here) a couple of hundred peaceniks hold a vigil in front of the court house, then march up the main street to the city hall, members of the Wally Nelson Veterans for Peace chapter at the front, a police cruiser clearing the way and helping us cross safely against oncoming traffic.

If any of the drivers we inconvenienced were bent out of shape, they controlled themselves well. We saw many peace signals, heard lots of “woo-hoo”s and honking horns, but nary a bird was flipped, as far as I could see. And I could see far, because my role at the rally was as a peacekeeper, trained to keep things cool, part of a team of six women with pink baseball caps and pink armbands to identify us.

The vigil, march, and rally were inspired by the fact that last week saw the seventh anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. There were also calls for getting out of Afghanistan and for spending at home for the public good the money that would otherwise be spent wreaking violence on those two countries.

Aside from a man with a hideous caricature of Barack Obama on his tee-shirt, who was handing out fliers offering for sale books and videos on various conspiracies real and imagined (I’m not going to tell you which I think are which); hats and tee-shirts with slogans like “End the Fed;” and a number of libertarian and hate-Obama texts, we were pretty much all of one mind: War is not the answer; health care for all; support, bring home, and heal our service members; reduce our addiction to fossil fuels, especially those purchased abroad; buy local produce and/or plant a kitchen garden.

Once in a while we have to get together to persuade ourselves things are not hopeless.

Saturday, even for those of us who don’t quite believe it was the first day of spring, was a day to be hopeful. By the time we got to the city hall, the temperature was warm enough for me to have gone back to my car to put my jeans jacket in the trunk. I’d pushed the sleeves of my cotton turtleneck up to my elbows, and was wishing I had worn a tee-shirt.

For a while, I placed myself near the anti-Obama man. Nobody was exactly lauding the president from the speakers’ platform. They were uniformly respectful, but expressed disappointment at his decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things. Some were dismayed by some of the things that have been done with regard to the financial industry. Some spoke with sadness about what has become of our hopes for the universal health insurance Obama talked about during the campaign. Every time someone said “Obama” Mr. End-the-Fed bellowed, “Impeach him.” It was happening often enough to border on heckling.

The art of calming people down is something I learned in childhood and it’s stood me in good stead to this day. There’s something about not being afraid of a person who is growing increasingly agitated that decreases their agitation. I stayed beside and a tiny bit behind the shouter, close enough to be in his peripheral vision but not close enough to invade his personal space.

The newspaper writeup had said the program would include an open mic. The man turned to me when the last performer was singing and said, “I’ll bet they won’t have the open mic. They don’t want to hear what anyone else says.” Before I got to answer, the man who was to facilitate that part of the program had the microphone in hand and was asking people to “come up and speak from your heart.” I asked the handout man if he was going to speak. He laughed, bitterly, I thought. I told him people might not agree with him, but they would listen and be polite. He declined, and asked why I didn’t get up there myself. I told him I didn’t have anything to add. He seemed disappointed that there really was an open mic, and that someone was encouraging him to express himself.

All the while I’ve been writing this, I’ve had C-SPAN1 streaming on my computer. I’m in the Little Town That Could – and did – bring broadband to a respectable portion of households, and I’m one of the lucky ones that has it. I’ve kept the volume down low so I can write, but loud enough that I know when a vote is being taken.

The final vote will come later tonight. The outcome is something of an anti-climax, but I’ll be upstairs watching on a real television when the time to vote comes. When history is being made, I have to be a witness.

I’m listening right now to a Republican rep from New Jersey talking about how horrible it is to be asked to pay to save the lives of people who can’t qualify for health insurance. He is ignoring the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s projection that the health care bill will in time save money, not spend it.

Earlier today I heard a man phone in to C-SPAN to say he’s a Republican-leaning independent who feels strongly that we are required to take care of those less fortunate than we are. He asked the Republican congressman taking the call-in questions for his response. The congressman answered by talking about the deficit and how awful it is. Not a word about people taking care of each other.

The most obvious of delaying tactics, the Republican game plan since Day One of the health care reform debate, came when GOP congressmembers streamed down the aisle to ask for “unanimous consent over the next five days to expand and revise my remarks in opposition to this flawed bill.” Earlier in the session, Louise Slaughter, chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, had made the unanimous request motion on behalf of all House members. That’s normal procedure, the Republicans knew it, but they couldn’t restrain themselves from being obnoxious. Surely they didn’t think this tactic would kill the bill. It would have been delusional for them to think their constituents would be proud.

A Republican from Wisconsin is saying that the health care reform bill will “trample on all the things that make America exceptional.” Indeed. For generations we’ve been exceptional in denying health care to all of our people. That’s not ending immediately, but it’s on its way out. Trample on, congresspeople.

The bill that eventually goes to Obama to sign will be better than no bill, but it doesn’t go far enough, nor does it do much of what we who helped elect Obama hoped it would. So we’re disappointed. And the new transparency that came along with this new administration is turning out to be a negative. We’re seeing the whole process, warts and all, like we’ve never seen it before.

You think making sausage is messy? Try watching the Senate majority leader promise one senator that the Fed will pay his state’s entire Medicaid bill, or another that seniors in his state will be exempt from cuts in the exorbitant Medicare HMO subsidy that the Bush administration got enacted in its attempt to privatize Medicare. (These provisions will be gone when the Senate approves the reconciliation bill that will fix some of the worse provisions of the health care bill as it now stands. This should happen some time this week. The votes of 51 Democratic senators is virtually assured.)

If the Republicans seem, well, repugnant, then the Democratic leaders, Obama included, have turned out to be pandering, vacillating wimps who are scared of their own shadows. I’m still a registered Democrat, and a member of the Democratic Town Committee, but I’m not a very proud one right now, health care reform notwithstanding.

So we’re disappointed. Here in New England we know what to do with disappointment; we shrug it off and adjust, or make other arrangements. Just as we will when the hard freeze comes back in April (if I were inclined to gamble, I’d bet on it). Just as we will if it snows again, as it did in May 2003 – 18 inches of the stuff. Then we kissed our apple crops goodbye and moved on. It beats sulking, whining, and being generally miserable. We find ways to salvage what we can and make things better where we can.

And we’ll do that, too, with the health care bill.

Happy spring. Happy health care bill. Happy America.

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One Response to “Happy Spring, Happy America”

  1. Another example of speaking one’s mind from one’s heart. There’s no shortage of that on this blog which is why I am a regular reader. Thanks.

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