A River cuts through rock…. On the battle to close the Gap



Insure Tennessee may as a proposal, as a product be dead and buried. Speaker Harwell has formed her task force and at least right now that would seem to be the case. But Insure Tennessee was never the river. It was just one vessel upon it. And I don’t know if they really understand that.

I fear they hope more than anything to change the subject. At least right now I fear so. I think they come not to fix Insure Tennessee or resolve their issues with it but to bury it and still the conversation. They are uncomfortable with people who don’t quiet when they say quiet. They are uncomfortable with people who would talk when they don’t want to listen. They don’t like it when people won’t wait. They don’t want to know some people can’t.

I don’t think anyone really knows what this task force means. It is important that we make the effort to help define that meaning. It is important that the task force not be about what they do when we leave but about our refusal to leave. It cannot be about the conversation they silence us with but our refusal to be silent in the conversation.

In the end it is a simple message. Leave no one behind. There are no acceptable casualties. No one is disposable. It is that simple.

This task force will not give us a verdict. This is not a final word. We have already given that. Three years ago the conversation to expand health care was a conversation we were told we could not even have. It is now a conversation that we must make sure can never be stopped.

What you do and what I do matters. The battle for Insure Tennessee or whatever it finally ends up being called has the ability to make a lasting and permanent impact on the state of Tennessee. Past any one battle, or set of circumstances we have the ability to make a difference that makes a difference. Years from now I think little may be made of who we fought with, but much will be made of what we fought for.

It is a battle for health care, but it is so much more than that. It is about justice and the possibility of fairness and whether or not poverty should mean that sickness and illness should bring with it a threat of unnecessary suffering and premature death. It is about whether or not Tennessee will decide whether or not it has a vested interest in the maintenence of the punishment of poor people for being poor. It is about whether or not a health system will be starved and brought to its knees in the service of a political agenda that neither reflects the values of Tennesseans or their best interests. It is all of these things but even more.

It is a battle for the meaning of people. It is about what the notion of disposable people means not just for those labeled such but for all of us. It is about the dignity of every Tennessean rather they have insurance or not. It is about what it means to be neighbors. It is about caring and love as more than a Sunday speech but as a living and vibrant thing. It is about who we are and who we can be. And as much as any single issue it is the truth of what Tennessee is and can come to be.

Let me be clear. My problem is not that the battle for Insure Tennessee was lost. My problem is that it was never fought. My expectation was not and never about victory. It was a fight being fought that I and 280,000 Tennesseans deserved to have been fought. It was about politicians doing something right for someone other than themselves. It was about people speaking for those never spoken for. It was about honesty and integrity and courage and not about elections and primaries. It should never have been held hostage to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and it is a mark of shame to the state of Tennessee that it was.

But none of this need the final word. We are the river in the quote at the start of this post. The only meaningful question is not if but when. We need to be the change we advocate for. It is time to not apologize to anyone for acting like citizens of this state. It is time to let those know who would pander our hopes and needs away to political realities that we neither care for their politics or their narrow impoverished realities. It is time to tell people who want us to respect their dignity to acknowledge ours. It is time to tell people who get angry if someone makes them uncomfortable that for 280,000 Tennesseans comfort is the least of their issues.

We are the river.

I heard a story a few days ago about a homeless man in Knoxville. He had worked all his life and like it does for too many people things went wrong. He lost his job and his house and eventually they ended up on the streets. His wife developed cancer and the people who told me the story talked about how much they loved each other. She, they said, died in his arms on the streets of Knoxville. She never had any care. They were also in the gap. How long must we go on wondering who is next?


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