This past Tuesday (March 9, 2010), I joined about 5,000 other people to fill an entire city block of Washington DC to protest at a gathering of "health unsurance" executives and lobbyists at a hotel there. The intention was to make a citizen's arrest of those executives for policies that kill people.
That didn't happen –- the police intervened –- but the protest was loud, spirited, with chants and drums, and was not only plenty audible to the "insurance" execs but carried in length and with a strong photo in the Washington Post, which means it was "audible" to the whole political world of the federal government.
And there was front-page coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer and CNN.
I was one of three rabbis –- along with Michael Lerner and David Shneyer (see photos at the head of this letter, by Diane Perlman) ; other clergy that included Rev. Bob Edgar, former head of the Natl Council of Churches and now head of Common Cause, Rev. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church in NYC; and many leaders of labor – e.g. Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO -- and other members of the Health Care for America Now coalition. Kol HaKavod to USAction and its exec, Jeff Blum, for shepherding this process.
Although The Shalom Center has done some organizing on this issue, it has not been as central to our work as global scorching and the various US wars in the broader Middle East. Certainly my own experience in having to fight my own health "insurance" company for coverage in dealing with my broken leg contributed to my decision to go –- even though, or in a sense because –- two hours of walking and standing left my leg hurting. Here my personal experience and my religious-social-political views about health care as a universal need and right and responsibility connected.
I can't help but add my both pride and disappointment that –- despite all my concern about the ambivalence of some "renewal" folk toward tikkun olam activism and advocacy –-- all three rabbis present were ordained by the movement for Jewish renewal. I hope the heirs of Rabbis David Einhorn, Maurice Eisendrath, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordechai Kaplan, and the physician Rambam -- as well as more secular organizations like the Jewish Fund for Justice -- will be ready to go beyond letter-writing forms of lobbying to reawaken the vigor of the streets. If this gathering was kosher enough and important enough for the head of the AFL-CIO, why not for them?
Conventional lobbying -- – which some people from some of these groups have been seriously and laudably been doing -- has so far proved necessary, but not sufficient, to bring about a decent health-care bill. Much more activist energy is necessary on this, as on many other issues where Big corporations — Big Banking, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Coal — are blocking urgent action for the sake of the American people and our planet — just as it was needed in the ‘60s for civil rights. The Jewish community as a whole should be joining in these struggles, putting our bodies where our letters are. As Rabbi Heschel said, sometimes a march is “praying with our legs.”
Shalom ,salaam, shantih, peace -- Arthur