Save the Affordable Care Act, or the Rally that Wasn’t

January 15th was the first national Day of Action to protect the Affordable Care Act (which, to be abundantly clear, is the same thing as Obamacare and the ACA). My family and I went to a rally at Columbia Presbyterian to protest Republicans’ cruel and irresponsible plan to repeal the ACA and thereby rip healthcare coverage away from millions of seniors, women, folks with pre-existing conditions, veterans, low-income folks, young adults, and more, while simultaneously upending our economy that is substantially intertwined with healthcare. Even for Republicans, that’s quite a feat. As a person who has lived with chronic autoimmune diseases since I was a young child and has picked up a handful of related chronic illnesses along the way, I’m passionate about protecting what I view as people’s fundamental right to quality, affordable, and accessible medical care. A person should not be penalized for the tricks that their own bodies play upon them. Speaking personally, living with chronic disease causes enough self-doubt and guilt as it is, particularly when one was diagnosed as a young child. Was I meant to live? Am I just a burden? Does this disease suggest that I’m worthless? How could my family’s lives have been better had I not had these diseases, and is that my fault? And those questions that have frequently been a part of my own mental playground don’t even include the challenges of living with said diseases every single day. Suffice it to say that the physicality of living with chronic illness is only one part of the experience in its entirety. And Republicans really aren’t helping with the emotional and psychological trauma already attendant upon living with a pre-existing condition, since basically they’re telling people like me that we’re expendable. Friendly.

Of course, then, I was determined to attend a rally and raise my voice to ensure that all people, irrespective of gender, race, religion, class, ethnicity, and any other category you can think of, will be able to receive the kind of thorough healthcare that the ACA has rendered impossible to more people than ever before in our country’s history. The closest rally to me was advertised as being at Columbia Presbyterian in New York City. I got all decked out in my save-the-Affordable-Care-Act accoutrements and traveled with my family the roughly two hours it takes to get from our house to Columbia Presbyterian. Imagine my plunging disappointment when we arrived only to learn that, in fact, there never had been a rally planned there. What was publicized as a rally was evidently a community meeting for a select group of individuals that wouldn’t even occur until much later in the day.

Friends resisting the repeal of the ACA along with me, we have a real problem when roughly two hundred people (as a very kind woman informed us when we arrived at the rally-that-wasn’t) show up to demand that our government protect the exponential advances that this country has made under the ACA, and then find out that there is no such rally as publicized. We have even more of a problem when this occurs at a well-known hospital in the major metropolitan center of New York City, which just so happens to be in the state that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer represents. How does it look to the country when Manhattan has no major rally planned to declare that New Yorkers will stand up for the most vulnerable among us? People showed up to protest the callous move of repeal without a substantial consensus replace, but because of miscommunications and scheduling errors that, as one woman told us, were realized back on Friday but never communicated to those who RSVPed, didn’t get the chance to do so. And consider the fact that for many people, particularly folks with pre-existing conditions, the trip to the rally was not an easy one and took a physical toll. By the time we learned that there was no rally, it was too late to attend any of the other rallies in the tristate area, which were a distance away in any case. New York lost a vocal and committed group of women and men who were prepared to hold Republicans accountable and assert that healthcare is a basic human right. And this I find deeply worrisome.

We are about to embark on a frightening four years. All of us who stand on the right side of history — the side of equality, equity, empathy, liberty, and opportunity — will need to equip ourselves to defend our rights and those who stand to lose the most. Without their health, people cannot do so. If all of their energies go to figuring out how to pay for vital medical coverage, or how to manage diseases on their own because they can’t afford coverage, they will be unable to stand up for the causes in which they believe — aside from the fact that taking away people’s healthcare is inhumane. Full stop. We’re entitled to a flub every now and then, but the issue of healthcare is far too critical to people’s very lives for us to fail for an avoidable reason, such as disorganization or miscommunication. Let us learn from the rally-that-wasn’t and do better next time. If you tried to attend it, thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing up and standing up, and please don’t be discouraged. Continue to show up, stand up, and speak out. And give Senator Schumer a call. Thank him for leading the fight against repeal of the ACA, but inform him that approximately two hundred people who showed up to rally in support in Manhattan had no opportunity to do so. As repeal barrels forwards since the House’s vote on Friday, the time we have to protest is precious, and we must use it to our best advantage. Those two hundred people, and the millions of people they represent, deserve to be heard.

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