Wednesday, June 13, 2007

California Nurses and Michael Moore Make History

Huffington Post
Joseph A. Palermo
California Nurses and Michael Moore Make History

It was a truly historic day in Sacramento this afternoon when over ten thousand nurses from all over the country rallied with filmmaker Michael Moore in front of the Capitol building. The California Nurses Association, along with the State Senator Sheila Kuehl, packed into a hearing room to listen to Michael Moore and three people featured in his new movie, Sicko, testify about the appalling state of America's broken for profit health care system.

Thousands of nurses and health care professionals, along with people from other unions, (such as myself from the California Faculty Association), gathered outside and watched Moore's testimony on five giant TVs inside huge tents. We rallied in the hot sun, waving little fans and placards the nurses handed out. Then we all marched down to the historic art deco Crest Theater downtown for a special pre-release viewing of Sicko.

The sea of red-shirted nurses was an inspiring sight. They danced and chanted and they were really fired up. We are lucky to have so many dedicated, smart, and politically conscious women working so hard to fix this country's tattered, even barbaric, health care system. Surrounded by thousands of RNs, I never felt safer in my life. I thought if I ever had to have anything go wrong physically while at a public rally, this was the right one.

Senator Kuehl's legislation, SB 840, (the "California Health Insurance Reliability Act"), calls for universal health coverage for every Californian, and it was the rallying point for the massive demonstration. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would be wise to sign it or he is going to face the ferocious wrath and opposition of the women (and men) who comprise the heart and soul of our state's health care system.

The goal of Sicko, as Moore told both the Senate committee and the rally outside, is to provide an organizing tool to get people so angry they will rise up to demand common-sense solutions to the health care crisis. The current greed-driven system where huge corporations pursue lavish profits at the public's expense has created a human catastrophe.

Moore told the rally that Governor Schwarzenegger came to America with a fabulously healthy body because the Austrian government provided him with free health care from the time he put on his first pair of lederhosen.

Moore introduced his new film to the packed theater full of nurses and their allies, saying he hopes it can become an organizing tool to finally move this country to address the health care crisis.

Sicko is a brilliant, emotionally draining, poignant film, which also has Moore's characteristic sense of humor inter-spliced therein. It is heartbreaking to see how America's health care system routinely victimizes people. It often bankrupts middle-class families, and sweeps low-income people into contrived "cracks" in the system because it drives up profits.

There have only been a handful of times in American history where art has led to citizen action. What comes to mind for me are Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin's effect on slavery; Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and the rise of progressive reforms relating to pure food and drugs; the television special in the mid-1960s, Harvest of Shame, which educated the nation on the unjust working conditions of farm workers. Moore's Sicko blows the lid off of everything the corporations that make fortunes off exploiting the sick and dying do not want Americans to see.

Michael Moore's talent lies in cutting through the fear and smokescreens the Right always exploits, be it with the "war on terror," or the irrational fear of "socialized medicine." I won't give it away, but some of his found footage from those who opposed Medicare is priceless since the Right makes essentially the same arguments today. Moore focuses on the human tragedy of the health care crisis, it is not a laundry list of the sins of corporations; it is more about the people who are the victims. Be prepared to cry when you see this film.

At the end of Moore's question and answer session following the movie he said that he hopes that nurses and physicians of conscious and other activists will transform the theaters where it is shown into organizing stations and networking outlets. He even suggested setting up MASH-type tents outside the theaters to give free check ups to children after each showing.

Moore wants his fellow Americans to seize this moment when health care will be publicized to demand that the state governments and Congress enact a universal, single-payer system similar to what exists in Canada, France, and England (countries he visits in the movie). Moore says we should demand that our government regulate the pharmaceutical companies "just like a public utility."

Go to or to the California Nurses Association website for suggestions about taking action. The first step will be to press for passage of Sheila Kuehl's health care bill here in California. Moore pointed out that California has been in the lead on many issues, including raising the minimum wage, and we have an opportunity to lead the nation out of the dark ages on health care.