John McCain’s Constituents Are Revolting Against His Attempt to Take Away Their Healthcare

Meet Lauren Klinkhammer, a Tucson resident who was politicized by the federal assault on healthcare rights.

Sarah Jaffe

Protesters gathered outside of John McCain's Tucson office on Wednesday, July 26. (Lauren Klinkhammer)

John McCain came to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. this week straight from can­cer treat­ment to vote in favor of tak­ing health­care from his con­stituents. As the Sen­ate moves for­ward in attempt to a repeal of the Afford­able Care Act (ACA), activists from around the coun­try have man­aged to swing enough votes to defeat two major pro­pos­als already. But there’s more com­ing. In Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and in states around the coun­try where Repub­li­can sen­a­tors are based, pro­test­ers are com­ing togeth­er for a last-ditch effort to save the ACA and Med­ic­aid from cuts or dismantling. 

People’s health is the most important thing in your life. Money doesn’t die with you. You die.

I spoke with Lau­ren Klinkham­mer from an impromp­tu ral­ly out­side of Sen. John McCain’s office in Tucson.

Lau­ren Klinkham­mer: My name is Lau­ren Klinkham­mer and I am from Tuc­son, Arizona.

Sarah Jaffe: Right now, as we are talk­ing, it is Wednes­day evening and you are at a ral­ly at Sen­a­tor McCain’s office in Tuc­son. Correct?

Lau­ra: I am.

Sarah: Tell us how this ral­ly came togeth­er. You were say­ing before that it is not com­mon for there to be 150 peo­ple on the street in Tuc­son in the evening.

Lau­ra: No. We are a small town and it is sprawl­ing out in Ari­zona. We don’t have a lot of city cen­ters. It is sort of all over. So, this is a sur­prise. I am real­ly impressed that this many peo­ple came out, because Ari­zona is sort of a qui­et place. It is pret­ty amaz­ing. It is touch­ing, because even though it is peo­ple who are not want­i­ng the ACA repealed, they have Amer­i­can flags. They have these signs that are say­ing, Repeal. Don’t die.” Seri­ous mes­sages, but with Amer­i­can flags. It is that com­bi­na­tion of speak­ing out and jump­ing up, but also in a real­ly kind way. It is very American.

Sarah: Do you think it was the par­tic­u­lars of Sen­a­tor McCain’s sit­u­a­tion, com­ing back while he is fight­ing can­cer, that is draw­ing peo­ple out like this tonight?

Lau­ra: There have been all kinds of sides. Some peo­ple are real­ly angry. I guess it just depends on what your point of view is. Some peo­ple are angry that he has done this. Some peo­ple feel, How could he vote for the motion to go for­ward, when he him­self is deal­ing with health­care issues?” We had bus dri­vers beep­ing before. It is fun­ny. We are kind of near the high­way, so peo­ple are beep­ing because they are excit­ed. They agree. Most peo­ple agree.

Like I said, a lot of peo­ple have dif­fer­ent opin­ions, even if they are against repeal­ing the bill. Some peo­ple feel vio­lat­ed that he made this deci­sion. They see it as, He is sick. He should be there for us.” Some peo­ple see it as an open­ing to the dis­cus­sion. It just depends. Peo­ple are try­ing to be respect­ful and to give him a chance.

I was very upset. I went and made a sign, and I got here and didn’t even know what I was going to do. Then, some­one told me about his speech. Every­thing is hap­pen­ing so fast. I think peo­ple are just all over the place with their feel­ings on it. Over­all, I have been going around the city — and this is affect­ing me direct­ly — and talk­ing to peo­ple. Almost every­one I talk to real­ly is not for repeal­ing Oba­macare. They want it fixed. They don’t want it repealed.

They want the funds that the mid­dle class was sup­posed to have put back in so that the prob­lem that we have right now is not going on with mid­dle class fam­i­lies. They want to keep the pre-exist­ing con­di­tions and the fund­ing with­in the pro­gram and all of the lit­tle claus­es. They don’t want to lose that. There are a lot of things with­in that bill that save mon­ey, help peo­ple and pro­tect the vulnerable.

I just met with a staffer at McCain’s office, who was very, very nice. I went out there and I said, You know what, if you guys are going to be doing this vote-a-rama, I am a dis­abled per­son. I have been mid­dle class. I want to be avail­able to your researcher or who­ev­er it is that advis­es McCain.”

I actu­al­ly went with a local group called LUCHA and Planned Par­ent­hood. Then, I went indi­vid­u­al­ly, as well, because I have had health issues, and I have been try­ing to work with them for a long time. Now, I am just try­ing to be a bridge. What­ev­er it is we are going to do, let’s do some­thing that actu­al­ly helps the Amer­i­can pub­lic to the best we can with­out caus­ing too much harm. I am wor­ried. At least they met with me. They are not going to real­ly let me vol­un­teer for leg­is­la­tion, which makes me sad. I haven’t got­ten in to meet with the gov­er­nor. I haven’t been able to get to have an appoint­ment with Sen. Flake’s office. They did take some of my notes, but it takes some time.

Sarah: Tell us about your sto­ry. How did you get involved in this fight?

Lau­ra: You are going to laugh, because lit­er­al­ly it has been three weeks now. Three weeks ago, I was hav­ing a day where I was feel­ing bet­ter, and some­one from my doctor’s office was going to an event that was put on by ten dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions in Ari­zona. They were video­tap­ing an open house so they could send it out to our lead­ers. They asked me to go and I was like, Okay. They have a van going up to Phoenix. Why not? I will go.” A lot of times I can’t. I was like, Well, I can. So, I will go.” On the way up, they were like, How would you like to go to Wash­ing­ton, D.C?” I was like, Sure. I will go.” So, I took time off and then I went.

When I got out there, I didn’t real­ly know what we would be doing. I thought I would just be speak­ing on the Mall, or maybe speak­ing to a group of peo­ple, or maybe hav­ing a meet­ing, because every­thing was so quick. It was lit­er­al­ly a day or two after they asked me, and I am sud­den­ly in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The next thing I know, I am among about 150 peo­ple who are doing civ­il dis­obe­di­ence in kind of the way that Mar­tin Luther King Jr. did. Health­care work­ers, sick peo­ple, broth­ers and sis­ters of peo­ple who will die if this bill pass­es: We were will­ing to be arrest­ed so that our gov­er­nors and our sen­a­tors and our rep­re­sen­ta­tives could real­ize that if a nurse prac­ti­tion­er or a Har­vard stu­dent or a patient dying of AIDS is will­ing to be arrest­ed for the first time in their life for the good of human­i­ty, maybe it is impor­tant enough to listen.

We are chant­i­ng, and I am like, Oh my good­ness.” There are cam­eras. I had no idea there would be cam­eras. I am pret­ty pri­vate usu­al­ly. It end­ed up being way big­ger than I thought. I just thought I would be going and giv­ing my sto­ry and com­ing home. Then, a week after we were there, it felt great because it went from pre­dict­ing to kill 24 mil­lion peo­ple to only 18 mil­lion people.

Sarah: It is depress­ing that that is a cheer­ful moment.

Lau­ra: Yes. It is hard for me to chant. I was emo­tion­al. But, the thing is, I am very con­cerned about the safe­ty of chil­dren and adults and elder­ly peo­ple: basi­cal­ly, all humans in Amer­i­ca. I am very concerned.

They need peo­ple to go back out to Wash­in­ton, D.C. I wish I could. I don’t have the mon­ey. I feel bad ask­ing my work again for the third week in a row, Could you please let me have off again so I can go up to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. last minute and be around these rad­i­cals?” But, hey, you know what? It is to help them. Hon­est­ly, regard­less of their par­ty, my co-work­ers, my friends and ran­dom peo­ple have been sup­port­ing me. Peo­ple have been buy­ing me ice cream. Peo­ple have been just super sup­port­ive. You know what else? They have been Repub­li­can, Inde­pen­dent, Green Par­ty and Lib­er­tar­i­an. This is not a pop­u­lar bill. This is every­body. I have had a lot of sup­port local­ly, and Ari­zona is a very con­ser­v­a­tive place.

I can’t be arrest­ed, because I have health issues and oth­er things. I kind of got involved with­out mean­ing to. But, at this point, I just want to help. I have told both offices and the governor’s office that, since I have been in the mid­dle class, and now I am a dis­abled cit­i­zen, I feel that I have had enough expe­ri­ences in my life that I could be able to offer nuances as they are decid­ing a vote.

On the 31st, there are going to be lots of groups of peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. con­gre­gat­ing and protest­ing this, and we need peo­ple. We need peo­ple from all 50 states to go. Espe­cial­ly cer­tain states, like Vir­ginia, Arkansas, Ohio, Col­orado, Neva­da, Ari­zona and Alas­ka. There are cer­tain states where their sen­a­tors have been mod­er­ate, and we real­ly need them to con­tin­ue call­ing their sen­a­tors. We need peo­ple to car­a­van out to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., lit­er­al­ly, before Mon­day, and we need them to go out there and we need them to par­tic­i­pate and we need them to pull a Mar­tin Luther King Jr. and stand up.

We need peo­ple in the reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty. We need peo­ple who are celebri­ties, peo­ple who have influ­ence. We need to have peo­ple who are entre­pre­neurs. You get my drift. We need peo­ple to go to Wash­ing­ton. Get in your car, get in your plane, get in your bus, go put your thumb out and go out there. Put your mon­ey towards it, too. Vol­un­teer. Go to the local ral­lies. Pick up your tele­phone and call all of your sen­a­tors. Call sen­a­tors from oth­er states.

Lit­er­al­ly, this is not the time to sit back and say, It is not going to hap­pen” — because it is. Nobody pre­dict­ed it would hap­pen. Nobody thought McCain was going to fly out there. He went out there. This is not the time to sit back. Health­care is at risk. People’s health is the most impor­tant thing in your life. Mon­ey doesn’t die with you. You die. So, we need health­care. Peo­ple need to real­ize this is real, this is every­body, this is all of us, and we need to get out there and do stuff. So, what­ev­er way peo­ple can do, they need to do the max­i­mum and they need to do it yesterday.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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