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.
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 It is touching, because even though it is people who are not wanting the ACA repealed, they have American flags.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 Type Media Center Fellow, co-host (with Michelle Chen) of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast, and a columnist at The New Republic and New Labor Forum. She was formerly a staff writer at In These Times and the labor editor at AlterNet. Her previous book is 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.