Friday, March 24, 2017

A Call To Action: Fighting the AHCA Real-Time

Tom reports on the health care battle from a local perspective in another edition of Wendy's "A Call to Action" series...

Against the backdrop of the House vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Wendy and I attended an event at our local Planned Parenthood affiliate, headlined by our local elected officials:  state representatives, mayors, county legislatures.  It was originally supposed to feature our area’s three U.S. Representatives, Nita Lowey (D – NY 17), Sean Patrick Maloney (D- NY 18) and Eliot Engel (D- NY 16), but the postponement of the AHCA vote from Thursday night to Friday afternoon meant that they had to stay in Washington instead of joining us in its aftermath.

When the rally initially scheduled, I believe that Planned Parenthood likely thought it was going to be a “buck up the troops” session after the AHCA passed the House.  After all, why would Speaker Paul Ryan schedule a vote if he did not have the votes?  (“Rookie mistake,” opined Nancy Pelosi.)  But the bill -- to no one’s surprise except Donald Trump – has proved to be “complicated” indeed, and the GOP, in its first real effort to define health care coverage, and thus health care itself, has failed to agree on a bill.  Three – count ‘em – three warring factions, the so-called Freedom Caucus on the far right, the “moderates” (yes, there are some) and the poor schnooks in the middle who favor the bill as is, cannot all be satisfied, as any move to mollify the far right has a see-saw effect on losing more moderates, and vice-versa.  The vote will occur at 3:30 PM.

And so the rally was held in a suspended state, knowing the bill was in trouble, but before the vote.

And our elected officials used the time wisely, not to focus on the bill itself, but rather on the long-term fight.  Because while the AHCA is a particularly important chapter in the battle for health insurance for all, and in protecting women’s rights, it is a very long book, with many prior chapters and more to come.

Amy Paulin (D – NY State Assembly, District 88) started off plaintively:  “I am sick and tired of coming here!” – meaning that the need for basic women’s health rights should have long ago been settled.  Others, including Nita Lowey and Sean Patrick Maloney (both by phone) and Sandy Galef (D – NY State Assembly, District 88), also touched on the theme of how this battle for the most basic of rights is far from over, and in the area of reproductive rights, ground has been lost.  And thus, while Washington plays out this drama, in all likelihood a huge loss for Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and the GOP, there is more to come.

Vince Russell, the Interim CEO of our local Planned Parenthood affiliate, then spoke.  In a straightforward manner, Vince took the emotion out of the argument and simply defined who Planned Parenthood is, and what exactly it is they do.  Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, which serves parts of the Hudson Valley and Long Island here in New York, provided care to more than 34,000 patients in 2015, who made 59,000 visits to one of their 10 health centers and two smartvans.  An extremely tiny percentage of these visits involved an abortion.  Most were family planning sessions, many involved STD testing, other patients received pre-natal care, some received pregnancy detection exams and others cervical cancer procedures.  This is a large organization that has become heavily politicized, and it is easy to forget what exactly it is they do.  It is a health care provider, plain and simple, usually of underserved patients.

The mayors of White Plains, Irvington and New Rochelle were at the event, and not because they had a roomful of voters.  They were there to thank Planned Parenthood, because they know that Planned Parenthood serves their constituents, many of whom have nowhere else to turn for their basic health care needs.  And they were there to advocate, to our elected officials in Washington, DC, on its behalf.  They were there not because in the culture wars that have dominated our political scene, they want to be seen on the “pro-choice” side, but rather to advocate for something that many of us take for granted – the right to basic health care.   As Town Supervisor Paul Feiner of Greenburgh (the event was held at a health center in his town) said, “I hope you {PPHP} are here for decades to come.”

The AHCA defunds Planned Parenthood.  It has not been as well-publicized, because the ACHA has so many things wrong with it – truly the bill that everybody hates – but it is in there just the same.  And keep in mind, no federal dollars, by law (the infamous “Hyde Amendment”) can go to fund abortions.  So all defunding Planned Parenthood would do would be to dramatically undercut Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide all of its other health care services.

Sometimes we ask ourselves, do these events really matter in the grand scheme?  Does getting together with a hundred like-minded souls really make a difference?  And we come away with our answer -- a resounding "yes."  We need to show our passion to our elected officials, because they are watching, and if we stop caring, they will be far less likely to advocate on our behalf.  Perhaps, as Woody Allen once said, 80% of life really is "just showing up."

This call to action is to alert you to the ongoing struggle, the battle to roll back advances in health care, whether caused by attempts to repeal Obamacare or attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, or, in the case of the AHCA, both.  We may well have won this particular battle, but the war goes on.  We need to keep up the fight.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Call To Action: Sobering Report on Women

The latest in Wendy's "A Call To Action" series...

Earlier this week my daughter and I attended a breakfast hosted by the Westchester Women's Agenda (WWA) in Westchester County, New York.  The WWA describes itself as "a feminist organization that serves as a strong voice for women in Westchester on legislative policy and program issues."  It's a coalition of nonprofits, volunteers and corporations which work together to advocate for common objectives.   

This week's agenda was the presentation of the "2016 Report on the Status of Women in Westchester."  Short summary, the status of women in Westchester isn't at all promising.  And we're talking about one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  This should concern you.

The meeting was kicked off with a gut-wrenching personal story from a woman who'd navigated Section 8 housing in our county.  She'd earned her living as a waitress (by the way, tipped workers in NYS can be paid as little as $7.50 per hour vs the state minimum wage of $15/hour) until she suffered a stroke.  After a long period of rehab, she landed a job as a caretaker, where she was abused.  She then moved to a women's shelter.  Month after month after month, her search for Section 8 housing was met with slammed doors, until finally someone gave her a chance and agreed to rent to her.  She told her story, not with anger or bitterness, but with gratitude.  Gratitude to the people who cared for her in rehab, at the shelter and finally as a landlord.  And she asked us to remember that we all need help in our lives at one time or another, that we don't know when that need will present itself, that what's desperately needed is something we all can give: kindness.

That's one person's story. Here are some of the eyebrow-raising statistics that serve as the backdrop for thousands of stories. 
  • Twelve percent of Westchester's children live in poverty.  Twelve percent.
  • The number of new cases of chlamydia in the county continues to rise dramatically each year.   In 2005, the chlamydia rate among Westchester women was 266 per 100000 people; by 2014, it has risen to 464 cases per 100000 people.  The trend for men is similar.
  • Depression is the most common clinical mental health diagnosis among women.
  • Men outnumber women in elected office within the county by 2 to 1.
  • Women fill only one-third of executive leadership positions in the largest seven corporations headquartered in Westchester.
  • Women continue to earn less than men for equal work. 

This is just a random sample of the data collected in the report.  What do these facts tell me?  First, the threat to funding for Planned Parenthood should have us all feeling very, very edgy.  Contrary to popular belief, Planned Parenthood’s primary role is as a health care provider, especially to the disadvantaged, and it is often their only option.  Chlamydia can affect a woman's ability to conceive; in 2014 Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York State tested more than 385,000 patients for sexually transmitted disease.  Despite this, chlamydia rates continue to rise.  Clearly, we need more of the services provided by Planned Parenthood, not less.  And very significantly, teen pregnancies have been declining in Westchester, a trend we're all happy to see. What do you think would happen without the sex education and contraceptive care provided by Planned Parenthood?

What else do these facts tell me?  Women need to run for elected office.  At every level.  Now.

What else?  Well, my daughter has just accepted a new job, to begin this summer.  When we left the WWA meeting, she immediately wondered out loud about how her salary compares to that of her male peers.  I wonder too. 

You can read the full status report here: https://wwagenda.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/wwa-summit-final-report-final.pdf 

So once again, I urge you to both analyze the stats and listen to the stories.  I urge you to both lobby your legislators at the local, state and national level and to get involved with a nonprofit where you live.  The need has always been deep, and the handwriting on the White House walls tells us that it's going to grow deeper.  The possibilities are endless.  Choose an issue that matters to you, get your dialing finger moving, and contribute your time and talent.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Call To Action: It's Up2Us

Wendy's latest in her "A Call to Action" series...

Yesterday I attended a meeting of Up2Us, a grassroots advocacy and activist group in Westchester County.  For those who don't necessarily read to the end of every piece (maybe even any piece), I'm going to begin with an important Call to Action take away from the meeting.  At least an important political action.  I do encourage you to read on though because my suggestions begin with strategy but end with heart.

This April 18 there will be a Special Election in Georgia’s 6th District to fill Tom Price's vacated Congressional seat.  (Price was appointed to Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services.)  While this district is solidly Republican, Hillary Clinton lost there by only a hair, and many see the outcome of this election as a referendum on the Trump administration, an early indicator for the 2018 midterms.   So our marching orders, which I pass to you, are to use the coming month to get out the vote. 

It's going to be messy.  There are eleven Republican candidates and at least five Democrats taking us into runoff land.  We were encouraged to support Jon Ossoff, seen as the Democrat with the greatest potential for a win.  Nita Lowey, Congresswoman (D) from New York's 17th district, will be hosting phone banks to get out the vote and I volunteered to make calls.  Perhaps your own Representative is doing the same. 

So back to the Up2Us meeting. Up2Us was originally formed to support Hillary Clinton's candidacy and after Election Day, regrouped, renamed and moved on to its current mission of advocating for a liberal agenda.  Their huddle meeting was well attended by roughly 150 people in a little church in Chappaqua on a cold Saturday afternoon.  As the leader of Up2Us said, Chappaqua is, of course, "the home of a former president and a should-have-been president!"  I was so pleased to see among the attendees several friends from my own town as well as representatives of both Hope's Door, a domestic violence agency, and our Planned Parenthood affiliate. I volunteer at both.

Wherever you live, I encourage you to put your name on the Up2Us email list or to follow them on Facebook (https://www.up2us.us/).  They're extremely well organized -- and I mean that both as resisters and as communicators.

The meeting opened with the organization's ED reading a letter from Hillary which got the crowd jazzed; that was followed by conversations with three elected officials -- Nita Lowey, US House of Representatives, David Buchwald, NYS Assembly, and Mike Kaplowitz, Westchester County Legislature.  The group was also joined by George Latimer, currently a NY State Senator and potential candidate for Westchester County Executive (challenging incumbent Rob Astorino (R) who lost the governor's race to Andrew Cuomo in 2014) .  And then we formed break out groups to talk about specific issues: education, the environment, women's issues, immigration, community support.

One of the themes of the discussions was to flip from the “bottom up.”  That is, many of us haven't heretofore paid a ton of attention to local politics, but it all matters.  (As Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local.")  Here in NY, we have a Democratic governor and State Assembly but a Republican Senate.  And until that changes, we're stymied.  The crowd applauded as David Buchwald talked about the Assembly passing a version of the Dream Act, an Immigration Protection Act, a NY Health Act, and bills supporting a woman's right to choose, but was quickly deflated when he explained that none of these got past our Republican controlled Senate.  Gotta change that. 

Congresswoman Lowey believes that the volume of calls and letters, the attendance at Town Hall meetings, the heat we're applying, is making her Republican colleagues edgy.  She encouraged us to keep it up.  At the same time, when talking about the ACA, she acknowledged that we can't depend on the US House of Representatives; it's the US Senate that stands between the bill and disaster.  We need to flip those seats.  She encouraged us to register voters, to support Jon Ossoff in Georgia, and in a lighter moment, to send pink slip postcards to the White House.

And then Congresswoman Lowey humanized what we're seeing in Washington. She talked about budget cuts to Pell grants and Headstart.  Of course, we've all heard about cuts to Meals on Wheels, which to me, is symbolic of cold-heartedness. We heard heartbreaking stories of Hispanic parents, our neighbors, going to their children's schools with the names of guardians in case the parents facing threats of deportation are no longer there at the end of the school day, of children being told where to turn if they don't find their parents at home.  This is not a worry that any child, anywhere, should ever, ever experience.

My breakout group was focused on how we can help local nonprofits.  I believe this is critical.  Changing our government will take time, and while that time is passing, families will go hungry, men and women will be victims of domestic violence, women will go without reproductive health care, immigrants will live in fear.  So as we all make our phone calls, write our letters, march in our marches, and contribute our dollars, we also need to work at the micro level to help those in need, those who will be stripped of their safety net by a Draconian budget, those who will be stripped of their health care by the dismembering of the ACA.  And we help them by volunteering at local agencies.  I can't think of a better way to spend a little time each week than by touching another human life in a meaningful way.


So please keep it up, with your efforts in Washington and your efforts nearer to home.