Why I Was Arrested and Jailed Yesterday

For the first time in my life on Friday, October 30, 2009 I was arrested because the “public option” has been mangled, compromised by President Obama on September 9th of this year and most recently on Thursday, October 29th of this year by Nancy Pelosi. The definition of the public option has changed drastically during the course of this year. At first it was closer to its actual name, being “public,” meaning available to everybody. Since Obama’s September 9th speech so many specific conditions apply to this “public option” that its availability is severely restricted. It is not public anymore. Neither is it an option. According to their income, people are either penalized for or restricted from switching from their employment-based healthcare to it. However the final nail in the coffin for “healthcare reform” is Nancy Pelosi’s fateful decision Thursday to remove what would have been a very important condition of this celebrated healthcare bill: the Kucinich amendment. This amendment would have allowed states such as Pennsylvania to enact their own single payer healthcare system instead of relying on private insurance, which is trying to profit from healthcare by denying claims. Psalm eighty two verse three says Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. In order to do this, it is essential to try and stop the continued exploitation by private insurance.
It is absolutely unconscionable that in this country there are billions to be spent on war yet private insurance profiteers insist on making money from a person’s health. Over forty seven million people in this country are now without health insurance. Obama and Pelosi more than anything are truly vested in keeping private insurance pleased; making sure they continue to make profits at the expense of others’ healthcare. The largest private insurer in Pennsylvania is Independence Blue Cross (IBC) who regularly denies life-saving doctor requested care based on “pre-existing conditions.” IBC continually wastes money on excessive CEO salaries and advertising that could go towards care. Their CEO Joseph Frick was paid $2.7 million in 2007. They’ve spent over $5 million on advertising. In 2004, they charged 3,100 low-income families $45 a month even though they were eligible for free government health insurance. Last year they’ve spent over $16 million in lobbying to keep this broken system alive, instead of using it to actually provide people meaningful healthcare. So yesterday with a group organized by Student Healthcare Action Network, Healthcare NOW!, Healthcare for All Philadelphia, I sat in front of the headquarters of Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield near the corner of 19th & Market Streets and demanded to meet with the CEO Joseph Frick who said in an Inquirer op-ed that “we support health reform that builds on the current employment based-system.” Why is that the case when we’re in the worst job recession since the great depression? When an IBC representative said he could not allow that, we sat down right in front of their headquarters’ doors. And stayed. Because I was tired of Obama compromising healthcare to private insurance, while more children go uninsured. Because I was disgusted by Pelosi’s ultimate compromise to remove the Kucinich amendment, certainly at the behest of private insurance. Because so many more people will be forced to have money in order to have healthcare. Because two people with incredible potential to do the right thing, capitulated to corporate interest yet again.
I will not cooperate with two people who have on an individual level allowed capitalist materialism to remove their conscious regarding healthcare for people without jobs. For children. Two people who probably have families of their own and on an individual level are absolutely covered, but have been swayed by powerful industry to ignore the masses of people who make drastic, fateful decisions for their healthcare. I often convince myself that if I was in their position, regardless of my income, I would not care how much money was being thrown my way, I could not allow, first of all, a public option, to be eliminated from being an option. And second, I could not allow an amendment to allow states’ rights, in a culture created and dominated by people who championed such rights, to remove the ability for states to enact their own single payer system. So I sat. And thought that if Obama and Pelosi, allowed private insurance to have its way and do absolutely anything to us as a nation, then I wouldn’t. So I sat with the knowledge of the historical function of insurance in the United States of America.
That word was the reason that so many enslaved were thrown overboard slave ships, because traders deliberately overestimated the number of Africans they had. And those landed buyers, also known as insurers, refused to pay these traders any more than what they paid according to their documented insurance policy. So traders would very deliberately capture hundreds more enslaved Africans than these documented policies agreed to. Some decided that if they had hundreds more Africans than what their landed buyers were willing to pay, you might as well throw the enslaved Africans you don’t need overboard. They’re expendable. They’re more like pieces on a checkerboard than actual human beings. They are property to profit off of, and nothing else. Markus Rediker in The Slave Ship writes:

“Captain Luke Collingwood sailed with his crew of seventeen and a ‘cargo’ of 470 tight-packed slaves from West Africa to Jamaica. The ship soon grew sickly: sixty Africans and seven members of the crew perished. Fearful of ‘a broken voyage,’ Collingwood called the crew together and told them that ‘if the slaves died a natural death, it would be the loss of the owners of the ship; but if they were thrown alive into the sea, it would be the loss of the underwriters’ who had insured the voyage. Some members of the crew, including mate James Kelsal, objected but Collingwood prevailed, and that evening the crew threw 54 slaves, hands bound, overboard. They threw another 42 over the side two days later, and 26 more soon after. Ten of the enslaved watched the hideous spectacle and jumped overboard of their own volition, committing suicide and bringing the number of deaths to 132. Collingwood later pretended a lack of water was the cause of his action, but neither crew nor captives had been put to short allowance, and indeed the ship still had 420 gallons when it docked. The case was tried in court when the insurer refused to pay the claim and the owners sued in response” (Rediker, 240, 241; italics in original, underlines are inserted).

The owners believed they could profit from what the insurers promised to pay them. If they were paid by the insurer amount X for Y number of enslaved Africans, yet the owner took more enslaved Africans than Y, then the owner figures he is liable to more than X for the enslaved he brings. Rediker’s case here shows how Collingwood saw these enslaved Africans as simply means to make profit from the insurer and nothing else. The insurer thought likewise and went to court based on his capitalist decision to make money. This case was not over the atrocity of throwing human beings overboard. It was over two capitalist pigs at one trough trying to barrel each other over for more food, in this case more money. The owner sued the insurer because the owner wanted his money. It is doubtful that the owner and the insurer here were suing for anything else besides money. Certainly not the humanity of those thrown overboard. Decisions like these are the basis of U.S. society. In a very real way, this is exactly what private insurance companies today are fighting each other for, pouring billions of it into Washington to secure the favor and protection of Obama and now Pelosi. And they have succeeded in seizing such protection. People are insured in order to profit from them, says the insurer. Like the insurers who sued Collingwood, private insurance today figures that if they pay an entity something like Washington, they should get something in return. Obama and Pelosi have made sure that, like Collingwood’s insurers, they got back what they put in. This is the American way. However, at what expense? At the cost of millions more being uninsured and people making unfair, inhumane decisions all in order to pay money for their own or loved ones healthcare? Like Collingwood, private insurance sees people as just pieces on a checkerboard to be moved around. Private insurance, Obama and Pelosi have proven the triumph of capitalism, and shown us citizens of the world that there’s definitely a piece of Luke Collingwood in Obama and Pelosi. It just needs some priming, some pruning, facilitated by money. This is why I sat. Because insurance has been, is, and continues to play with people’s lives, treat their lives as expendable, all for capitalist profit. For private insurance CEOs to get rich.
I was arrested and taken to what is called the Roundhouse where I was fingerprinted, photographed and jailed for about fourteen hours. In most of those fourteen hours when I was not fingerprinted or interrogated, I had a lot of time to think about why I am on this earth, about how my ancestors endured so much so that I could be here, in this cell, aghast at how private insurance is protected by the state. Looking at those bars I understood and felt the cold power of private insurance to make money. Their ability to confine me if I do not tow their line, follow their order by continuing to ignore the millions that are uninsured was made crystal clear. I have been encouraged to ignore Psalm eighty two verse three and essentially the Gospel that Jesus came to bring. Their ability to confine me and encourage me to be happy was cynical then. Especially since, as a black man, I should be psychologically more at ease, since after all, Obama is president, and is black and, like Dr. King, he won the Nobel Peace Prize; these conservative Republicans just want to see him fail and as a Democrat, we as Americans just have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and support him against the Republican attacks one hundred percent. My reply to that argument is a resounding no. Not when insurance continually puts profits before actual healthcare. Not when millions continue to go uninsured. Not when people try and profit off of others’ bodies in the name of insurance, the way that slave ship insurers tried. I thought about Rosa Parks who was arrested. Martin Luther King. But more close to me right now, I thought about A. Philip Randolph who with Chandler Owen was arrested in Cleveland in 1918 for violating the Espionage Act by encouraging blacks in downtown Cleveland to resist World War I conscription and fight at home to “make America unsafe for hypocrisy.” Their bail was set at $1,000 and they were held in jail two days. For refusing to fight a war on principle that, like the “public option” debate, is concerned with forcing this country to have the moral, political will to do the right thing. Despite the money. This is a test of moral courage that both Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi have failed in their unthinking approval to the financial principle of infinite profit at the expense of American lives. It is time that Americans begin believe that the profit of a few should not come at the expense of millions. And act on it. To end this destructive legacy of private insurance.

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