Coffins, Coiled Snakes & Progressives: A South Carolina “Truthful Tuesday” Obamacare Showdown

unnamed-10When the Confederate Flag stands front and center upon your State House grounds, a defiant geopolitical hood ornament for all the world “to remember,” it puts a little edge on your average everyday progressive political rally.

My first memory of the South Carolina State House is hard to forget.  I moved to the Palmetto State in January 2003, the same month that former Governor Mark “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” Sanford assumed his two-term gubernatorial office.  For those who have lost track, Sanford is now a U.S. Representative.  South Carolina’s conservative voters clearly don’t mind being represented by a Christian hypocrite who cheated on his wife before a global audience.

At any rate, I will never forget driving by the State House on MLK Day, January 20, 2003.

That’s odd, I thought.  Why would people be wearing bed sheets on the Capitol steps?  Wait, is that a swastika?  Oh my.

Welcome to South Carolina.  We’re not in Minnesota anymore.

But we digress.  So often in South Carolina, it seems.

However, yesterday’s Truthful Tuesday pro-Obamacare rally in the South Carolina capital of Columbia may represent something of a Gandalf-planted-staff-in-the-ground moment by progressives throughout the state.

Truthful Tuesdays in South Carolina are modeled after the “Moral Monday” progressive protests that began in neighboring North Carolina and which now have spread to Georgia.

Reverend Brenda Kneece, executive minister of the S.C. Christian Action Council, one of the formal conveners of Truthful Tuesday, informed the State newspaper:  “Whatever North Carolina has done in terms of advocating for moral and ethical laws, our state needs to do the same thing.”

The Truthful Tuesday Coalition movement is also convened by a number of other respected progressive groups, including the South Carolina chapters of the National Association of Social Workers, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP as well as the SC Progressive Network and The SC Education Association.

On Tuesday, progressive demonstrators donned black “as a symbol of mourning” to honor the 1,400 people who are expected to die each year in South Carolina, according to the University of South Carolina Institute for Public Service and Policy Research (see State article above), because South Carolina’s political leaders, including Governor Nikki Haley, have refused to expand Medicaid.

Rally leaders laid a white coffin on the State House steps as a grave symbol.  The coffin also served as something of a speaker podium.

The rally cry throughout the demonstration, “Enough is Enough!” was directed straight at South Carolina’s lawmakers, who yesterday banged the gavel and convened the second session of the 120th General Assembly.

Of course, this is the same august body that in years past determined minors can’t play pinball, horses shall not be kept in bathtubs, and citizens should at least obtain a license before firing missiles.

While some of those laws have been repealed (though hopefully not the missile one!), one bill this session is headed for a fast track into the South Carolina Code of Laws.  The bill, known as H3101, is by its very title is designed to:

RENDER NULL AND VOID CERTAIN UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAWS
ENACTED BY THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES
TAKING CONTROL OVER THE HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY

 

Or as CNS News reports:  “In January, when key provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect, South Carolina’s Republican-led state Senate is scheduled to vote on fast-tracked legislation that would prohibit all state agencies, public officials and state employees from implementing the federal health care law.”

Governor Haley, who has pledged “to lead a coalition of governors to fight Obamacare,” of course cannot wait to sign her name to said inhumane bill.

Determined to fight the process on this first Truthful Tuesday was Reverend Dr. James B. Blassingame, President of the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention, who prayed that God would “separate the [lawmakers] from their pomp and circumstance.”

Indeed.  Such would seemingly take an act of the divine.

While the SC Progressive Network and other groups were demanding “that lawmakers stop grandstanding and start governing,” at the same time, State Senator Lee Bright (guess his party) was on hand to lead a charge of conservative activists into the State House to pressure lawmakers to embrace health care Armageddon.

If progressives think U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham is an elephantine pain in the neck, consider that State Senator Bright is a Tea Party factor worse—and he’s challenging Graham in the June 2014 Republican primary.

Also hoping to challenge Senator Graham in November is entrepreneur and U.S. Senate Candidate Jay Stamper (D) of Irmo, South Carolina.  When I mentioned to Candidate Stamper that the anti-Obamacare rally on the other side of the State House had fizzled, he laughed and noted that the rain had “knocked out” the Republican rally.  “I don’t want to draw any conclusions, but…  More seriously, what you are seeing here is a lot of justified outrage.  The Republican lawmakers at both state and federal levels, including Lindsey Graham, are blocking health care for the most vulnerable members of society.”

That outrage manifested itself from the coffin podium when SC Progressive Network director Brett Bursey excoriated the General Assembly for suggesting it couldn’t afford Medicaid expansion.  Bursey cited horrible taxation policy in South Carolina, including its ridiculously low tax on luxury vehicles and private yachts and airplanes:  “Speaker [of the House Bobby] Harrell only paid $300 [in tax] for his airplane!”

Another speaker boomed her disgust from the coffin podium:  “Nikki Haley chairs the death panel … And we are going to strike that death panel down!”

Political exasperation was being vented by the milling protestors, as well.  William Hamilton, a Charleston lawyer who does outreach and communications work for the SC Progressives Network Charleston chapter, arrived as part of a three-bus caravan with 200 other ‘Probamacare’ protestors:  “We’re here to tell the Tea Party that the toughest liberals in the nation work under the worst possible conditions in one of the reddest states.  They are your neighbors; this is their home too.  We will not surrender to oppression, ignorance and death!”

Midway through the rally, a man waving a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag ran through the middle of the crowd, shouting, “Obama is a traitor!  Impeach Obama!”

Earlier I had spotted the naysayer, who identified himself as Ryan Tarrance of Charleston, South Carolina.  I asked if I could take his picture and follow up with some questions.  He agreed.

Tarrance seemed friendly.  He is married and has two children with another on the way.

I asked him why he had traveled from Charleston.  He replied:  “To support the nullification of Obamacare.  To show my state I care.  To show that one person can make a difference.”

Fair enough.  From there, the interview started slipping away from common sense bit by bit.  I asked him if he had health care.

Tarrance:  “I do, but my wife takes care of all that.  We had the Obama exchange before.”

Really?  You had the Obamacare exchange?  In South Carolina?!  Never mind; next question.

I asked him to imagine life without health care.  He said he wasn’t all that worried; he “didn’t use it too much.”  I asked him whether his wife perhaps used it a bit more, given her previous two pregnancies and her current “bun-in-the-oven” state.

Tarrance paused:  “I think Obamacare seemed good at first.”  Then he explained that the bill became too tall.

I was puzzled, “The legislation is too tall?”

He explained that bills shouldn’t be so long that Americans can’t read them.  I noted to him that obviously some Americans could read the bill, as Americans had written it.  Tarrance then mumbled something about regulation and taxation.

“Oh,” I said, pointing at nearby Gervais Street.  “You mean like all of those burdensome traffic lights and the roads, plus the ambulances, fire trucks and police squad cars that drive upon them.”

“Yeah, exactly,” he agreed.  “Before the Federal Reserve, we had traffic lights.”

Tarrance continued mumbling about capitalism, about not wanting to pay for some stranger’s abortion, about truth being “somewhere in the middle.”  I stopped taking notes, then simply offered that he consider the overall economic success and wellbeing of countries like Canada and the nearly 60 other nations that offer universal health care.

He told me that in Canada, one has to wait months just to go to the doctor.

If only Canada disbanded its central bank, I thought, then maybe it could afford traffic lights.

I sighed, thanked him for his time and returned to the Truthful Tuesday rally, where I had a sensible conversation with Dorothea Butts of Columbia, SC, who, unlike Mr. Tarrance, actually knows about her family’s health care situation:  “It’s not right, the divide,” she explained.  She fully supports expanded Medicaid.  Before she and her husband qualified for Medicare, they were paying one-third of their self-employed take-home pay on health care costs.  “We prayed for the day when we would become Medicare eligible.”

Butts gets it and was on hand to support the thousands of her South Carolinians neighbors who, because of Republican politicians, do not have health care.  In fact, the several thousand other folks who showed up for Truthful Thursday get it too.

Tarrance, on the other hand, is just a guy running around with a coiled snake flag spewing Rush Limbaugh talking points.  And South Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have Tarrance, plus thousands of other voters just like him, coiled around their fingers.

 …

Postscript

The White House reports that 24 states are currently refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions of uninsured citizens who can’t do a damned thing about it because they’re trapped in states with political leaders like South Carolina’s Governor Haley and State Senator Bright.

By the way, it’s probably just a coincidence that all but two of the former Confederate States are in that Group of 24 refusing billions of dollars in federal funding to improve the nation’s health.

As Truthful Tuesday protestors made abundantly clear yesterday in South Carolina with their symbolic coffin, Americans are now dying because of this disgraceful Republican political rebellion.  More than 27,000 of our fellow citizens, in fact.  Every year.

Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, just over one-half of the states in our Union have taken one step closer to civilization.  Nearly 60 countries have universal health care, nations such as Israel, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Australia.  Pretty nice places, despite what Mr. Tarrance has been brainwashed to believe.

Every Truthful Tuesday protester I met longs for the day that the United States can be added to the list of civilized nations.

2014 matters, folks.  On November 4, 2014, your vote matters like never before.

The countdown to Election Day, or as I have started calling it, Civilization Day, has begun.

Here are some pics I snapped at the rally.  Enjoy!

Arik Bjorn

Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit the archive for Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, So I Ran for Congress. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook. And be sure to check out more from Arik in his archives!

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