An Activist Among Us

December 17, 2009

. . . after traveling all across the state this year and meeting so many people who have suffered or seen family members die because they lacked insurance, I could not look them in the eye and say that they and people like them should wait until a better bill comes along. This legislation is far from perfect, but it will make affordable insurance available to millions of people who do not have it now. It will save lives and reduce suffering. It will pave the way for further reforms down the road. And, if we lose now, we will not only miss this opportunity to begin reforming health care but will find it much harder to attain many other goals we share.

–Roxanne Pauline, Dec. 15, 2009

I interviewed Roxanne Pauline back in September of 2009 while she was waiting for a town hall meeting to end, so that she could distribute fliers and stickers and buttons about health care reform. Roxanne devotes much of her time to organizing events that educate people about politics. Activism, she says, is in her blood. It’s what she does, and she does it very well.

Like many activists, Roxanne comes from a theater background. Because of that, she has no qualms about talking with people, creating performance art pieces to get her message across, or dealing with the press. She is also very good at getting people’s attention, and that’s what educating the public about the issues requires.

This past year, Roxanne’s message has been about health care reform. She’s for it. She is a volunteer with MoveOn, Healthcare for America Now (HCAN), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and her state’s activist health care group. But even within those organizations, she stands out as a pro.

Roxanne’s own family benefited greatly from past health care programs, such as Medicare, which supported her chronically disabled brother until his death this year at age forty-four. She believes that now is the time to make changes to our broken health care system and that, if we fail to pass legislation this year, we won’t have another chance for a long, long time.

So, Roxanne plans and executes event after event. Rallies, vigils, public presentations in front of elected officials’ offices—everything she does has the goal of providing people with more information about reform and giving them an opportunity to talk about their questions and concerns.

She says she did not have any bad experiences with opponents of reform during the crazy town-hall month of August. While acknowledging that some people just like to scream and often don’t even understand what they are screaming about, she adds that, when a supporter and an opponent start to really talk, they find common ground. Neither one wants anything bad to happen; they just have different opinions about what the “bad thing” would be. And most of those opinions are taken from sound bites generated by the media.

That is why Roxanne did something “pre-media” to advance the health care reform debate. She staged readings of HR 3200, similar to the kind of reading of a bill that would have been done by a town crier in the village square back in the days when most citizens were unable to read. Yes, HR 3200 is over one thousand pages long, but Roxanne found many volunteers, mostly actors, who were willing to take on sections of the reading.

At a reading in Scranton, PA, the Scranton Times Leader reported that, “While the reading is going on, the organizers are encouraging attendees to discuss health care under a tent.”

Roxanne is the one who arranged for, and probably helped put up, that tent. Discussion and debate are important to her. She believes health care reform is everybody’s issue. And she says that everybody can contribute to the cause by following their talents. Make a poster, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, make a video, or talk to your neighbors.

She’s still at it today, planning a reading of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, focusing on the fact that “Bob Crachit is not a fiction. He is living . . . all over the USA.”

Not everybody can do what Roxanne does, but isn’t it wonderful that she, and many others like her across the country, are doing it? I hope you feel inspired right now, and I hope you will join me in saying, “Thank you, Roxanne.”

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good health insurance plan.

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