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Opinion: Sharecropper’s Healthcare Plan

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My grandfather never held political office but he was born for the political arena.  He knew the issues before the issues became stories.  The summer of 1975 was my introduction to political campaigns thanks to my grandfather who I affectionately called “Daddy.”

My grandfather was asked that year to work on an ambitious gubernatorial campaign that would include Blacks and Whites working together.  This campaign focused on “The working man’s friend.”

Lack of job security was one issue that united Mississippians of all races.  “Everyone needs a job,” was impressed upon me by my grandfather.  The promise of bringing manufacturing jobs to a state that had relied so heavily on agriculture trade caught my grandfather’s attention.  Daddy loved politics, but kept a fair amount of skepticism for anyone in political office. One of his favorite sayings was “they all lie and will eat their young to get elected.” But Daddy seemed enthusiastic about this particular campaign, and I was nine years old working beside my grandfather, the master of political campaigns.

Daddy studied every candidate inside and out, and taught his grandchildren everything there was to know about grassroots campaigning. Pick a candidate and Daddy could you about his childhood, his personal life, his military service, his political view points (of course they were all men at the time) and most importantly, the issues.

Daddy was not entrenched with party affiliations but believed financial independence for families was more important than a letter beside the politician’s name.

Lack of job readiness and the skyrocketing unemployment could not be ignored. “Stick to the issues,” my grandfather told us over and over as we knocked on doors and shared with everyone the importance of their vote. “Don’t debate fear and hate,” he would add.  Fear? Hate? Wait a minute. Why was he mentioning fear and hate while he wanted us to help register voters, give out campaign cards and hang posters on electric poles along Hwy 61? I dared not pose my questions out loud…no one questioned my grandfather.

We hit the counties that were heavily agricultural.  Not cities or small towns but the countryside where soybeans and cotton fields stretched as far as the eye could see and little shanty houses dotted every few acres.  That is where I encountered the fear of the unknown meshed with hatred of learning the truth. Knocking on doors was an education of a lifetime and one particular encounter will always remain with me.

I knocked on the door of a sharecropper’s home, prepared to greet whoever opened the doow with my best smile. An elderly woman answered the door looking at me like I was an alien from another world.  I extended my hand to shake hers, standing straight and tall in my campaign t-shirt with ribbons tied on my ponytails. My lunch box -contained my campaign fliers, voter lists and property information- was by my side.  I rattled off information about jobs and employment as if I was saying my Easter speech at church. 

Her response to my banter was unexpected, as she spoke with hostility and informed me her land would not be taken from her.  ‘They’ were not going to remove her from her home she told me.  “This is my land,” she repeated sternly, pointing to no place in particular.  I glanced out at the acres of crops planted up to the steps and looked back at her and said innocently, “This is not your land you….you pick cotton for Mr. Jones. Daddy wants to help you get a job so you can buy your own house.” (Mr. Jones, the owner of the land, lived in the big yellow house at the end of the dirt road that you could see from the front porch.)

 At that moment, it was as if the Mississippi River had dried.  A nine year old was telling an elder that she didn’t know what she was talking about and shattering her belief that she owned the land on which she had toiled for decades. Watching her expression change, I knew I was in trouble with her and my granddaddy.

Our beliefs can help us survive circumstances that are less that favorable. But our beliefs can also be mired in misinformation. Most sharecroppers we stumbled upon that summer believed the land they worked would be theirs one day because they were told this by the landowners.

These men and women lived and worked on land that they would never own.  The landowner benefitted from them believing wholeheartedly in a lie.

I handed the woman a property list from my lunch box that listed the landowner; it also stated he was a registered voter. She was not listed as a registered voter and asked, “Where did you get this from little girl?” I said proudly, “Daddy got it from the courthouse.” Beaming, I told her to go to the courthouse and ask for the records from the clerk.  My mother, who taught me about records and deeds, worked in the tax assessor’s office assisting homeowner’s file their homestead exemptions.

 The woman grew pale and seemed to age as she told me she was going to tell my folks that I had sassed her. She sat down abruptly on a bench mumbling something about it being her land. I did not know if I had educated this poor woman or killed her. I knew that if I was going to get a whipping for this, I better make sure I told everything. I proceeded to tell her how much land Mr. Jones owned throughout the county.  My words were backed up by the property list, but she continued to say she owned the land as if she was trying to convince herself.

I remember another saying of my grandfather’s: “Never argue with a fool, they will either win the argument or kill you.” Sensing her despair and frustration, I backed off the porch and wished her a good day, skipping off to catch up with my cousins who were waiting. Hearing the bench move, my skipping was soon replaced by running. Fear for my safety made me run faster. The more things change the more things remain the same.

How many understand the issues that have polarized communities around the nation with fear of what ifs and misinformation?  The town hall meetings shown on cable news are as confusing as the language being used to describe the events.  The media has focused on the drama rather than the real issues.

 Have you read the bill, HR 3200?  Not the talking points given to industry insiders, pundits or politicians’ stump speeches but the actual bill itself. I have been reading the bill for the last month, and have yet to make it to page 500 of 1,081 pages document. I called my insurance agent to get his input about a particular passage and he was taken aback. 

I am self employed with monthly premiums of $398.00 and a $10,000 deductible.  All doctorvisits are paid out of pocket until I meet that deductible. This summer, I paid thousands of dollars in medical payments for my child who had suddenly taken ill suddenly.   I have never filed a medical claim in fifteen years. The doctors’ invoices are paid by me and the insurance company premiums are paid whether I work or not. The more I write, the more I feel like the sharecropper. I am working to pay for nothing.

I contacted my primary care physician to discuss a few issues about my healthcare plans for the future.  I was asked to set an appointment.  The consultation was going to be considered an office visit. I would need to pay $125. (Note to self, find a new doctor this week.)

As life intersects with today’s political scene, the sharecropper’s despair and frustration is how many feel about healthcare. We are faced with “choices” that many do not understand, will not be able to buy and will never be able to vote on. We cannot be like the sharecroppers who never received the benefits from being landowners because they did not know the truth about the property they labored on and did not own, we cannot accept what we are told.

We must ask questions and educate ourselves about the issues. Talking points and mass hysteria will never stand up to honest scrutiny.  Fear only breeds contempt and contempt will leave us with empty promises, political rhetoric and DC’s business as usual culture.

We, the people, will never have the health care provided to our politicians under the golden dome. We elected them to serve us, all of us, but often politicians serve themselves first. Remember what Daddy said, “They eat their young.”  HR 3200 has become an off shoot to issues that politicians will not speak truth to power. They are more concerned about maintaining their office than giving us real answers.

I have reached out to every elected official from Tennessee and the White House.  Have you contacted anyone? I urged everyone to read the bill for themselves, ask questions of insurance agents and doctors as well as your elected officials. I would like to hear more discussion around insurance reform which drives the health care bus. Let’s not accept the sharecropper’s stake in the reform debate and hold our politicians accountable for the premiums we pay for their insurance plans.

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Categories: Featured, Genma Holmes, Point of View
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