Healthcare as a Human Right

The Women’s Economic Agenda Project (W.E.A.P) facilitated a “teach-in” on July 27th on the Affordable Care Act and its implications to the current environment of healthcare in the US.

As an NGO advocating for economic human rights, healthcare is an essential part of this agenda.

Let’s start with what international human rights says about healthcare.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Article 12.1 states that, “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” In subsection 2.(d), it further expands upon the steps to be taken by signatory States shall create, “…conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.
Which, in the current conditions of the US healthcare system, has not met the basic standards of these conditions to say the least.

To be technical, US is indeed a signatory in the ICESCR; however, it has not ratified this law into effect. This is often the case because politicians fear that the sovereignty of US Constitution will be trampled–which I’d argue is bs because international law is set up so that States still retain their sovereignty in our State-oriented world order. What the ICESCR does set up for the United States is a legal framework that we as a nation has agreed to its principles. We can also be like our neighbors to the north–aka Canada–and incorporate it into our existing laws to strengthen human rights for our citizens (it can mean less sick people but  I’m sure Uncle Sam is worried we’ll be a society of weak socialist hippies).

*A quick word on the Canadian system:
All Canadian citizens have health care that is funded by income taxes and sales tax. The national government has oversight for military members and indigenous communities on reserves, but the 10 provincial and three territorial governments take care of the rest. The doctors and hospitals are private entities, which distinguishes the Canadian system from the British system of socialized medicine in which doctors are employed by the government. If you want more info on how other countries run their health care systems.  Here is a link to a useful bit of info: http://people.howstuffworks.com/10-health-care-systems.htm#page=0

Now WEAP as an organization have an agenda. Most are listed out on their website. Here is the intro. WEAP was the first to host and co-facilitate a social forum called the World Court of Women. The World Court of Women was founded by Corinne Kumar to be “another civic authority.” Ms. Kumar believes that,

“The courts of women are expressions of a new imaginary refusing that human rights be defined and confined only to that which has been hegemonic (the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group). These articulations are finding new ways of speaking truth to power, challenging the different notions of power…”

 With this in mind, the conclusion of the World Court of Women resulted in the establishments of Resolutions of Action. These resolutions of actions are a statement of responses by organizations who have set forth new approaches to addressing the injustices of poverty.

Poverty rears its injustice in many forms. One of which is in healthcare.
The reality is that the US is one of the only developed countries without universal health care. The Atlantic article highlights this point to illustrate the current trends and trajectory of US on the conversation on universal health care.

Within these Resolutions of Actions (ROAs), they have a ROA on health care titled, Resolution on Healthcare for the 99%. Again, keep in mind that the ROAs are an affirmation to the vision for a” transformation of systems and governments to end poverty” (WEAP.org).

In the Resolution on the Healthcare for the 99%, WEAP sets forth numerous faults in our healthcare. This includes the unsustainably high cost to maintain or get health coverage for individuals and families, the abysmal quality of our health care–a WHO report ranked the US healthcare 37th out of 191,  the profit-based healthcare industry, and the bureaucratic mess caused by insurance companies and hospitals are only some of the things listed in the large scheme of headaches currently present in the US healthcare system.

Now, complaining about the flaws of a system is easy, but it accomplishes nothing. the ROAs on the Healthcare for the 99% proposes some means to counter these flaws. That’s one of the things that I loved learning as I work closely with an organization like WEAP is that WEAP and its allies have been fighting the fight against poverty and social injustice long enough, they know that they too also have to set forth an agenda to facilitate true change.

One of the key proposal is the Single-payer system.
This is also known as Improved Medicare for All.
One of the problems that arise with the ACA being implemented is that the new law EXPANDS the role of private health insurance. One of the mess that this causes is that there will be increased bureaucracies increases higher costs. Our current system there are hundreds, even thousands of different healthcare organizations–HMOs, billing agencies, etc. Administrative fees that goes into filing the billings for these organizations is tedious, confusing, and time consuming.  A single-payer system would be structured so that one entity–a publicly run organization–would collect all healthcare fees and pay out all healthcare costs.

Improved Medicare for All, aka single-payer healthcare is not socialized medicine. Its taking the system that we have in place and making it inclusive to our population in its entirety. Under this system doctors remain independent and hospitals continue to be run by private practice remain in private practice. People will be able to choose your own doctors and competition among providers will increase, as individuals, not an insurance company, decide where to get care.

There are numerous ways to make this sustainable.
One of the ways is through H.R. 1579.–The Inclusive Prosperity Act–aka the Robin Hood Tax. This is where a nominal tax on the sales of stocks, bonds and derivatives could raise up to $350 billion a year. This reduces speculative and risky spending seen by Wall St. that led to the economic crisis of 2008. The funds collected from these taxes could be used to strengthen social safety nets and expanding resources for child care, Social Security, affordable housing, healthcare and savings incentives.

Now, how is this different from the realities of the new Affordable Care Act (ACA)?
That itself presents numerous issues that needs to be clarified so I’ll write about that in another post.

What can be said though is that firstly, we are in desperate need to readdress how our healthcare system is structured. There is a way to make healthcare affordable to everyone and sustainable. Improved Medicare for All is also only one of the few proposed alternative to having a healthier and sustainable healthcare system. WEAP advocates that this can be the most sustainable alternative to our current system.

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Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind…How Justice Was Truly Blinded

“eye for an eye makes the whole world blind…”

Mahatma Gandhi famously uttered these words in reflection  when facing and challenging injustice. I heed these words as the fault in only seeking short term solutions in a deeply systematic problem that needs long-term solutions for sustainability.

Gandhi’s words never rang truer for me after hearing the verdict on the George Zimmerman trial and witnessing the outcry(and support) of the verdict. I found myself asking: Is this why Justice is blind in America? Are so we blinded by structural violence that true justice is obstructed from us all? What if Justice is blind; not by the blindfold of subjectivity but by prejudice….

How I viewed the outcome of the Zimmerman trail was that  all of us, have  suffered and will continue to suffer when Justice is blinded unfairly; leaving us all to only suffer equally.

At our weekly staff meeting at WEAP, it was only natural that we all spoke on our personal reflections in the process and verdict of the Zimmerman case. We all had our opinions, and I want to express my sentiments as I further contemplated this issue.

Treyvon Martin’s death and the subsequent trail of George Zimmerman isn’t simply a reflection of the complications in our justice system. I think it is a bigger reflection on how our society at large (mis)represent struggles that still goes on today in the United States.

With that said, I want to explain my thoughts by addressing the following points:

・How did the “Stand Your Ground” law affect the outcome of this case
What does George Zimmerman’s trail and murder of Treyvon Martin say about hate crimes, justifiable use of force, and gun control in the United States.

・How struggles are ONGOING and relevant to us all.

Let me start with the first point: How did Florida’s  “Stand Your Ground” law affect the outcome of this case? 

In my opinion, in a defense against a murder charge, the law was used in the defense’s favor. It was a good defense under their narrative that it was Martin who instigated the fight between the two–though I find fault in Zimmerman himself  for following this young man despite orders from 911 dispatchers to NOT follow Martin.

To briefly summarize, this “Stand Your Ground” law outlines what conditions will allow someone to use deadly force to defend themselves.

The Florida law seems to apply to Zimmerman & his defense attorney used it in his advantage in a state that has very loose gun control. He and Martin got into an altercation–which the defense argues was instigated by Martin– and as a result, Zimmerman “justifiably” shot his “attacker.”

But would this be justifiable? There is a lot that can be said about the unequal use of force and unfortunately, Martin isn’t alive to tell his side of this tragedy. Some portray this as a man who became a vigilante. He thought that Treyvon was “suspicious;” he then follows this young man while being advised by 911 dispatcher to stand down. As a result, there is an altercation and a subsequent death of Treyvon Martin. Again, the defense for George Zimmerman argued that it was Treyvon Martin who initiated the altercation between himself and Zimmerman (The defense’s arguments are articulated here: CBS News Reporting on Zimmerman Defense).

What is being paralleled to this incident is the case of Marissa Alexander of Florida. In Marissa’s case, she did NOT  kill or physically shoot her perceived threat–an ex-husband who was threatening her at her doorsteps. She was ultimately charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced with the maximum sentence this charge carries: a hefty 20 year sentence. Though she pleaded not guilty due to the very “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, the courts ruled that “Stand Your Ground” law did not apply to Marissa for she fired shots into the air  as warning shots against her ex-husband and not to avoid any imminent threat to her life. Additionally, the courts ruled that because Marissa retreated into her home after firing her warning shots, she had the means not to use deadly force since she had means to escape her threat. She was also charged for endangering her ex-husband and her children because she had fired it into the air (here is an article on the issue via a Chicago Tribune article). Now, domestic violence adds a whole other layer to Marissa’s story because it shows a connection with her would-be victim: her husband. Now why is Marissa’s story being paralleled to that of George Zimmerman? Mainly, I believe it is because of the application of the same “Stand Your Ground” law towards Zimmerman.

Some will say that there is a heavily racist system of justice when juxtaposing these cases. Other will argue that there is actually an overemphasis on the issue of race. I will argue that it is hard to juxtapose these two cases but there is clearly injustice in how these two crimes were prosecuted. Race also cannot be overemphasized, but it can’t be negated as a non-issue either.

Why was it that Marissa Alexander, a black woman, received the maximum sentence? Why did the jury only take 12 minutes to rule that Alexander was guilty?

Now you may be asking. how does this relate to the Zimmerman case?  I first wondered myself how a woman–who shot at her ex-husband whom has a history of domestic violence against her–received a punishment holding her “accountable” to her actions, why wasn’t George Zimmerman? I think this is due to a legal loophole.

Zimmerman was charged with 2nd Degree murder and hate crime charges. The state of Florida defines a hate crime against a persons as a crime, “in which the perpetrator intentionally selects the victim based on one of the following characteristics: race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, advanced age or mental/physical disability”. And though our media depicts defendants as “guilty until proven innocent” our judical system functions with the benefit of the doubt that all are innocent until proven guilty. As the defense painted a picture of Treyvon Martin instigating the fight that broke between the two, self-defense seemed “justifiable. ”

However, that is one narrative that was spoken that day. Treyvon Martin is dead and cannot speak for himself how that night played out. As Martin Bashir articluates here, Martin was ultimately caricaturized  with “an identity that implies criminality, juvenile delinquency, and all around characteristics of a trouble maker ” as Mr. Bashir phrased it. Limited narratives  can often be perpetuated. However, with every narrative, there is a counter-narrative.

Let’s  not forget this narrative: George Zimmerman WAS still responsible for this young man’s death. Perhaps not criminally responsible–as ruled by the courts– but he had facilitated in causing the death of Treyvon Martin. There indeed is a tragedy that he will not be held accountable at all to Martin’s death. Perhaps if aggravated assault with a deadly weapon–as was the case for Marissa Alexander–was added to George Zimmerman’s charges, he too would have gotten the maximum sentence for his actions that night.

The acquittal of Zimmerman also goes to show that race may not have been a determining factor but it definitely is an integral element in how this incident played out.

I think that the significance of this case goes back to something that’s been reiterated to me during my time with WEAP. They take on healthcare, workers’ rights, and immigrants’ rights because–though they are seemingly unrelated, they all relate to one another through economic human rights. In my opinion, the same kind of connection can be made with the outcome of the Zimmerman case.

I’d like to conclude with the following: How Treyvon’s death is about the struggles of race. And how struggles are ONGOING and relevant to us all.  Treyvon’s tragedy isn’t just a struggle for  the recognition of struggles and injustices in Black communities in America but in recognizing the injustices that befall all communities.

What happened to Treyvon Martin was a travesty, but i think out of this tragedy is where we can gather in solidarity to fight the injustices of our society and making sure that these same tragedies are no longer repeated time and time again. Race plays a factor in a lot of things. Many testimonies covered by the media highlight the voices of Black communities and their leaders raising concern that the justice system ignores young Black men.

In truth, the blind eye that is turned away from injustice affects too many communities.

I’ll take a case that hits a bit closer to home for me.
It is the case of Aya Nakano.
Aya is a  recent University of Oregon graduate and a Bay Area native who was gunned down by whomever rear-ended his car an hour before his 23rd birthday (Report on Aya Nakano’s Death by the Hinterland Gazette); after after playing basketball with his friends at the RSF (the Recreational Sports Facility–UC Berkeley’s gym that I utilize everyday). Aya brings it even closer to home for me because his last name is Nakano, this makes me think that he is of  Japanese lineage. Aya’s mother wrote a letter as a tribute to her son which was published in The Daily Cal, the UC Berkeley’s school newspaper.  In her letter, Aya’s mother addresses her son as “anak.” Some of the closest friends I grew up with are Filipino;  i know that anak is a term of endearment. When she refers to her son as anak, I can hear one of my best friends’ mom calling for my friend and it pains me to think she is calling out to her anak in mourning. Her pain is so vivid as she simultaneously mourns her son’s death  and celebrate his life in her letter titled, A Mother’s Tribute to Her Son.

Violence was inflicted upon Aya by a stranger just as Treyvon. A parent should not have to bury their child. A mother in Oakland– like a mother in Florida–had to bury her son, who was just beginning his life,  because she had lost to gun violence. And there are hundreds of cases like Aya that do not receive national publicity.  Oakland PD  has not received any witnesses thus far who’ve helped & stepped forward to uncover the truth of that night Aya was murdered.

Another similar case is that of the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. I learned of Abdulrahman’s story through an article in The Atlantic. Abdulrahman’s story adds another complication as it deals with US drone strikes in the Middle East. Abdulrahman had been one of four American’s killed in a drone strike recently. US military drone strikes have  been notorious for indiscriminately targeting large areas under numerous presumptions–especially in relation to Islamic extremist terrorist cells in the Middle East. However, Abdulrahman was unaffiliated with any extremist Islamist groups. He simply was a young man of 16, in search of his father who went into hiding after being placed on the US government’s kill list.  Even with the complications of international politics, Abdulrahman’s death reflects how violence truly is indiscriminate. Yet there is no publicity around Abdulrahman’s death either. No national spotlight to deduce what happened on the day of his death. No trial or court hearings to demonstrate someone being held accountable to Abdulrahman’s death.

Injustice does not discriminate against a specific race, creed, gender, or religion. It affects us all equally. That is why I advocate that we should take these tragedies not to point fingers and feel victimized by the system, but to understand that struggles, like that of Treyvon, is the same struggle as the one afflicted upon Aya and Abdulrahman.

We are all culpable to the faults and loopholes of our conventional systems of justice, economics, and politics that preys on us all. By remaining divided, we ignore that these systematic forms of injustice simply bear masks adorned by the same beast. We work within outdated systems of politics, economics, and justice that is not just. It has wrongfully blinded Justice and pits up all against one another as if to deter us from seeing the deficiencies of these systems.

There is true strength in solidarity. The mentality of being a part of the 99% is so powerful. The “Occupy” movement has dampened its image, but once we truly understand the significance of the statement: it is powerful.

It is the idea that,

Your struggle is my struggle. Their struggle is our struggle. 

My post is not to water down the significance of Treyvon Martin, but to show that there is a universality in the injustices of this country that afflicted Treyvon, Aya and Abdulrahman. There are countless tragedies of individuals who’s lives were lost to violence and injustice. The struggle isn’t only in a single community, but it is universal and can be felt everywhere.

However, we should not be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. If we are to learn from theses mistakes, we can allow ourselves to continuously adapt to address the struggles of injustice. It is like a Tae kwon do fight…if your game plan isn’t working, you have to adjust to your opponent’s game and continuously adapt your approach and game plan for the fight  persevere.
There is also strength in working together. Working proactively in solidarity will contribute to parents not having to bury their children whom were lost due to violence.

It is time for us to recognize a path to solidarity and action from tragedy and make sure not to repeat these same injustices over and over again.

In Solidarity,
the Pacifist Fighter

Community Organizing & the BART Strike

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

These words were one of the slogans of the BART/city workers on strike on July 1st, 2013…. I’m sure those are the words that commuters thought on Monday when the entire BART system was completely shut down.

What we as commuters might think as a headache to our daily commute doesn’t speak to the headache not settling this dispute between BART employees and its administrators will wreak upon not only the employees but to our communities reliant on BART.

Through my internship with WEAP (the Women’s Economic Agenda Project)–an Oakland based non-profit working on issues of economic human rights–I was able to participate in the strike that took place on July 1st.  I’d like to take the events that occurred that day to show how much of a headache it all was and will be if we do not take action as a community.

The strike caused an immediate inconvenience. But, there is a bigger consequence than having to suffer through atrocious traffic.

In its coverage, I have noticed that these union workers are depicted as greedy and asking for more than their fair share. Union jobs were once lauded. Now, these workers are treated as if they’re asking for too much for negotiating. As if there is a scarcity of some sort & that these workers are looking to exploit those limited resources. I for one, think its unfair to paint our neighbors in our community in such light. Wage increases are a part of a series of demands that BART employees are asking in order to better our community. In truth, I think this strike is able to shed light to the lack of MINIMAL care that is given to both workers and the community at large on the BART system.

Here’s some statistics provided by ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) Local 192.

  • BART reported 2,446 assaults and crimes at just 5 of 44 stations in the last 3 years
  • BART cut operations staff by 8% despite record ridership & fare increases
  • Assaults on BART workers have quadrupled in recent years, and at-work injuries are up 43%

When we examine the strike piece by piece. It seems very demanding of workers when certain sources state that the avg BART worker earns 70K/year (http://bit.ly/12awnK4).

By dividing the issue, I believe that it divides the community:
 BART/city employees vs. the community

This, however, doesn’t illustrate the collective damage that BART administration has inflicted upon our community. Cuts mean riders wait longer for service at night and in high-risk areas. There is a call to eliminate a worker safety committee and safety inspectors. AC transit has proposed to replace Sheriffs with untrained, unaccountable private security guards. All of this effects us ALL. 

One of the most noticeable things at the action on July 1st was the amount of support from local organizations that came out to speak out on the strike. EBHO (East Bay Housing Org) & CJJC (Causa Justa: Just Cause) are both housing rights organizations. ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) & Oakland Education Association from the educational sector came out in support of BART/city workers. The turn out of these diverse community organizations goes to show community organizing at its finest.

My final words (for now) on this topic is that: We can’t let perception further divide our community and pit us against one another. I know this may have ruined the commute for the 200,000 that rely on BART on a daily basis, but not having a secure environment for any workers is a communal issue that will affects us all as a whole. But like any struggle, it can be fought & overcome together. ImageImage