An open letter to the United States Senate
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 7/24/2017, 2:04 a.m.
Children’s Defense Fund
I learned my first lessons about injustice and health as a little Black girl growing up in segregated Bennettsville, South Carolina. I remember my parents’ and my sadness over the senseless death of little Johnny Harrington, who lived three houses down from our church, who died before he reached 10 because his hard working grandmother didn’t know about the need for or have the money for him to get a tetanus shot after he stepped on a rusted nail. I also remember being awakened in the middle of the night after a Black migrant family’s car collided with a White truck driver’s vehicle on the highway in front of our parsonage, and the horror I felt when my Daddy, my siblings and I witnessed the White ambulance driver and attendants arrive on the scene only to leave behind the seriously injured Black migrant worker after they saw that the White truck’s passengers were not hurt. And I remember the loss of a playmate who lived around the corner who died from a broken neck after jumping off the bridge at Crooked Creek nearby where many Black children swam and many Black families fished for food. When I got older, I learned the creek was an outlet for hospital and other sewage.
The sorrow and outrage and sense of injustice I felt as a child at senseless deaths and injuries shaped my life’s work. I cannot stand seeing any child mistreated, placed at risk or excluded from essential services because of the color of their skin or the poverty of their parents or grandparents they did not choose. God did not make two classes of children, and my Biblical values and my parents’ efforts to live up to its teachings enjoined me to believe each child is sacred. During the Civil Rights Movement, it was always clear that health care was one of the basic rights for which we were fighting because it could mean life or death. As my friend and mentor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” I would never have believed that decades later, King’s words would still ring true, and that after 50 years of hard-earned progress expanding access to health coverage for 95 percent of all children, it could all be ripped away in a heartless game of politics and greed that disregards human life – even the smallest human life. In the wealthiest nation on earth, the fact that we are still unwilling to treat health care as a right available to all regardless of color, income or creed is a disgrace. That child lives are considered political fodder rather than a sacred responsibility by every adult is unjust and shameful.
You, the ever powerful United States Senate, will soon have a choice to make when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brings the deeply harmful, flawed, unpopular and misnamed Better Care Reconciliation Act – it should be called the Worse Care Reconciliation Act – to the Senate floor for a vote. This draconian bill will unravel decades of progress fighting for more health equity and justice for all. I hope every voter will stand up for children, the disabled, the elderly and the most vulnerable among us and make sure those who vote against them are held accountable.