Dear Senator McSally: Healthcare is a Human Right

The Democratic National Convention has been interesting, to say the least. I have enjoyed watching the wonders of technology to accommodate social distancing. My favorite part of the convention, though, was the speeches from Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris. Strong women with strong voices.

In contrast, I have been very disappointed Senator Martha McSally, one of Arizona’s strong female voices in Congresses. Today I sent her a letter to let her know why I am disappointed in her. This is what I wrote.

Dear Senator McSally,

My name is Serena Freewomyn. I live in Tucson, and I have lived in Arizona for almost all of my life. My stepfather was a jet mechanic for the Airforce. My grandfather was a company clerk for the Army, and his brother served in the Marines. My great-grandfather was an engineer for the Navy. My husband’s grandfather was also an engineer for the Navy, and his brother-in-law served two tours in Iraq for the Army. Needless to say, I have pride for everyone who serves the United States, including you.

I feel proud of your fight to have women’s service in the US military held to the same recognition as men’s service. You took leadership to have bipartisan support for the Women’s Memorial. You demanded that women should be buried in Arlington Cemetery. You even took Donald Rumsfeld to the Supreme Court of the United States to allow women to fly into combat. You have shown bravery in the face of sexism. And I admire you.

I do not admire, however, you standing beside Donald Trump and allowing him and his cronies in Congress to restrict access to universal healthcare. Even before the COVID epidemic, you supported rescinding the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare.”) I am a thirty-nine year old woman who has spent the last decade scheduling her life around chemotherapy, radiation, speech therapy, physical therapy, and naturopathy treatments.

I was diagnosed with a stage-3 brain tumor in February of 2012, just as Obamacare went into effect. I am very Blessed that an anonymous federal employee waited with me while she passed my application up the food chain. I was approved for the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan the day before I went in for my next MRI. I was (and still am) able to get chemotherapy and radiation.

The Affordable Care Act was up for repeal in the summer of 2017. Senator John McCain had just announced that he had been diagnosed with the same type of tumor I had. I wrote to him asking him to vote in favor of the ACA. I explained my story to him and told him that I admired his service to this country, both as a senator, and as a service member who was a POW during the Vietnam War. I told him that he had the privilege of getting medical treatment, both as a member of Congress, as well as having VA hospital access. I don’t know if my letter had any influence on his decision, but he did vote to keep the ACA in place.

I am alive today because of Obamacare. I am alive today because of Senator McCain’s vote.

This is an election season, and so political ads are expected. Captain Mark McSally’s campaign has a positive tone. Your political ads have been virulent. Both or you served in the military. Both of you have accomplished amazing things for our national. However, I cannot support a candidate who doesn’t respect the basic human right of access to healthcare. Please remember that you were NOT elected to the senate. You inherited that position. If you expect to win the 2020 election, you need to appeal to all of the constituents in Arizona, not just the Trump supporters.
Thank you again for your service. Women value strong female voices in leadership positions. I hope you will take this into consideration.

All of the DNC speakers this week highlighted multiple issues in their speeches. Healthcare is my number one issue. If a candidate doesn’t support it, I can’t support them. Period. I hope equal access matters to you, too.

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100 Years of Voting

August 18, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment that finally recognized women’s right to vote. Although women should have already been included in the U.S. Constitution when it was adopted in 1789, it took suffrage workers 131 years to get the 19th Amendment ratified.

The women’s suffrage movement began during the summer of 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York. This was the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the convention because she was passionate about women’s equality. In her opening speech, Stanton declared:

We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed — to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.

Why should women be controlled by political leaders they didn’t vote for? Why should they pay taxes to a government they didn’t elect? And why should they follow laws that were not representative of all citizens?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wasn’t alone at the Seneca Falls convention. Many of the people who attended, including Frederick Douglass, were leaders of the slavery abolition movement. Last month, I interviewed Mary Logan Rothschild, Ph.D., professor emeritus of women’s studies at Arizona State University, who explained that the abolition and women’s suffrage movement were intricately entwined:

Susan B. Anthony was an abolitionist and cared deeply about the abolition of slavery. Initially, she didn’t see women’s issues as important in comparison. She joined the feminist movement because her mother and sister had attended the Seneca Falls convention and convinced her that women’s rights and ending slavery were tied and needed to be attacked together.

The connection between civil rights and women’s rights are just as important in 2020 as they were in the 1800s. According to the Census Bureau data, women in general are paid just 82% of what men make. When you add race and ethnicity to the equation, the wage gap gets larger for many women: For every dollar a white male earns, African American women get paid 62 cents, Latina women receive 54 cents, and Native American women receive 57 cents. But all women are affected by this pay gap: Asian American women get paid 90 cents compared to the white man’s dollar, and white women are paid 79 cents.

Why bring up the pay gap? We live in a capitalist society, where, to quote one of my favorite Wu-Tang songs, “cash rules everything around me.” Wage inequality hampers people’s access to housing, food, education, and health care. We need representatives who support economic security, which is why it’s imperative that we all vote for people who will support us.

Susan B. Anthony’s Act of Defiance
Susan B. Anthony was considered a radical when she had eight other women join her at the poll to vote in the 1872 presidential election. Anthony was the only one arrested, since she had organized the peaceful protest. She was charged for “knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully [voting] … without having the right to vote.” Anthony pleaded not guilty, and had to stand trial.

Susan B. Anthony was not allowed to testify during the trial. When the judge ruled she was guilty and asked her if she had anything to say, Susan B. Anthony had a very strong reply:

… in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights … are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called form of government.

Susan B. Anthony’s defiant act was just the beginning of suffrage radicalism. At the turn of the 20th century, suffragists like Alice Paul and Lucy Stone organized rallies demanding the right to vote. They stood outside the gate at the White House with posters that said, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” The protesters were arrested and became political prisoners. The prisoners went on a hunger strike and were force-fed by prison guards. Alice Paul was declared a psychotic so she could be secluded in a psychiatric ward to prevent further protest.

A Turning Point
The women’s suffrage movement succeeded on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. We all owe a huge debt to the suffrage workers, who literally put their lives on the line so women could be acknowledged as citizens and equal to their male counterparts.

We are at a critical turning point in this country. There is a health crisis that is killing thousands of people a day. We need to honor our ancestors, as well as ourselves, by voting in this year’s election. When I spoke to Dr. Rothschild, she reminded me that the Affordable Care Act passed by just one vote in Congress. When I asked her if we needed to be as radical as Alice Paul and Lucy Stone, she said:

For some people, it’s hard to be more radical. We all work in different ways. There isn’t only one form of social action. We can get where we need to go if we work together. Do whatever you can do. You have to vote in the primaries, and you definitely need to vote in November.

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