In 1969, 14-year-old Vanessa Simmons was a part of the first class to integrate Alamo High School in the rural West Tennessee town of Alamo. It took 15 years for the public policy set forward by the Brown vs. Board of Education case of 1954 to reach the cotton fields of Crockett County, Tennessee where Simmons, like generations before her, labored during her youth. Obstructionist governors such as Ross Barnett of Mississippi, Orval Faubus of Arkansas, and George Wallace of Alabama collaborated with southern state legislatures to stymie, block, and get around the court's mandate under the mantra of "states' rights". Wallace enthusiastically articulated this attitude of resistance in his 1963 inauguration speech when he declared "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever".
History is currently in the process of repeating itself in the modern day "Civil Rights" movement surrounding the issue of health care. The country is currently grappling with the question of whether or not access to adequate health care is a right or a privilege. Opposition to health care reform has been fierce from the passage of the monumental Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 to the most current Supreme Court decision that further legitimized the legislation.
Barnett, Faubus, and Wallace have now been replaced by governors like South Carolina's Nikki Haley, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, and Florida's Rick Scott. Under the same "states' rights" banner; these individuals are among the governors that have specialized in thwarting the efforts to expand health care coverage and putting up staunch resistance to implementation of the law. The political gamesmanship of politicians, all of which have health coverage themselves, has drastic consequences for the millions of Americans who do not.
Florida Governor Rick Scott recently announced that the state will not comply with the law. While this may score him some points with the Tea Party, it won't do anything to help the millions of residents in his state who don't have health insurance. The state of Florida ranks third in the country behind New Mexico and Texas when it comes to the percentage of residents that are uninsured. This latest announcement is congruent with Scott's pattern of obstructionism which includes blocking federal stimulus funds to build a high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando which would have created thousands of jobs for that region.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said that "Rick Scott needs to start being a real leader and not a real throwback" when asked about Scott's intentions not to comply with the Supreme Court's recent decision regarding health care reform at the organization's national convention in Houston on July 9. Health care reform advocates who celebrated the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the law should take a lesson from history and be forewarned that the battle for implementation has just begun. It took 15 years of intense protests, marches, beatings, blood, and sacrifice for 15 year old Vanessa Simmons, whose name is now Vanessa Bright and happens to be my mother, to walk into Alamo High School in 1969 with the hopes of gaining some semblance of educational equity.
The battle to implement health care reform will be one characterized by intense passion on both sides of the debate. The same public vigilance and enthusiasm that aided the passage of the historic health care legislation will be need to be generated and sustained all over again throughout the implementation of the policy to ensure that individuals who currently don't have access to adequate health care are able to have that pathway opened to them.
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