10/20/2009 11:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why I Sit-in for Health Care Justice

On a rainy October 15, I joined other dedicated souls at Wellpoint headquarters in Washington, DC, directly and coincidentally across the street from the US Treasury Department. Wellpoint boasts being the nation's leading health benefits company serving the needs of approximately 35 million medical members. We asked for a meeting with Wellpoint's executives to ask them to approve treatment of all members with life-threatening conditions. Wellpoint declined our meeting request, and we responded by staging a sit-in in front of their headquarters. The DC Police, self-aware of fairly recent First Amendment litigation, chose not to arrest us. Around the country, other sit-ins occurred as well, organized by In other parts of the country, many were arrested, including Sam Pullen, who has chosen to remain in custody until those with life-threatening conditions are approved for medical care.

The movement for health care justice is the latest branch of the modern-day civil rights movement. And in the civil rights movement, nonviolent civil disobedience is never obsolete. In his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail," the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote,

In any nonviolent campaign, there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.

We are well-aware of the facts as evidence of the injustices committed by the private health care industry: extravagant CEO salaries; ever-ascending premiums; lobbying legislators to kill real health care reform, be it a robust public option or single payer; and recission, or the cancellation of insurance policies when patients require costly medical care. Wellpoint and the other major private insurers rescind to the tune of billions, while the insured die.

There is no negotiation with this industry. To them, reform is a threat to their very existence. Paradoxically, the industry pursues wealthy immortality, while deciding that its very policyholders shall die.

Self-purification is automatic in this movement. The first responsible to the self is staying alive. And one cannot live if one is not healthy. At the very least, most of us have faced choosing between filling a prescription, coming up with some ridiculous co-pay and buying groceries, or, at most, seeing a claim for life-saving treatment denied, or a policy rescinded. There are truly no more inward, self-reflective crises than these. And as a Christian minister, I acknowledge Christ's most requested miracle was that of healing the sick. For those of us Christians on the Left, what greater contradiction to expose in the self-righteous Right's monopoly on faith than their defense of those with the power to provide healing, yet heal not?

When collection of the evidence and negotiation have been exhausted, and when the very courage to live in direct and utter contradiction of a private insurer's death sentence overwhelms us with self-purification, we all are left with no alternative but direct action. Insurers are using our money to make decisions about our bodies. Why not use our bodies to make sure they make the right decisions about our bodies? If one can overcome the fear of death by private insurance, one can certainly overcome the fear of jail. We shall use our bodies to save every body.

I believe that we must resolve that what Congress does with the public option does not matter. Public option or not, we all know that single payer, or Medicare for All is the only answer. As long as private insurers continue to hold sway over our lives according to their bottom line, we must resolve that our line cannot be broken. This nation can live no more half-insured, half-uninsured than it could have lived half-slave, half-free.
Too many are continuing to die because of corporate decision-making. To win real health care reform, we must continue to sit-in until healthy and cared for, we are all left standing.