Wayne McWreath has been homeless for "a long, long time," but he has found a place to belong among the Occupy Asheville movement, where is is cared for and treated with respect.
Wayne McWreath choked back tears last night as he told the people of Occupy Asheville that the camp City Council had just voted to close was the first home he's had in a "long, long time."
It was heartbreaking to hear this long-time homeless man talk about living in community, about being treated with respect and cared for instead of being treated as though he didn't exist.
But City Council, with the exception of Councilman Cecil Bothwell, decided to oust the camp from the space it has occupied for the last two weeks. Bothwell then moved that the city offer a park to Occupy Asheville and waive the 10 p.m. curfew. He didn't get a second.
Occupy Asheville has arranged for a free clinic to help occupants stay healthy and assess people who might need more help. It accepts food donations for people like Wayne who can't afford to buy any. Many of the protestors work and can afford to buy food at area restaurants and markets. (No, they're not all unemployed.)
There is a real sense of community among this diverse group. They don't always agree, but they are willing to talk -- and listen. General Assemblies may seem mind-numbing to some, but the practice is working.
Last night, after City Council voted, most of us were angry. But instead of being confrontational, we filed out of the room, went outside and observed a moment of silence to collect our thoughts. We chanted to vent our negative feelings, and then we had "soapbox" so people could talk about their hopes for what comes next.
Eight people opted to sleep at Pack Park next to City Hall; all eight were arrested.
More will sleep there and they will be arrested, only to be replaced by more nonviolent protestors. Occupy Asheville is not going away anytime soon, and the harder government officials try, the stronger the movement's resolve will become.
Once again, Dr. Margarert Flowers performed a historic act -- confronting a room full of investors hoping to make millions off of other people's illness and injury. She took the microphone at a conference for investors, and when it was taken away, she kept talking, walking back and forth across the front of the dais as people came to try and herd her out of the room.
She talked about the ravages of a for-profit system that leaves more than 45,000 people dead each year because they can't get or can't afford health insurance, and about the people who have to choose between chemotherapy and sending their kids to college. Finally, she was herded out of the room by several people as she kept talking about how broken our system really is.
I wish I could have been there. Had I stayed in DC a few more days, I would have gone with her to confront them. You can watch her act on our home page. It's inspiring.
It takes a lot of courage to speak truth to power. Several of the October 2011 people have been arrested already for disruptive behavior in the Senate office buildings and other nonviolent acts.
The movement has been called a mob and worse -- dirty hippies, for example. Believe me, most of the people occupying parks and other public spaces across America would love a shower and some clean clothes. But getting justice for the 99 percent of Americans who are not super-wealthy means more to them than a hot shower, a warm, dry bed or a platter of comfort food.
Throughout our history, we Americans have taken to the streets to fight oppression and injustice; this is just another in a long line of protests for labor rights, fairer distribution of rights and goods, voting rights, civil rights ... We are, overall, a people who have always fought the uber-rich. This is just another incarnation of the same fight. We are battling the robber barons of the turn of the last century.
We have a lot of problems in this country right now. My primary focus continues to be on access to quality health care for everyone, but I stand in solidarity with people who are seeking social and economic justice of every stripe for the 99 percent.
I met with the Health Care Committee in Washington's Freedom Plaza over the weekend and we talked about where health care goes from here.
The Affordable Care Act has passed and it will help some people gain access to care, but we have a lot further to go before access to quality care is extended to everyone, and the insurance companies still have plenty of chances to meddle with the new law at the state level, especially in places where there is a "business-friendly" majority in the legislature, as there is in North Carolina. Insurance companies can get states to minimize consumer protections and to allow them to regulate themselves by giving them and their allies control of the board of directors that oversees the state insurance exchanges.
So, we need to advocate on the state level now, and we need to try to get alternatives to insurance-covered care in the communities. One member said some doctors no longer accept insurance but charge reasonable rates. Since they don't have to hire extra employees to fight with insurance companies, they have a much lower overhead and more freedom to set rates.
In Buncombe County, we have Project Access, which coordinates charity care. However, things have gotten so bad within the medical system here that there are long waits to see a specialist for care.
The committee consensus was that we need Medicare for all Americans, but most Americans don't really understand how such a system would work, and we who understand it need to educate the public.
Medicare, a single-payer plan, allows people to choose their doctors and hospitals. You go where you want and Medicare pays the bill. Yes, Medicare is run by the government, but it is one of the most efficient systems in the world and its health care outcomes are excellent. If you want to supplement that with private insurance that will allow you to have a private room in the hospital and cable TV and an Internet hookup, that's fine. But this would give every American access to decent health care.
Margaret Flowers, one of the organizers of the October 2011 movement, is a pediatrician. She says most doctors don't enjoy working in the corporate atmosphere of most hospitals and large medical practices. They want a system that promotes health, not corporate interests. She believes we can create a kind of system outside of the system.
Flowers would like to see the movement look like the anti-foreclosure movement, where people set up housekeeping in foreclosed homes or families refuse to leave their homes when the banks try to get them out -- nonviolent civil disobedience.
We talked about educating the public without the help of the mainstream (corporate-owned) media, which has declined to cover so many important stories about health care and has helped to spread the lies of health reform opponents.
So, look for us to be out in public, telling stories and educating people on what we need to do to get real access to quality health care for everyone. We may even look for a place to occupy.
I'm heading to Washington again, this time to join thousands who have taken to the streets to demand justice for working Americans.
Health care is my issue, but I believe we all need to stand together for decent jobs, health care, education, food safety, a living wage, a fairer tax system and the abolition of corporate personhood.
No one issue can stand alone as the most important for all; they're all woven together to make a decent quality of life for each person and family.
Our government keeps moving away from what we the people want. Most of us want a decent health care system. We all want jobs that pay a living wage. Most of us want the wealthy to pay their share of taxes and for the wars to end.
But the big corporations are getting what they want. The bailed-out banks have gone back to the same behavior that got us into this financial mess and no one has been prosecuted for breaking the law. They trapped people into bad loans and now they're foreclosing at record rates, not even considering the families they're throwing out onto the street.
It's been a frustrating time for all of us. I know I want to be heard and so do the people I've talked to who also will be in Washington or on the streets here in Asheville. We want justice for all, as the Pledge of Allegiance promises.
The demonstrations are peaceful and nonviolent. Those of us going to Washington have signed a pledge of nonviolence.
I plan to Tweet and blog while I'm there. My friends and I have gotten a hotel room to use as a base where we can come and shower, warm up and use the computer so we can let people know what's going on there.
We hope our lergislators will hear us and take what we have to say to heart.