We dare defend our rights – health care sit-in at the Birmingham federal building

Birmingham AL
photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Did you know there is a group of people camped out at the Robert S. Vance Federal Building on 5th AVE North in downtown Birmingham?  They are there day and night for a 103 hour protest of the proposed senate bill regarding health care.  Shea Rives and Carole Griffin, of Indivisible Alabama explain the purpose of the health care sit-in occurring this week from 10am on Monday until 5pm on Friday.

Shea Rives –

Carole Griffin and I and a couple other people from Indivisible  Birmingham came up with the idea of the round-the-clock event. We have been trying our best to engage with Luther Strange and Richard Shelby for a long time now and they have just completely stonewalled us and excluded us and ignored us.

Birmingham AL
photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

The Congressional Budget Office report came out for the Senate version of the health care bill. It estimates that 22 million people will lose their health insurance coverage. This is the biggest deal in my lifetime in terms of life and death for people. There are estimates that the new healthcare bill would result in 22,000 deaths per year. So at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, there were just less than 17,000 Americans killed. So we’re talking about 1.4 Vietnam Wars at it’s height every year.  That’s every year for the foreseeable future.

Birmingham AL
Shea Rives speaks to people about the current health care bill. photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

We consider that if either of the senators votes “yes” on this bill, we consider that to be an illegitimate vote. We are giving them a vote of no confidence in the process that has been employed to draft this legislation. It’s beyond unconscionable. I don’t have words for what it is.

If you think about the 9/11 attacks, there were 2,600 people who died in those attacks. Think of calling your senator’s office and asking if they would vote to prevent nine attacks the size of 9/11 from happening next year. Imagine them saying, “I’ll have to call you back on that.” Or, “The Senator has not made a statement.”

They aren’t all going to come on one plane, draped in flags. But we’re talking about 22,000 Americans dying every year. Richard Shelby and Luther Strange have the ability to stop that from happening by simply voting “No.” I don’t even know why I have to stand here, you know?

Birmingham AL
Carole Griffin calling Senator Shelby’s office. photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Carole Griffin –

I just talked to their offices again. We’ve promised ourselves we will make calls at 10:00 and 2:00 every day. They’re right up there behind those doors (gesturing to Federal Building) It’s like you might as well be talking to an answering machine. All I get is, “I’ll pass your message along to the senator.” Then I ask, “Can you give me any idea where he stands?” One thing she did say that was hopeful was that Senator Strange hadn’t made a public statement on where he stands. We are holding out hope that Senator Strange will do the right thing and that Alabamians, poor, the children that are depending on this, can benefit from a good decision.  Strange is a new senator and it would do him some good to be available to his constituents and get to know them. He’s been there such a short amount of time. And he was not elected. He has not earned any Alabamian’s vote for this office he holds.

Birmingham AL
Star Robb, photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

But she was still like, “I’ll pass this on to the senator.” Very neutral. I told her, “I’m sorry you are receiving the ire of probably so many Alabamians who are upset about this. But when the senators use you as a shield, we are feeling so powerless, so stonewalled and the only person we wind up being able to talk to is you, God Bless You. You are probably receiving a lot of hard energy coming at you all day long. I’m trying my best to respect you and your peace of mind and your humanity, but we are being left no choice. We’re not getting any information, so we call and we call and no one calls us back. It’s a terrible place for all of us to be.”

Birmingham AL
photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Our plan for maintaining this protest around the clock is to just not leave. We have speakers coming each day. We will have candlelight vigils every night at 8:00. We have musicians coming to perform. We have some surprises like some projections that will happen on the side of the building at night. The City of Birmingham has been very gracious. I got a permit from them to do this, which they approved. We will also have activities during the day, like call-a-thons. We have these little push cards we are giving out with the senators’ numbers and a little script. I ask people walking down the block, “Do you know much about what’s happening with the health care bill?  Do you have an opinion about it?” The vast majority of those we engage with are interested in knowing more.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll came out right after the draft version of the legislation was released last Friday showing that 16% of Americans think that the health care bill is a good idea.  As politically divided as this country is right now, there is an issue about which 84% of the people agree, and yet our senators, by all indications, are likely to go against the opinion of the people.

How do you feel about the current health care bill?  Find out more about the issue and how to get involved with the following links :

Congressional Budget Office Report on the Health Care Bill – https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/costestimate/52849-hr1628senate.pdf

Senator Richard Shelby’s senate webpage – https://www.shelby.senate.gov/public/

Senators Luther Strange’s senate webpage -https://www.strange.senate.gov/

Indivisible Birmingham’s Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/bham.indivisible/

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Kristina O'Quinn
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