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By Donna Smith, National Nurses United community organizer

Notes from the road in California:  I’ve been on the National Nurses United Medicare for All for life bus tour since mid-June, with one break to travel to Philadelphia for the SiCKO 5th reunion.  So first let me admit I have a bit of “bus brain” going on.  It’s a condition that goes along with being on an advocacy tour, without the restorative comforts of home.  Today we head for Santa Cruz. Click on the link for details over the next few days.  And join us.

But yesterday, we were part of the Alameda Fourth of July parade.  The bus was in the parade.  Our incredible nurses inspired by Lynn O’Connor, RN, of Alameda were in the parade.  My fellow bus travelers, fellow staff, their families and friends were in the parade.  My 84 year-old mom and I shared our first time together since I’ve been in California on the tour.

Group waving at Alameda parade

I've been in parades before when I marched with the band as a youngster and as I ran a campaign for state representative years ago in Colorado.  At 84, my mom has never been in a parade.  But this was a whole different experience.

Our nurses want everyone to have access to a single standard of high quality care under an improved Medicare for all for life model.  I want that too.  I am sick to death (almost literally) of fighting with insurance companies and waiting for providers to fight on my behalf and then waiting for the deductibles and co-pays to slash at my funds even after insurance finally covers part of the costs of my care.  

So over the past five years since Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO, was released and my story was featured in that film, I have spent every moment I was asked to spend on a bus – touring and advocating and educating.  Six months of my life has been spent on buses of the last 60 months.  And even now as I work through my most recent cancer diagnosis, I am on the bus – and I wouldn’t have it another way – at least until we win or I die.

Back to Alameda and the incredible parade.  This community hosts the longest 4th of July parade in the nation each year, so adding our bus and our message was a natural fit.  We sang.  We walked and saw so many of the 200,000 people it was estimated were there to enjoy the parade.  We talked about Medicare for all for life.  We talked about the Robin Hood Tax: A small sales tax of 50 cents or less per every $100 on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives and other financial instruments that could raise up to $350 billion a year.

Alameda parade
Donna Smith hands out material on the Robin Hood Tax to those at the parade.

We had little Luke, 8, and Mason, 4, and another little darling boy cradled in his dad’s arms as our youngest Robin Hoods marching with us.  We hugged people, and we were hot and tired as we went.  But there is nothing like the truth to make us one.  

All through Alameda, the crowd was so receptive – cheering the nurses and sharing best wishes for a 4th of July that was a collective celebration of all that is American.  Of course Medicare for all fit into that.  Of course the Robin Hood Tax fit into that.  Heal America, Tax Wall Street, our nurses shared.  

The crowd embraced them and clapped and waved.  We handed out coloring pages for the kids so they could make their own Robin Hood masks.  Even having the NRA with its float behind us seemed A-Okay.  After all, if guns are going to continue to be such an issue in America, we certainly better have a great healthcare system – led by the nurses – don’t you think?

So, what does all of this have to do with the title of this essay?  Or with California helping lead the way?  

Well, this morning at 6 a.m., my phone rang in my hotel room as we make our way down the road.  My 84-year-old mom was on the line.  She rode the bus in the parade with us yesterday.  It was hard for her to make it up the bus stairs, but we all helped.  

But what she said really hit me as what I was already thinking.  “All those people, Donna.   I’ve lived in Alameda for 30 years, but I never saw Alameda this way.  I never knew how many neat people were here and caring about each other.”  

Yes, Mom, I know, I said.  I felt the same way only as a non-Alameda resident.  There was so very much affirmation of the nurses, the message and of our shared humanity that I saw a glimpse of the finish line and the day when we will win Medicare for all.  Detractors?  Yes, of course, but only a few. Those who were non-committal?  Yes, but only a few.

The vast majority were clearly with us.  And powerfully so.  Those wearing chinos and high-end clothing and those in wheel chairs along the route and those who are, like me, the least of these – those society has thrown away as bankrupt or broke or unworthy of a voice unless spoken to.  The nurses on parade lifted us all.

California -- with your vast and wide array of humanity, and with a strong, committed group of registered nurses and patients like me who the RNs have lifted – you can help lead the way.  

Push on in every city and town and demand it of each other.  Healthcare for all, under an improved Medicare for all model.  In California.  In Vermont.  In Illinois.  In Pennsylvania.  In Colorado.  In New Mexico.  In Hawaii.  In Maine.  In Washington state.  In Minnesota.   In Oregon.  In New Jersey.  In New York.  In Maryland.  In every state across this nation, until in waves of insistent justice, we win.  Join the parade.  From the most to the least and back at you – Peace.

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