A Day of Downtime for Dawn & Her Crew

Today we took some downtime. We’d spent the previous 2 days on the road moving at a pace that left even the healthier members of our crew wiped out, but today we recuperated in the great hospitality of Candice and Klaus, two MoveOn members in Raleigh, NC.

Reform has been debated against a background of artificial deadlines, every day the news cycle churns on with its daily crises‚ it’s hard for us to not feel rushed by the pace of politics. But today reminded us of what gets lost in the shuffle.

We have a health care system that not only lets people get sick, but also lets them become invisible. Some of us fighting for health care reform have the luxury of walking away from the issue after the workday ends or a bill gets passed, but the people who need change most — like Dawn – are still stuck with the day to day exhaustion of their illness.

It’s up to the well to make sure the unwell have a place at the table when we decide what should be done. That’s the ultimate importance of Dawn’s journey‚ making the voice of the ill present once more in the machinations of CIGNA’s corporate offices and the halls of Congress.

When Dawns and Davids Become a Goliath

In a breakfast cafe in Asheville, NC, Dawn heard from others who are fighting their own battles for health care. Though it was not the first time I had heard a mother speak of losing a child to an illness because he could not get the necessary treatment, I still found it impossible not to feel pain and frustration at what seems to be such a senseless and avoidable loss of life. That kind of loss leaves you at a loss for words, not to mention a loss for what you should do next.

But Dawn reframed and refocused my thoughts when she said, “Because we have to go through what we do, it makes us stronger, more powerful than any CEO.” Wow. Power. It seems that while we often praise those who share their personal stories to fight for what is right as strong, brave, or courageous, rarely do we ascribe to them power. That is usually left for those who hold titles and offices.

But Dawn is exactly right. With each city we visit, an energy is beginning to build. Voices that were once isolated, are speaking together; personal struggles are forming the basis for a collective battle.

The story of David and Goliath is a story told by the weak, about how they can defeat the powerful. What makes the story work is that, when the weak tell it, they become mighty, because they realize that one person can defeat those who have all the armors and trappings of power. While Dawn’s story is the same way, her journey goes a step further. With each person she inspires to join her, what I see is a band of Dawns and Davids not just battling the insurance Goliath, but rather, becoming their own Goliath that can defeat the forces that inflict so much pain on our country.

Day 2 On the Road

Today I could feel the momentum building. We met larger groups as we moved from city to city, beginning in Asheville, stopping in Charlotte, and then ending up in Raleigh-Durham. Every time I see Dawn speak, I’m left a little speechless — about everything.

We live in a wealthy country that makes big promises to its citizens — but life, liberty and happiness are hard to come by when walking leaves you exhausted, or shooting electric-shock type pains keep you up all night. The United States fails to make good on its promise when we leave folks in Dawn’s position. Along the way, I felt a growing sense of wonder at CIGNA’s lack of care.

Every stop, we meet more people who connect with Dawn’s journey, and you can immediately see the force of her presence. Her story is deeply powerful, and relates to too many other stories on our trip. It feels incredible that anyone could say no to her care. After you feel that baffled wonder that anyone could deny her care, you realize that to CIGNA, Dawn isn’t a person like we know her — she’s a claim number and a potential drag on their profits, and thus undeserving. It’s precisely this decontextualizing, dehumanizing force that we need to stop with real health reform.

The First Day of Our Journey

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We set out today with the well wishes of a great city behind us. At the capital, folks from all walks shared their health care stories with Dawn and we began collecting messages of support in pill bottles — the hallmark of our journey and how we will make CIGNA hear our voice.

On the Capital steps we heard from politicians and everyday Atlantans, all who recognized what needs to be done. We then went to visit the office of Senator Johnny Isakson, whose office staff offered to arrange a meeting with him when we arrive in DC — hopefully he will recognize it as well, and stand with her when we reach DC. With the wind at our backs, we slogged through rush hour Atlanta and then took side roads through the Chattahoochee National Forest on our way to Asheville.

The foothills of the Appalachian mountains swept by as we rumbled towards Asheville, and we got another glimpse about why we’re taking this on. We live in a beautiful, big country that deserves better from its health care system, and which can do better for its citizens.

From the Back of the RV After Atlanta

This morning Dawn began her journey for answers and reform on the steps of Atlanta’s capital building. Though the past few years of her life while waiting in Cigna’s health care limbo have been characterized by debilitating physical pain, Dawn spoke today about of a type of pain which no treatment, nor any arsenal of medication, could help to alleviate–the pain of being made to feel insignificant. This, she says, is what chips away at you.

It seems to me that one of the most basic desires of all human beings is to feel as if your life matters, as if someone cares about whether or not–and how–you exist. We need to be significant. Today I was reminded that policies which reject patients’ claims not only deny people life-changing medical treatment, but they also serve to steal that sense of “mattering” which we all deserve.

It must end now. Cigna’s indifference, the calloused disregard for life, and their complacency with prolonging human suffering cannot go on because, Dawn, your life is NOT insignificant. You matter. And I am confident that because you are sharing your story and calling out insurance companies on their dehumanizing way of business you are helping to usher in change. You are ensuring that no other American will feel as if her life is insignificant because she cannot receive the care she needs or because she must choose between paying rent or filling a prescription.

You and the millions of Americans who are under- or uninsured are not alone. We stand with you. And we will not allow big business to chip away at any more precious lives.

Arriving in Atlanta

Today Dawn’s traveling companions arrived in Atlanta to join her on her trip to Philadelphia to face CIGNA. On board, will be myself (Duncan) and Andrew, who will be organizing our traveling basics, Lance who will be filming the trip, and Ryan who will assist Dawn with her medical needs. We came together knowing that we’re at a crucial moment for Dawn and for America. Dawn’s decision to make the journey to CIGNA to demand that she get the health care she deserves shows exactly the kind of resolve and bravery we need to make sure we care for the under- and uninsured of America.

Our trip will be guided by the generosity and kindness of the people who have reached out to help Dawn. Already we’re planning special stops across North Carolina and Virginia to connect with people who want to meet her and wish her well on the hard journey against CIGNA.

Tomorrow we’ll be setting off from Atlanta and traveling to Asheville, North Carolina, where MoveOn members and others have already prepared a warm welcome., opening their homes and offering to share their health care stories with us to aide Dawn’s fight. From there we travel East towards Charlotte and Raleigh, then into Virginia and up to DC. From there we’ll head into Philadelphia to make CIGNA own up to its broken promises and provide the health care Dawn deserves.