An airport encounter
Every once in awhile life leads you to places where a message is planted. You only need to keep your eyes and mind open.
Recently I took a short trip to Washington to spend the weekend with a small group of health care activists from around the country to figure out how to make a national coalition type organization work better. I dreaded the prospect of being cooped up in a room all weekend to "talk" while the warm weather and sunshine seemed to offer better opportunities.
It was a worthwhile experience and the lure of the outdoors became an inconsequential factor. But the weekend experience was framed and given its perspective by a chance encounter at Bradley Airport.
I was sitting in the waiting area for my short flight when I looked up from my reading. Sitting across from me was Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich. I recognized him immediately because I have been involved in a number of health care reform initiatives for which he has provided the impetus and inspiration.
There are only two members of Congress that I consider relatively untainted by their years in the American testosterone jungle, Conyers and Sen. Bernard Sanders. I'm sure there are others on both the left and the right.
It amazes me that these two people have been able to spend so many years in Washington and still be able to continue to fight for the same principles of justice that must have inspired them to pursue political careers.
Conyers has been a member of the House for 44 years and he is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He is not afraid to introduce bold initiatives that he knows will be unpopular with his colleagues but he continues to do so because he knows it is the right thing to do, not because it is the politically expedient thing to do.
That may seem like a small matter, but in the world of national politics a legislator has to be prepared to develop a tough hide to be able to stick to principles and actually act upon them. Conyers has been promoting a single payer resolution in the House for the past two sessions and although he knows that the chances of creating such a system are small he continues to keep the issue alive.
When I recognized Conyers I immediately went over to him and introduced myself. He acted as if I was a long lost friend saying, "How are you doing?" I had to ignore the politics of that kind of greeting because Conyers doesn't know me. No one is pure when it comes to the game of politics.
We talked about the prospects for health care reform now that the stars seemed to be aligned politically. Conyers has a perpetual twinkle in his eye and his mild and slow manner are the antithesis of what one would expect from a Washington politician.
I asked what he thought about President Obama and Sen. Max Baucus shutting out single payer proponents from the health care reform debate. We also talked about the Obama strategy of mostly talking to the power brokers from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries instead of a broader range of players.
"Obama is a friend of mine," Conyers told me and he went on to say that he was prepared to give Obama a friendly political kick to try to get him back on track and more aligned with his pre-election rhetoric.
It was a short conversation and we exchanged business cards. I could see that Conyers had business to conduct while he waiting for the plane. As I walked away from that brief encounter I felt that this meeting was no accident.
If a guy from Detroit can devote 44 years of his life to humane and socially progressive principles then it is the responsibility of the rest of us who do not have the courage and fortitude to directly engage in the battle at that level to work as hard as we can to support their efforts. We are all in this together and we must find inspiration from each other, even it if comes as a result of a chance airport encounter.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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