Did We Abandon Democracy in Town Hall Meetings?: A Reaction to the Current U.S. Healthcare Reform Movement in the U.S.

Here is an article I wrote and published recently by the CIVICUS organization as part of their e-newsletter that was published on World Democracy Day 2009 to celebrate democracy.  Click on the link below to take you directly to the article.



Hey Mr. Wilson, Why Don’t You Kiss My Alien, Immigrant Ass!

How deplorable! Appaling! In another desperate act, the Republican party has done it again with Joe Wilson, who I refuse to call a Congressman, screaming a childish, immature, inappropriate statement to the President of his own government in the middle of a very highly regarded practice in this government, a Presidential Speech to the Congress. Although it is called a presidential speech to the Congress, the speech is really for the people because those in the Congress are representative of the people, something that I believe Joe Wilson has failed to remember that night.

Unbelievable! Where is the decency? I really don’t expect to see behavior and attitude so low as what this man showed that evening. What’s next? What kind of behavior are we going to see then next time? What, a brawl? Professionalism, people! Have we gone so low that we abandoned it? I can’t believe that a part of me actually feel embarrassed looking at this man’s behavior, and he’s a Congressman? His behavior reflects the mob’s behavior in those town hall meetings. The difference is that we expect a different set of behavior from our congressmen and congresswomen than those crazy, ignorant, prejudice townhallers. Or, maybe that’s where I’m wrong. Perhaps the line between some of our congressmen/women and those crazy, ignorant, prejudice townhallers is really…nonexistent. The behaviors of the people reflect their leaders’, or is it the other way around? So which ones are the leaders again? Somebody please remind me.

Seeing things like this makes me experience a range of feelings. It started with anger. Gosh, was I angry. I was furious sitting at home watching the whole thing plays on TV. Then I felt it again when I read the support that this delirious, hallucinating, lunatic, stupid, brainless, ignorant Joe Wilson received the next day from other similar delirious, hallucinating, lunatic, stupid, brainless, ignorant extreme-right groups. Then I felt a mix of upset and sadness. Sad because this is not necessarily the direction that I would like to see happen with this government. Politics have never been this ugly before in the U.S. Sure, there have always been debates and disagreements between the two parties in the past, which are expected. Debates, discourse and negotiations between multiple parties are also part of democracy. What happens now is that as the Democratic party is getting stronger and holding the majority space in Congress, the Republican party is getting more desperate, which is why I think the atmosphere has becoming uglier. Debates and discourse have been replaced with verbal attacks, in which some are just plain racist, violent and perhaps even crude. Negotiation? Forget about it. It’s been thrown out the window by the right-wing.

The point is, some people in this country, including politicians, are actually moving slowly, inch by inch, away from democracy. Either they are ignorant all about the meaning of democracy or they have a separate agenda in their mind on how this country should be run. Too harsh? I don’t think so, it’s just a frank talk here. I hope it’s the problem of the former, not the latter, meaning that it’s a problem of having too many ignorant, fearful people who lack the ability to do critical thinking, not the problem of having a different ideology/agenda to change the meaning of democracy in this country. Actually, if that’s the case, they need to find another name, not democracy. Democracy is democracy; its meaning stays the same regardless of the country that claims to hold it. What these extreme right-wing people are doing are NOT in the name of democracy or freedom of speech (my ASS!). I honestly don’t know what the new name would be because I’m still perplexed with the whole thing.

Actually, after thinking about this more, I am positive it’s the problem of ignorance, having uncontrollable fear to the point that it becomes delusional, and therefore, arrives to the inability to come to critical thinking. Why? Because you can’t even expect these people to even understand the difference between socialism and communist principles, not to mention fascism. Poor President Obama, he got them all. I hope he can see the humor in this since he’s the first president ever, possibly of any country, who has been called all the above, and yet, not all the above.

I watched Countdown with Keith Olbermann on the day after the Presidential Speech, and he said something that I completely agree. I’m not sure the exact quote, but he simply said that it’s not the war, nuclear power, H1N1, or terrorist attack that will bring this country down, but it’s the fear and ignorance. I said something similar to that in another essay that I wrote. Fear and lack of critical thinking are the threats of democracy. These two are the foundations of ignorant, prejudice and racist thinking. It’s the fear of losing whatever sense of power these people think they have and it has increased due to the fact that we now have a Black president in power. My concern is that when and if this fear continues to increase, the feeling of desperation is also likely to continue. Desperate people will do almost anything. If we, meaning the people and government of this country, don’t intervene urgently, I’m afraid something very ugly may come out of this as a result; something that will shake the whole country. The ugliness is worrisome and worth everyone’s attention and action to bring down the fire and cool the temperature.

TASSC Survivors Week Celebration, June 26 2009

On June 25, 2009, I went to Washington, D.C. to attend a weekend with members and friends of the TASSC International. TASSC stands for Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition, and every year at the end of June, TASSC celebrates the Survivors Week for torture survivors. To be exact, June 26 has been declared by the United Nations as a day for torture survivors. TASSC is an organization that serves to provide support and advocacy for torture survivors from around the world. It also serves a purpose to send a message to the public and to the government that torture should never be used and practiced in any way possible; that torture should be condemned and abolished.

There were activities organized throughout the week, starting on Tuesday, June 23, and all the way to Sunday, June 28. The major event was the 24-hour vigil on Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. and ending the next day at 7 a.m. There was also a time to meet representatives from the Congress and panel discussions during the week. Since I arrived late to the Survivor Week, I was only able to attend the panel discussions that were held on Friday and the vigil on Saturday. Sunday was a resting day where we ended up mingling, talking, discussing and reflecting about the week, and just hanging out.

I ask myself why I want to write this reflection. Well, something special happened that week, something major that stirred me up inside. Needless to say, whatever it was that I experienced has pushed me to put my thoughts now into writing because I want to remember them.

From the moment I arrived that Thursday night, I knew I entered something that was somewhat familiar. Not only that, it also felt friendly, warm, and safe. I felt welcomed from the moment I arrived in the dorm where I supposed to stay with other members and friends of TASSC. The dorm belongs to the Catholic University. It was a very simple dorm, somewhat neglected I thought by the university. The conditions were too simplistic in certain rooms. The weirdest part, however, is that I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the poor condition of the dorm.

Some of the torture survivors greeted me right away, asked me the most common question, which was what my name is, and the second most common question, where do I come from. I particularly appreciate the latter question because my ethnic background was not assumed. On the contrary, I have had so many people who I met in the past or strangers I saw on the street who would normally assume my nationality or where I came from rather than ask me the question.

I remember one teenage girl said hello to me. She was sitting in the hallway and I was entering the hallway with my suitcase. She right away entered into a conversation with me, asking me some questions. I got to like her right away. She is only 14 years old and was there to accompany her mother, who is a torture survivor. She continued with her chatter, telling me about herself, her country, and so on. I was taken aback a little bit at first, fascinating by her frankness and directness. I appreciated it, of course, but at the same time I remember thinking that I haven’t encountered something like this in any other group settings in a long time. We clicked right away at that moment. I was and still am fascinated by this fact because I don’t think I have ever thought of considering a person so young to be my friend. But she presented me with an alternative view of a teenage girl. I thought she was really more mature than her age, more than any other American kids of the same age. Perhaps it has something to do with her background and what she and her family have been through that makes her so mature for her age.

I know it was going to be a unique experience for the whole weekend when they couldn’t get me my room for my first night. Long story, but needless to say, I kind of kicked out the Director of TASSC from his own room in order for me to lay my tired body down that night on a hard mattress. Of course, I was not literally kicking him out. More like him pushing me to use the room because he couldn’t find the people who were in charge of holding the key to my room and moving his stuff to another room for the night, and me, of course, left feeling guilty. Mind you, it was a tremendous amount of guilt; fortunately, it didn’t last long. I quickly enjoyed the night alone after an exhausting trip. Not bad, actually. I needed the sleep for a few exciting days ahead of me.

On Friday, the 25th, we had a series of four panel discussions. The day started with a breakfast where I met more new people. Again, everyone was very nice, open and welcoming. I felt at ease again right away. Many of them asked me again the two most common questions and other additional questions, but those questions for some reason did not seem inquisitive. It was more out of genuine care and wanting to get to know me better.

The panel discussions were intense. I heard many personal accounts of torture from the torture survivors directly. Some told the stories of torture, kidnapping, and disappearances of people close to them or their loved ones. All of them are heart-breaking stories. I was repulsed by the knowledge of so many ugliness and evil things done to people by other human beings. I felt enraged, infuriated and sad at the same time sitting there and listening to the stories, but I also knew that I was witnessing to something important. I knew that I was needed by the community to stay there because they need witnesses of people like me; witnesses that can continue to support the community in their fight for justice and to spread their stories of suffering and healing and the message of torture abolishment. I could feel my shoulders hardening as the day progressed. After all, those are not stories everyday stories that people normally share to each other during dinner. But is it not? Perhaps not by the majority of people, but perhaps there are some who would talk about these stories during dinner time, lunch time, or any other type of gathering.

The next day, Saturday the 26th, was the day of the 24-hour vigil. We all woke up early, some earlier than others, to get to the Lafayette Park by 7 a.m. Lafayette Park is located right in front of the White House, and we took the metro train to get there. The plan was to be there by 7 a.m., but the majority of us couldn’t get there until 8 a.m. due to a minor inconvenience with the metro schedule. The 24-hour vigil started with a prayer, then a candle ceremony where we presented a candle for each country where the practice of torture is still happening. The rest of the day was filled with more stories, personal account of torture by survivors and their families, singing, speeches from various human rights organizations, faith based organizations, church representatives, and individuals who are friends of TASSC. We also marched to the front of the White House, chanting slogans and carrying signs with the message of ending torture. A peaceful demonstration was also planned ahead of time; some of the friends of TASSC have volunteered in advance to be arrested in front of the White House to send a clear and strong message to the government and the public about TASSC and its fight for justice. I participated in the march and watched the arrest from the side, capturing the moment as much as I could with my camera/video recording. It was excited, exhilarating. Everything was so new to me, and I drank every single drop of the experience.

I was so touched by the whole new experience that I needed time to process everything; and in a way, I’m still processing it until now. I started writing this reflection the day I got back to Chicago, but never finished it. Seems like I left it open for a reason, because I’m still continuing it until now. Here I am exactly two months later and I’m still reflecting.

We have since had two more meetings of the TASSC chapter in Chicago, and our last one was just two days ago where I had a chance to process it again with other TASSC members. I think I know why I’m still processing it. In addition to being touched by the whole experience, I also came out of it changed. See, what happens is that I have been influenced by the TASSC members and friends. They didn’t influence me deliberately, at least that is how I perceive it, but it’s done through their generosity, humility, humanity, a sense of social justice, persistency and resiliency. I’m still processing June 26th because I keep asking myself until now how have I been changed by it and what can I continue to do from my end. A part of me knew that I can never go back to my old self again. This is what knowledge can do to a person; it changes him or her and what comes afterwards is responsibility.

Healthcare Crises and Democracy

Health care systems

Image via Wikipedia

Healthcare has been a hot topic in the U.S. lately. The country has been having health care crises for so long now, and the length of these crises varies depending on who you talk to. I think the problem has been happening for over a decade, since teh 90s, probably even before the 90s. I came to the U.S. iin 1990, and so I can talk based on my experience and what I have observed in almost two decades. The sad thing is that there are people in this country who defiantly believe that there is no crisis. Then there are those who admit that crisis does exist, but believe that no intervention needs to happen because eventually the problem will take care of itself. These are the same group of people who also believe that no intervention is needed regarding the economy crisis because that is just how the economy works; it has its ups and downs and that the government should not interfere with it. Nonsense.

There are two current crises in healthcare now. First, there are just way too many people with no health insurance. Because of the lack of access to healthcare coverage, these people usually have no opportunity to have regular check-ups and early intervention for any sign of health problem. They tend to wait then until the symptoms become worse and create a much worse of health issue. If given a choice of seeing a doctor and having regular visitation to their doctor, I’m positive that they’ll be able to maintain better physical and mental health condition. Many of these people would visit a doctor when their health condition is too dire for early intervention. Often, hospitalization is required by then. By the time they see a doctor, it is also likely to occur through a visit to an emergency room (ER). The U.S. has a law that prohibits hospitals to turn away patients who enter ER. The problem with this situation is that the cost of hospitalization and late intervention is likely to be much higher than the cost of early intervention and regular check-ups. Therefore, I don’t think it takes a genius necessarily to realize that there is definitely more benefit in making sure that everyone should have health insurance, access to healthcare services, including access to regular phsycal checkups and primary intervention. The key is to avoid a last-minute trip to ER. ER should really be used only as a last resort because each visit costs a lot of money to the hospital. The high cost of ER treatment is then billed to the insured patient, hoping that the patient should be able to pay it, which is just a wishful thinking. If patients cannot pay for the bills, guess who will cover the rest of it, the hospitals and the taxpayers.

This is obviously a hole (a big hole!) in the system and it needs to be fixed before it gets even worse than it is now. I don’t recommend that the law regarding the role of ER should be eliminated. That law should stay. Ethically and morally, I believe ER should always be available for everyone. What needs to be changed is to do whatever we can to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare.

Another major crisis in healthcare is the amount of power health insurance companies have in this country. Currently, they can refuse coverage based on whatever terminology and rules they created. To sue an insurance company is like suing God; I wish you luck. Unless you have a very strong case, which means that the insurance company has blatantly broken a law, I would say forget about it. Even so, it will still cost a lot of money, time, and emotional ups and downs.

The Obama administration is trying to change all of these above and some other problems that I haven’t even mentioned, and I’ve been amazed at the amount of ugliness the effort has brought out in the public by people who are against it. If you haven’t seen anything about this, check out recent footages (from the past one month) from the Rachel Maddow show or the Countdown with Keith Olbermann show. People in this country have what they called town hall meeting, which is usually done during the month of August when congressmen and congresswomen are usually back in their home state. Townhall meetings can be done actually at any time too, not just in August, but August has been famously known for these activities. Town hall meetings are used as a way to gather constituents and discuss about a new bill or policy. Throughout the month of August so far, meetings have been held in almost all states about the healthcare policy that Obama has proposed. In many of these meetings, protesters of the bill have shown up in large groups with angry shouts, signs and effigies conveying hatred and racist messages. Some people have even shown up carrying pistol or machine gun. Why? Some of the most disturbing signs I’ve seen are those with Obama’s picture with a hitler mustache, or an effigy of a doll hanging on a rope and with the name of a senator or Obama attached to it. They are disturbing because they send hatred and violent messages to the public. Obama has been called racist, fascist, Hitler, socialist, the ‘n’ word, and so on. Who’s the racist now? If children see these signs, what messages would they take in?

There has been an argument regarding democracy as well. Town hall meeting is really a reflection, a symbol, and a sign for democracy. It is meant for people to raise their voice and send messages directly to their representatives and it is meant for their voice to be heard loudly by their representatives and fellow citizens. It is a form of democracy. What has been happening during these town hall meetings about healthcare policy is that these groups of protesters were screaming and protesting so loudly that they prevented other people to talk. Sometimes they even stopped people from entering the building because of the loudness and the violent messages. I mean, if you see people carrying guns, will you also go in? Maybe, but it made some people to think twice. The gun-carrying, by the way, doesn’t happen in all states. The law regarding the right to carry a gun in the public differs from one state to another.

Democracy has been violated at some of these town hall meetings, and it is a shame! I really don’t think many of these people even understand democracy and what it means to have democracy. To have democracy is to uphold democracy. You don’t just demand it, you also keep it up yourself. It’s not going to be given to you as a present; you take it and keep it by continuing to work hard at upkeeping it. It makes me so angry when I saw those footages on TV about this violation of democracy. My blood just started to boil. I feel like shouting to them to wake them up, but then if I shouted at them, then I just become them.

My only consolation when seeing something like that is to remind myself that people sometimes act based on fear and without thinking much. I feel sorry for them in the end because I don’t think they have the ability to do critical thinking. They take what is fed to them by the extreme right-wing leaders that they watch on TV, listen to on the radio, or read from the internet. Then they go out to the public carrying hateful signs proudly thinking that they are demonstrating their right to have democracy and freedom of speech. No, it doesn’t work that way. Freedom of speech is based on responsibility, not just as a permission or ability to say anything at anytime to anyone. It is very dangerous when a right that is so powerful such as this to be taken lightly and irresponsibly. With more power comes more responsibility. How do you explain that to these people?

A Review on Faces in the Revolution

The following blog is my attempt to do a book review. The title of the book is Faces in the Revolution: The Psychological Effects of Violence on Township Youth in South Africa, and it was written by Gill Straker. The book was actually part of the reading requirement from one of the classes that I took last summer, Global and Cultural Bases of Health and Dysfunction. I actually have a strong objection to the word “dysfunction”, but unfortunately it is a commonly used word in the field of pyschology. The word is commonly understood to mean the opposite of healthy. In my opinion, every behavior or action we do is a form of function, even if it is actually a non-healthy behavior, such as drinking excessively or taking illegal drugs.

Anyway, the following writing was actually written when I took the class. This is just the beginning of my attempt to publish some of the writings that I’ve done during my journey here at the Adler School. Yes, if you are wondering whether I changed some things, the answer is definitely yes. I did change the wording or some of the sentences to illustrate my point better, but the main themes and the intended message have stayed the same. Enjoy the reading.

In Faces in the Revolution, Straker focused on the psychological impact of violence on the Leandra youth from South Africa during the apartheid era in the 1980s and early 1990s. She chose to portray the consequences of violence through the Leandra youth. She provided a little bit of historical background of the apartheid conflict in South Africa, but it is clear that the book is not just another book about apartheid. Instead, it focuses on the psychological well-being of the Leandra youth affected by violence. Straker also picked a few major and critical violent events that happened in Leandra which many of the youth in her book either participated, witnessed, or experienced the violent aftermath of those events.

What I like about Faces in the Revolution is how Straker used multiple case studies to provide evidence of individual uniqueness in dealing with stress, violence, and unpredictability, while at the same time drew similarities between those cases. I appreciate her approach in describing the youth’s psychological effects by analyzing cases individually instead of providing a blanket statement about the youth’s struggle and suffering as a result of violence and war. Often people would describe violence such as what happened in South Africa as senseless. After reading Straker’s book however, it was clear that the war was not senseless to the people who lived in the area and experienced oppression on a daily basis. The violence had a meaning to them, even though outsiders would probably have a difficult time to apprehend it.

Straker’s approach again was done by taking the emic perspective in understanding the psychological impact of the violence rather than the etic perspective. I notice that she did not even once make a diagnosis on any of the case studies. She would perhaps say that a particular person in the case studies had been identified as anti-social, but the term was used more as a description of the behavior, not as a label. Instead of describing symptoms only, she would also describe the result of her behavioral observation, background history with a great emphasis on family dynamics, and personality characteristics that included strengths, limitations or vulnerabilities, defenses, and coping mechanisms. As a reader, I received a shorter version of a personality evaluation report on each case, but without a diagnosis. I got the sense that getting a diagnosis was not a priority for the team. Their goal was to describe to the world what happened to the youth and how they responded and coped. I could only imagine the amount of work that Straker and her colleagues did in order to get all interviews done and fairly represent each participant in this qualitative study.

Faces in the Revolution is a confirmation that not everyone responds to violence and trauma the same way. Even when two people have a similar background, each one of them may still have a unique way of responding to violence. Vice versa, two people from different backgrounds may end up having a similar reaction to violence and their lives may closely resemble each other as a result of experiencing violence and trauma. What Straker and her team did was to discover the possible reasons that made a person responded in a certain way to violence by looking into his or her background history. Through her attempt to understand the youth, it seems that Straker was also attempting to understand how violence started in the first place on an individual level and how it was passed from one person to another, from one group to another, and then from one generation to another. In other words, she was analyzing it from the individual system (micro) and then moving into a slightly larger (macro) system (i.e., her analysis of the dynamics at Wilgespruit).

Although South Africa is still in the midst of its own struggle now, not exactly about apartheid, but they seem to have accomplished more unity and a reduction in violence compared to during the apartheid time. I consider this fact as remarkable considering that apartheid existed less than 20 years ago in that country. Conflicts, however, still happen on a daily basis based on race, ethnic and social class. What is needed now I think is a follow-up study to Straker’s research or even a new study looking at the long-term psychological impact of apartheid and post-apartheid on both the young and older generations, particularly with those who experienced violence first hand 20 years ago. The timing for reading Faces in the Revolution is just happened to coincide with the recent news about Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe. Why did I bring up Mugabe? It is because Mugabe was part of the freedom fighters who were actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement.

Unlike Mandela, Mugabe has taken a position completely opposite to Mandela’s peaceful and non-violence stand. Although Mugabe could arguably be an effective president in his younger age, it turned out that he has also been promoting violence in his country and using a dictatorial method of ruling. As part of the apartheid era, the two famous men, represent the many people like them in South Africa. The question to ask then is to what degree their active participation in the anti-apartheid movement and their direct experience with war contribute to their adulthood development, decision-making, thinking, values, and overall being and adjustment. In the end, it is important to point out that there are not enough books or articles that have looked at or studied the impact of violence and war on children. As it is now, the trend in many wars around the globe is to take advantage of children and adolescents by recruiting them to be part of a guerilla group or military. The push behind this phenomenon is the assumption that the younger the age of the soldiers, the easier to control them and their minds; hence, the booming development of using child soldiers in many places. Many of these children were forced and some were enticed to join. Regardless of the reason, there needs to be more studies on this population. A recent memoir of a child soldier that came out last year illustrated the evil and ugliness of war and a life as a child soldier. Yet, the survivor was able to survive, change his life, and function well afterwards, even with some difficulties at first. In that situation, the question that I am interested to know is regarding the protective factors that make him and other former child soldiers to surface out from the psychological chaos of being in a war and able to function afterwards. At the same time, a follow up question should also be presented regarding the risk factors that made many of them unable to function in mainstream society after the war.