The Health Care Rap

By NerdNerd August 16, 2009

[Editor's Note: PubliCola's D.C. correspondent is taking a break from the politics beat. He's spending the summer in America's real capital city, Brooklyn, NY.]
thurston41 I've been reading a lot of Soviet-era Russian literature lately, for school, and it's been giving me the weirdest dreams. I woke up on Monday morning phasing in and out of an especially vivid dream: I was in Stalin's office, which was filled with El Lissitzky monographs and sickle-and-hammers and short bookshelves, and Stalin was sitting behind his desk talking to no one about how he was the wisest man in the world. "The people will never be able to make these decisions for themselves," he was saying, maybe talking to me. "No one should stand in the way of the prosperity of his own countrymen!"

The Soviet Premier was interrupted by my cell phone, which was beeping frantically from under my bed, where I'd tossed it. This time I conceded to the alarm. I looked at the clock. 10:30. I had exactly 30 minutes to get ready for my first day of work, nine hours of door-to-door canvassing in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

I threw on my clothes, combed my hair to the side with my fingers, and ran out the door to catch the subway. I made it to Midtown somehow, and when I got to the NJPIRG office on the third floor I was covered in sweat. The canvassing coordinator was there waiting for me.

He told me his name was John. I thought that he had the perfect balance of a barely-suppressed chipperness and resolute belief in his cause. He looked at me seriously. "Can I hear your rap?"

I panicked. I had no idea what he was talking about. "Uh, what? My what?"

John looked concerned. "Your health care rap, what you're gonna say to people to convince them to donate to NJPIRG. That's alright, we'll work on it now. Here's a clipboard. Show me how you would talk to me if you came knocking on my door."

"Hi, I'm Chris, I'm with NJPIRG. Would you like to see our statement of support?"

I tried to hand the clipboard back to John. He practically slapped it out of my hand.

"No! That's not the way. You haven't even told me what you're here for yet," he said, exasperated.

I suddenly had no idea why I was there. I thought of the YouTube videos of health care town hall protesters screaming nonsense in the faces of their elected representatives. That look on Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's face when the guy yelled that "someday God's gonna stand before you, and he's gonna judge you," the tragic, slow-blinking disbelief of the person standing in front of him.

I had already spent a few weeks this summer trying to get people to support a political cause. The petitioning I did for a Manhattan DA candidate was hard work, and people surprised me by telling me that they weren't voting for her because she's a woman, or they didn't like the way she looked. I didn't think I would be able to handle similar abuse, though, from a bunch of suburban New Jerseyans who think public health insurance is socialism and that I'm going to have to stand before God and explain myself if I don't try to stop it. Canvassing is certainly one of the most important parts of political organizing, and it's even more important that there are people like John to do the job. But I chickened out.

"Actually, John, I don't know. I feel bad about forgetting my rap. If it's alright, I don't think I'm going to be able to do this job?"

I'd rather live on Ramen and feel the pavement on my socks when I walk down the street than confront those people face to face. My Stalin dream seemed oddly pertinent. He said he understood and, although I felt guilty, I got out of that sweltering office as fast as I could. I took my Soviet book to a local joint and sat next to a white-haired man sketching in a notepad. We chatted and he kept drawing and I read my book. I was glad I didn't have to ask him what he thought about health care.
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