The national debt debate has uncovered a puzzling set of poor national priorities, where health access and equity for all doesn’t qualify as a need, but as a luxury that can be sacrificed in the name of balancing the budget.
The debt crisis has forced us to think fundamentally about what the role of government is, because those essential tasks, those that are absolutely essential to our well being as people, cannot be sacrificed.
What was supposed to be a discussion about how to make our government better equipped to act on behalf of its citizenry has descended into a debate for the sake of debate, as if there aren’t families who suffer when certain initiatives and programs are cut.
Yet, the fact that the wealthiest Americans, who could pay a fairer share (by percentage) of their income and suffer (literally) no lifestyle consequences still benefit from tax breaks tells us how serious we are about actually balancing the budget and ending the debt crisis– we’re not.
Career building and job securing is the name of the game in politics. Not actually governing. For example, poor pregnant women without guaranteed free prenatal health care and millions of children going to bed hungry at night is a perfectly acceptable reality in America, solely because no one’s political career resides on the contentment of poor pregnant women and hungry children.
Why might this be? Its because health justice is a victim of one of its fundamental principles—representing the needs of America’s poor and communities of color. Neither of these groups could be mistaken for influential political constituencies (historically speaking), and so political decisions made at their expense are considered acceptable.
The national debt discussions have accomplished one thing: they have told us which populations are expendable, and whose livelihood can be sacrificed. It is political opportunism disguised as public policy and is savagery of the highest order.
The incuriousness of the national debt debates should not serve to deter the actors in the health justice movement. These debates, alternatively, serve as a barometer, a measuring stick for what Americans, or the politicians that we elect, think is an important use of political energy.
The fact that the health justice movement’s agenda is not on the national table should affirm the grassroots approaches that health justice advocates have employed. America is simply not ready for elaborate bill packages and major structural overhauls that would guarantee health equity for all.
This suggests a continued need for community engagement, for documentation of disparities (through art and journalism), and evidence-based approaches to illuminating the dire consequences of health inequities.
Through the work of the health justice movement’s many dedicated change agents, health inequity will eventually become too visible an issue to ignore, and will then push its way onto the national table of absolute necessities, up from its current place among the expendable luxuries.
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