"We are just regular people who are concerned about our kids and our family members and we just want people to stay alive -- that's it."
Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 55th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Jaron Benjamin, the vice president for community mobilization at Housing Works.
Sarah Jaffe: You were part of the big day of civil disobedience on Capitol Hill around the health care bill this week. Tell us about how that went down. I think there's a pretty dramatic photo of you being carried out by police?
Jaron Benjamin: [laughs] Yes, there was. The day was pretty moving. And I think it was probably as impactful for people that participated as it was for people that saw it on the news. I didn't expect that. When you get 150 and 200 activists -- a lot of these folks have participated in protests -- people from 21 different states, you would assume that people were already feeling as many feelings as they could feel, because everybody in that room is dedicated and committed, but one of the themes that I noticed when I talked to people after being released from cuffs was that we all got way more emotional, not only throughout the day, but during the demonstration than we thought that we would. It turned out that we were more angry about this attempt to take away health care from millions of people than we possibly knew, and we cared more and we were moved to tears more during the protest.
The day started off with about 150 folks getting together and just talking about why we were together and then going over the scenarios, figuring out which constituencies would be able to go and have a demonstration at which offices at one time. To the untrained eye, it was chaotic but to a lot of us, it was democracy in action.
There were a couple of very moving moments during the day. One was when a mother from Arkansas -- before we went over to the Capitol -- just stood up and talked in very plain English; she didn't talk about what policy needed to be passed or exactly how much money was going to be cut from Medicaid or that the program would be transformed. She just very plainly said, "I'm a mother who has children and I'm concerned that if Senator McConnell and his friends push this bill through, I won't be able to take care of my children that have pre-existing conditions. I'm worried about the safety of my children." And that really hit home for a lot of folks. Most of us either started crying then or fought back sobs.
I think there was just something that really resonated with a lot of people there. We are just regular people who are concerned about our kids and our family members and we just want people to stay alive -- that's it.
Another really moving moment was while we were being processed. We were all in cuffs, about 80 of us, and we're all in the same room and we're being processed, spontaneously people started singing "This Land is Your Land," and it really underscored just how we were. In a way, this protest was a dream of what we can accomplish when we're pushing to live the "American dream" and putting our minds together and fighting the good fight.
Please continue this interview here: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/41256-fighting-for-our-lives-citizens-shut-down-capitol-hill-to-protect-health-care