by Bart Cochran
On Tuesday, July 18, I was arrested in Washington, DC and charged with section 22-1307 of the DC criminal code: “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding.” How did this happen to a small town UCC minister from Western Massachusetts?
Like many of us, I have become increasingly concerned about the issue of health care, particularly as it affects the poor and disabled in our country. Drastic cuts to Medicaid, the federal healthcare insurance program for the poor and disabled, have been proposed by the current Administration and are being considered by Congress. This means that almost 300,000 poor and disabled adults and children in Massachusetts are in danger of losing their health insurance and access to care, with another 37,000 Massachusetts elderly covered under Medicaid also losing that benefit, according the most recent computations from the Congressional Budget Office. Watching this situation unfold in the news has been distressing to me and my family. I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the treatment of the poor and disabled in the Congressional effort to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and decided I could no longer remain silent. When I learned of the call to moral resistance and civil disobedience issued by a coalition of faith groups that included Repairers of the Breach (formed by Rev. William Barber and others), Red Letter Christians, and Faith in Public Life, I jumped in my car and drove to DC to join them. On July 18, our coalition coordinated with the National African American Clergy Network’s Day of Advocacy on Capitol Hill, where we rallied to hear statements and prayers from African American clergy, and were addressed by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA). We then proceeded to protest, preach and pray at Senator Mitch McConnell’s office where we were placed under arrest.
We gathered in moral dissent over the plan in Congress to kill the Affordable Care Act and replace it with nothing, leaving vulnerable people without health insurance and access to care. Rev. Barber urged those of us who are called to proclaim and embody God’s Word to “put on our clerical robes, take up our holy books, and speak truth in the public square.” He stated:
Altogether, 29 clergy and people of faith were arrested that day. My group of 11 was escorted out of the Russell Senate Office Building by the Capitol Police who were courteous and respectful to all the protestors. We were turned over to the DC Metropolitan Police and placed in a police van for transport to the processing facility. Each of us posted collateral of $50 and was released within several hours. As we got out, members of our group who had elected not to participate in civil disobedience met us outside the police station with water and sandwiches. It was an exhausting day, but exhilarating for all of us. We were filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the joy of fellowship.
“The language of left versus right is far too puny to describe the moral stakes of this death bill. The proposed deconstruction of Medicaid may be the largest transfer of wealth away from the poor since the labor of enslaved Africans was stolen with federal protection. Claiming to be “pro-life” while actively working to take health care from 22 million working poor people is hypocrisy and sin. To do this knowing that people will die is a form of political violence and political murder. It is hypocrisy, and it is sin.”
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