Story By Ken Krayeske • 11:30 AM EST
A man named Brian has a good life – a wife, a newborn baby – then he learns he has brain cancer. The treatments exhaust his health insurance, leaving him without coverage for the recovery.
His friends band together and raise money so he can receive the appropriate care.
This happens across the United States every day. Is this a smaller part of the social movement towards a national healthcare/Medicare for All government run health insurance? Or is this just a fundraiser?
It is real. "Benefit for Brian" will be an all-day concert in Simsbury on Sunday, May 2, 2010 to help defray the medical expenses associated with Brian's battle with brain cancer.
I don't know who Brian is, but the flyer I found advertising the fundraiser said: "Brian was diagnosed with brain cancer after undergoing two surgeries to remove a large tumor from his brain, and he is going to require a long and expensive recovery."
Local rock musicians like Flipper Dave, Shortness, the Dr. Juice Trio and Matt Zeiner will perform at the Old Well, a restaurant at 20 Tariffville Road in Simsbury from 2 to 10 p.m. There will be food and a raffle to help raise money.
If the community rallying around Brian isn’t heartwarming enough, the picture of Brian holding his newborn infant on the flyer will grab your heart and make you want to go. But I found this flyer interesting from a social movement perspective.
Is the "Benefit for Brian," and the dozens of other similar fundraisers held across the country every day to help fellow citizens pay for outrageous medical costs an indication of a nascent parallel polis, the signature steps in a social movement that will eventually overcome the dominant health care structure?
A social movement begins with contemporaneous personal and collective identification with the consequences of the control exercised by the elite, and that this is a wrong being perpetrated on undeserving people, according to author Edward L. Rubin in "Passing Through the Door: Social Movement Literature and Legal Scholarship," as published in 150 University of Pennsylvania Law Review, page 1.
In a social movement, previously unorganized individuals, motivated by altruism, self-interest or any other reasons, coalesce to act to better their positions as individuals and as a group.
This coming together can take myriad forms, from individuals taking civil disobedience to others who lobby for change within the political structure. Another prevalent structure is creation of a parallel polis.
A parallel polis occurs where government or dominant social institutions fail to provide for the needs of an oppressed group, and that oppressed group creates its own structures to serve their needs.
For example, when the Christian churches dominated by the white communities in the South failed to serve the spiritual needs of the black communities in the post-Civil War era, the creation of all-black Christian churches was a parallel polis.
The structures of parallel polis were prevalent in the former Communist Bloc. Eastern European intellectuals striving for a post-totalitarian world formulated the theory of parallel polis, even though the creation of these structures had been in practice for a long time.
Czech writer Vaclav Benda first published the ideas in his treatise "Parallel Polis, or an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe: An Inquiry" in 1977. Benda's work was translated into English in 1978.
He posited that the Communist-bloc social, economic and political institutions held no prospect for reform. Rather than challenge corrupt Communist creatures of state, Benda advocated starting new ones.
He called on fellow dissidents to establish "parallel institutions" to respond to basic human needs, institutions that could eventually supersede those failing, oppressive ones imposed by the Communist bloc.
"Successful social movements generally develop an infrastructure that serves to recruit, train, encourage, and mobilize activists," according to theorists writing in Nonviolent Social Movements, A Geographical Perspective, edited by Stephen Zunes, Lester R. Kurtz, and Sarah Beth Asher, (p 105, Blackwell Publishing, 1999).
This is important enough that I am going to block quote Zunes' book for a few paragraphs:
Regardless of the types of methods used in opposing a central government, movement activists construct alternative or autonomous 'spaces' in which opposition frames and strategies can be disseminated. In each of the Soviet bloc countries, non-violent resistance operated from alternative spaces, notably the Church, the Academy, the cultural community and the media.
The creation and utilization of public space is not, of course, entirely unique to nonviolent action, but it is crucial, especially if one acknowledges that ideas are important for the motivation and cohesion of any resistance. Nonviolent resistance is no exception. In fact, effective education in the principles of nonviolent action is important because of the discipline that nonviolent action requires. Parallel institutions preserve not only a spirit of resistance but ideologies that complement nonviolent action.
So, the question then arises: Is the "Benefit for Brian" healthcare fundraiser the creation of a parallel polis designed to fund healthcare?
At the "Benefit for Brian," it is unlikely that the lead singer of Flipper Dave, in between songs, is going to advocate for Medicare for All, or a nationalized health care system where the government provides for expensive health care treatments for people like Brian.
That is why this fundraiser may not be a parallel polis – because there will be no conscientious recognition from the organizers and participants that what they are doing is something that government should be doing. But must there be?
Czech writer Benda might argue that without overt politicization of the "Benefit for Brian," where organizers educate attendees about routes to national health care for all, it is not a real parallel polis.
Some might look to Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville's insights about America to claim this "Benefit for Brian" is an instance of Americans showing their trademark volunteerism and community spirit and rallying around a man in need.
But I think this "Benefit for Brian" is something deeper. There is an implicit awareness that Brian faces an injustice – he is unable to obtain the treatment to recover from his brain cancer, and those who fundraise for him feel, intuitively if not conscientiously, that Brian has a right to health care, and a right to beat the brain cancer.
The inaction of the federal government combined with the greed of the health insurance industry prevents Brian from obtaining his right to fight for his life by denying him money and its ability access to obtain health care.
While the organizers may not say it, and while artists may not speak it during their sets, Brian is in an oppressed class, unable to obtain the services he needs. The fundraiser, then, is an attempt to provide Brian the services he needs.
So, in the context of a social movement, the organizers of this fundraiser, motivated by altruism, are working to better the lot of Brian, and by doing so, better all of our chances to obtain health care.
This "unconscious" parallel polis fits in with the rest of the social movement battling for universal access to health care right now.
More importantly, I hope that Brian recovers from his brain cancer to live a long, health, happy life.