September 24, 2009
Story and Photo by Ken Krayeske • 00:55 AM EST
Mr. "I'm waiting for my ride" stands on the sidewalk in front of the Aetna's corporate headquarters on Farmington Avenue while a 300-person protest disperses around him, Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at about 5:25 pm.
Hartford, Connecticut, Tuesday, September 22, 2009.
5:10 p.m. In front of the Aetna, Farmington Avenue. Some 250 union members and concerned citizens disperse after protesting the insurance giant for its denials of healthcare in the name of profit. They carry signs and wear stickers seeking public healthcare.
Rather than advocate for a public option or Medicare for all, the protesters delivered a demand letter to Ron Williams, Aetna CEO, who made $24.3 million last year.
They want Aetna to comply with common sense honor before profit demands, such as:
• not standing between a doctor and a patient when it comes to deciding what care that patient needs;
• not denying or dropping coverage based on pre-existing medical condition;
• terminating any policy or incentive that rewards employees financially or otherwise for denying care and rejecting claims;
• not using any resources – including funds, employees, and facilities — to oppose any aspect of the health reform proposals supported by President Obama and being considered by members of the United States Congress.
As I spoke with some protesters afterwards, I spotted a man in a shirt and tie, carrying lunchbox, wearing an Aetna badge on his belt, and walking towards Farmington Avenue.
What do you think of this protest? I asked him.
"I'm waiting for my ride," he replied.
You obviously work for Aetna because of your badge, what do you think of the healthcare debate in America right now?
"I'm waiting for my ride," he said again, as his free hand slipped his badge into his pocket, out of sight.
Did Aetna instruct you not to talk to the press?
"I'm waiting for my ride."
In what area of this corporation do you work?
"I'm waiting for my ride."
Is this the strangest conversation you have ever had? It feels like "Waiting for Godot" to me. Let's go. We can't. Why not?
"I'm waiting for my ride."
At that point, Phil Sherwood, New Britain City Councilor and staffer at Connecticut Citizens Action Group, walked by. I introduced Sherwood to Mr. "I'm waiting for my ride."
Sherwood, who I shared a jail cell with for a night after we were arrested in protest of the illegal invasion of Iraq, was diplomatic.
"He's not the problem," Sherwood said. "The company's the problem. He's just doing his job."
While I think the Nuremburg Tribunals laid waste to the "I'm just taking orders" logic, Sherwood is a far better politician than I (clearly, because he has won an election).
Yet I still would like to have known what the man from Aetna thought of his fellow Americans. Our healthcare debate has not heard much from the people who work for the insurance giants.
What we have heard from insiders is not pretty. Wendell Potter, former CIGNA pr executive, has disavowed his participation in the gold plated corporate lifestyle that profits from denials of healthcare.
(Scene two begins with an objectivity alert: Hartford is a small town, and thus I am friends with Maureen Welch and Asaad Jackson).
6:45 p.m. The Arch Street entrance of Hartford City Hall. People file out of the majestic edifice after the close of the Democratic Town Committee meeting and the public hearing session of the City Council meeting.
I catch Hartford resident and ACORN support Maureen Welch on the sidewalk. Welch just spoke at the hearing in favor of a $9,000 grant from the Court of Common Council's "City Contributions and Special Events" account.
"ACORN reacted quickly to the subprime mortgage meltdown and did the hard work of helping people keep their homes in Hartford," Welch said.
Some city organizations rejected these donations from the Common Council, but ACORN, wounded after both houses of Congress in Washington, D.C. voted to cut its funding, is not so proud.
Mind you, Congress didn't cut funding for any corporations that commit crimes, but went after ACORN based on a flimsy video where two "reporters" posed as a pimp and a prostitute and sought housing advice to run a child sex shop.
It was so outlandish, that one ACORN office in Baltimore played along with them, with the ACORN working telling them she killed her ex-husband. But the mighty right wing Wurlitzer played the "ACORN is evil" theme.
In Hartford, supporters aren't so easily swayed.
"I think grassroots movements are threatening to people who aren't interested in seeing a fair distribution of income and services in our cities," Welch said.
Asaad Jackson, taking time from his 25th birthday celebration, addressed Common Council too. Since I was late, Asaad gave me his speech. He told the elected officials that his volunteering with ACORN on its free smoke detector giveaway changed him, and helped the community.
"There's so much divide in the city of Hartford and the Northend, where I grew up," Jackson said. "What I realized through my volunteering and activism is that those divisions are superficial."
Then I bumped into Albert Barrueco, a 27-year-old attorney with Day Pitney who is running for the Hartford Board of Education. He was leaving the DTC Meeting as well.
We spent an hour on the sidewalk, in the same spot, discussing the problems facing our time. We wrestled with optimism in the face of difficult budgets, and ideas for the future. It was an invigorating discussion, and he will make a good addition to the Board of Education if elected.
8:05 p.m. Bushnell Park, behind the stage. I see flashlights on the ground, scanning in a purposeful pattern. Through the darkness, I see they wear white t-shirts with trademark red trim and Guardian Angels logo.
I've heard about the arrival of Guardian Angels in Hartford, on of 82 cities they operate in worldwide, but I hadn’t seen them in action. One of the members I met, Ray, owns a few buildings on Babcock Street, but lives in Windsor.
He was working alongside a Hartford resident named Luis, and they were in training. Ray offered to have the Guardian Angels come patrol the Farmington Avenue Asylum Hill neighborhood where I live.
While the police have been doing an excellent job lately, I don’t think it would hurt to have them scaring off the prostitutes when the HPD is called away.
As I rode home, up Capital Avenue, the trio of events made me feel like Hartford has lots of fighters – people getting up, standing up, standing up for their rights. Let's keep the momentum going.