By Donna Smith
Feb 9, 2016
The comments made by Madeleine Albright about the "special place in hell reserved for women who do not help other women" certainly caught my attention this weekend. While the implications were that those who support Bernie Sanders might find themselves suffering eternal damnation, which I reject, I will leave it to other more capable experts to point out how inconsistent Albright’s comments were in light of just some of the death and injury caused to women and children in the 1990s in Iraq under sanctions issued on Albright’s watch.
"It is a special place in hell women find themselves in when they hear women who know precious little about what we face within the healthcare system because their positions of privilege and power afford them all they could ever need."For many, many years, working class women and girls like me in this country have suffered in a "special kind of hell" as we have struggled against policies rigged to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful. So for these and other reasons, I must take issue with making gender the primary determinant when making my choice in this Democratic presidential primary.
There is a special place in hell reserved for those who can see millions of women and girls go without access to healthcare they can afford and not decisively to end the suffering. Since this is the area I know most about and since it is the area that most damaged my life, let me be clear about how that special place in hell looks and feels to women like me.
Today, at 61 years old, I pay more than $600 a month for health coverage on the Colorado health exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act. As if that isn’t enough of a dent in my income, I still have large deductible and co-pays that force me to pause before I seek care at all. In addition, though I pay $40 a month for dental insurance, I am having my teeth pulled one by one as problems surface because I cannot afford the literally thousands of dollars in dental work recommended to fix all the issues that years of dental care neglect have caused. That’s a special place in hell.
Why didn’t I get my teeth fixed or find a better job that paid better or at least provided better benefits? Because it’s the special kind of hell women like me confront when we are weeded out of the hiring process due to gender and age as employers do not care to take on the costs of health coverage for older workers or the potential that we will actually need care for something. I simply do not have the funds to pay out of pocket for dental care – it is outrageously expensive in this country. That’s a special place in hell.
"Our healthcare system swallowed us. Doctors and hospitals threatened to sue. Choices were gone. That’s a special place in hell."
Why didn’t I use the college education I struggled so hard to get while working full-time and raising six children to advance myself? I had big dreams. My college honored me with many awards and all predictions were that good things were ahead for me if I worked hard to achieve those things. And I sure worked hard. But because my husband got sick, it was up to me to keep the ship afloat. I fought to keep my insurance benefits, stayed in jobs that had little advancement potential, and made sure to take care of the kids so that no one would suffer too much. I am so grateful the children were able to pursue their own dreams and get out of the house before the deepest financial decline came, but my dreams for pursuing a life of public service died as our financial decline continued into bankruptcy. Our healthcare system swallowed us. Doctors and hospitals threatened to sue. Choices were gone. That’s a special place in hell.
So when I hear Bernie Sanders say he believes in Medicare for all, I know that would have given me a fighting chance to avoid so much of the trauma that has held me back. And I know so many other women face similar life situations with the greed-based, Wall Street backed healthcare system. Working hard and caring greatly hasn’t been enough. That’s a special place in hell.
It makes me angry, and it makes me unlikely to vote for anyone who refuses to fix the healthcare system in the most sensible, sane way for us all – women and men alike. Women all over the country can write about the damage done to their lives by the rigged economy and the special place in hell they work to escape daily when trying to fight back.
But most especially, it is a special place in hell women find themselves in when they hear women who know precious little about what we face within the healthcare system because their positions of privilege and power afford them all they could ever need. Imagine that special place in hell I might have avoided, and please do not ask me to turn my support to anyone based on anything other than a firm commitment to achieving real good for all people. Having a vagina is not sufficient for me. Supporting 'Medicare for All' is. My support is with Bernie Sanders for this reason and many other similar policy reasons.
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Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America. PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.