Moral Monday Activists Attempt to Deliver Petitions to Gov. Deal on Medicaid Expansion
(APN) ATLANTA — On Monday, April 07, 2014, Moral Monday took to the street on exclusive West Paces Ferry Road, across from the Governor’s Mansion. Their mission was to deliver fifty thousand signed petitions from Georgia citizens calling for the Governor to expand Medicaid and to accept his executive responsibility and veto HB 990.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, HB 990, as passed by the Legislature and awaiting the Governer’s signature or veto, would take away the Governor’s discretion to expand Medicaid pursuant to the federal Affordable Care Act.
Approximately three hundred people turned out on a rainy Monday evening to chant “No Medicaid, No Deal.” It is no longer just the usual suspects attending these events: a diverse, multiracial coalition is continuing to grow.
The growing number of faith groups, ministers, preachers, priests, and lay-clergy was evident with the addition of Bishop Robert Wright, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Middle and North Georgia Diocese of Atlanta. Bishop Wright’s jurisdiction covers half of Georgia from Macon to all of North Georgia.
“For those of us who have faith, we are supposed to be reaching out on behalf of the poor raising their witness in the world that we care for people who are sick and can’t care for themselves,” Bishop Wright told APN.
About twenty clergy members lead the way to the main gate of the Governor’s mansion to deliver the petitions with hundreds more people following. The gate was locked with police and security personnel behind the gate. At the locked gate, the preachers prayed and spoke to the people gathered around them.
“We have come to the most expensive public housing [the Governor’s Mansion] in the State of Georgia. We are grateful for those that have gathered from labor, faith communities, civil and human rights, and ordinary human beings who want to expand Medicaid now,” Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson, Georgia State President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said.
“The people have gathered to say Expand Medicaid because we want our money back. We are not asking for any additional tax money, for this issue. We have already paid the taxes. Our tax money is subsidizing the healthcare of California, Colorado, Washington, and other states. We need Georgia’s money to come back and support the healthcare of Georgians,” Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of historic Ebenezer Church, explained.
A poll shows that the majority of Georgians supports Medicaid expansion. “By refusing to expand Medicaid our leaders are guilty of taxation without representation,” Rev. Warnock said.
“We come here to give voice to those that have no voice… the poor, the broken, the left behind and the least… for they have dignity also. They deserve health care for their bodies, education for their minds, and food for their souls. Governor Deal, our prayers continue out of our sanctuary to your front gate, that you would use the authority and the power we have given you to do the right thing,” Bishop Wright told the gathering.
Rev. Dr. James Lamkin, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church, and Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Decatur, also prayed that Governor Deal would expand Medicaid to the over 600,000 people in Georgia who are without healthcare. An estimated ten Georgians will die every day without healthcare.
Many other pastors were present who represented other churches who also support Medicaid expansion.
Many people thanked Rev. Dr. Lamkin for allowing them to park their cars at his church on Northside Dive and be bussed to the Governor’s Mansion. Others parked on side streets around the mansion.
After the prayers, a solemn procession of people carried a white cross to the locked gate and placed it on the gate. The cross is symbolic of the hundreds of citizens in Georgia who will die this year without healthcare
Georgia has the fifth highest rate of uninsured in the nation: an estimated twenty percent of Georgia citizens do not have health care. Working families, who fall in the gap of not being able to afford health care but not being eligible for Medicaid, have little options but to go to emergency rooms for medical treatment. This raises the cost of emergency rooms and is forcing hospitals in Georgia to close.
If Georgia had Medicaid expansion, people could go to a clinic or doctor for routine medical care, thus saving millions of dollars in unnecessary emergency room visits. Expanding Medicaid would relieve this burden now placed on Georgia’s emergency rooms.
As reported earlier by APN, Gov. Deal’s solution is to turn uninsured people away from emergency rooms because it is too expensive to care for them. At the same time, he also refuses to accept federal funds for expansion of Medicaid. He says accepting federal money that pays one hundred percent for the Medicaid expansion the first three years and ninety percent afterwards is also too expensive.
Deal’s political decision will cause people to die unnecessarily just because they are poor.
This unconscionable policy decision fueling the Moral Monday movement in Georgia, with more and more people of faith getting involved.
“It makes me angry to think we can subsidize oil companies, we can bail out banks, we can provide tax cuts to those who make their money investing other people’s money, but we can’t provide healthcare to hard working Americans,” Rev. Warnock said.
After the laying of the crosses, the preachers requested security to open the gate and receive the petitions, but no one would open the gate.
“We don’t expect the Governor to come out but we expect someone to come out and accept fifty thousand signatures on a petition to expand Medicaid,” Tim Franzen, with American Friends Service Committee and a Moral Monday organizer, said.
“We want them to open the gate so we can hand them our petitions. We are American citizens, we are not violent, we are people of goodwill, we are people of faith. We do not work for Governor Deal, he works for us,” Rev. Dr. Johnson said.
After about fifteen minutes of promises that someone will open the gate to receive petitions from the clergy, security then said the main gate is having mechanical problems. If they open it, then they may not be able to get it closed and that would created a security challenge, they said.
Security suggested they take the petitions around to the back gate.
“The powers that be have told us we can deliver the petitions to the back door. I reminded them that we don’t go to the back door anymore,” Rev. Dr. Johnson said to the people gathered across the street.
A third arrangement was made with security to deliver the petitions about a block down West Paces Ferry to a smaller front gate. The clergy, carrying the box of petitions, walked down the middle of the street to the other gate on West Paces Ferry Road while hundreds of people walked on the sidewalk, chanting “No Medicaid, No Deal.”
The clergy and the media waited for the smaller gate to open. It is secured with a big chain and a padlock.
Ten minutes passed, but no one appeared with a key to open the gate.
“If you don’t know where the key to the gate is, we will have it re-keyed in November,” Rev. Dr. Johnson told security inside. “Please open the gate and receive the petitions your staff has agreed to accept.”
Ten more minutes went by and security said they can not find the key to unlock the gate.
“At each request, we have been meet with obfuscation, subterfuge, and what I believe is downright lies,” Rev. Dr. Johnson said.
“We are disappointed by this terrible exercise of power this evening. We have come to bring petitions of the people and they have refused to open the gate. It is utterly disrespectful and shameful to not open the gate and receive the message of the people. Georgians deserve better,” Rev. Warnock said.
“We are continuing our campaign to have Georgia expand Medicaid. This is literately a matter of life and death, every day ten Georgians die because of our refusal to expand Medicaid. This is sheer political in the worst way. We’ve got to move beyond politics and embrace principle and make sure people have access to what we see as a basic human right,” Rev. Warnock told APN.
The new plan then became to take the petitions to the Governor’s office at the Capitol the next day.
The next day, Rev. Warnock and Bishop Wright along with a dozen other clergy delivered the fifty thousand petitions to the Governor’s office. The Governor was not in the office to receive the petitions.
It is not immediately clear if the Governor remains locked inside the mansion grounds, due to security still being unable to find the keys to open the gate.