Thursday, February 4, 2010

For Melanie

Last week, St. Louis lost it's most courageous activist. I first got to know Melanie Shouse as a friend on facebook. I looked forward to her fiery updates every day, her calls to action, and her verbal smackdowns of the heartless politicians who would do anything to protect the profit margins of the insurance companies. Melanie had a combination of optimism and fighting spirit that I've never seen in anyone else. She was always pushing forward, always calling for action, always challenging the status quo, yet she never lost her faith that we could get our flawed legislators to do the right thing if we just keep pushing them.

But online activism was really just a sliver of what made Melanie such an amazing person. Melanie had started up her own business several years ago and could not afford health insurance, and this caused her to delay treatment. When she finally was able to be examined, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, a terminal condition. Rather than being deterred or giving in to depression, Melanie became one of the fiercest fighters St. Louis has ever seen. She fought for President Obama as a member of Organizing for America. She helped found a new community group M-Slice. She was constantly sending out links and information online. And, as many probably know, she gave impassioned speeches at countless healthcare rallies around St. Louis. Sadly, after fighting for far longer than anyone could have imagined, Melanie passed away last week.

Melanie said she wanted a political rally rather than a funeral. She dedicated the last precious years of her life fighting so that we no longer will live in a world where 45,000 people every year die because they lack health insurance. We owe it to Melanie to keep fighting to make sure that health care reform passes. We owe it to Melanie to remind Claire McCaskill every day that the people who elected her did so because they're not willing to settle for the massive inequalities that exist in society today. Melanie would never settle for an unjust world, and neither can we.

I'm going to try to keep track of the articles and tributes to Melanie. Please let me know about any I've missed. There was a good story about her in the Post-Dispatch yesterday. There was also an article about her amazing resolve in the Suburban Journal back in September. Tony P. at People's World also wrote a great tribute to Melanie.

Here's a post on Melanie from Single Minded Women.
Melanie's story on Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice.
Health Care for America Now
Ripper McCord on TPM
Hotflash at Show Me Progress
John Hickey on SMP.
News Tribune
SMP article about a rally outside Blue Cross/Wellpoint

Melanie as a guest on LaborVision:

Melanie on KSDK at a rally to protest state budget cuts:

At a Russ Carnahan forum:

Melanie taking on Republicans:

And, of course, people have probably heard that President Obama promised to keep fighting for Melanie in his talk at the DNC today.

Finally, I wanted to end with the text of a speech that Melanie posted here in November. I think it nicely captures why so many of us were moved by her:

Speech delivered at Rally for the Future of Health Care under the Arch, 11-7-2009

All I can say is “Wow”. What a historic day for our country. Just 13 months ago, a future President stood here before a cheering crowd of 100,000 Missourians, black, white, and brown, all come together to lift up the promise of change we can believe in. REAL change. Not just empty words.

Now, just over a year after the biggest citizens’ rally in the history of Missouri, we have shown our elected officials in Washington that we will NOT go back . We are moving FORWARD, together, to deliver the change we need for We the People of Missouri, and all Americans. The first step on the road to change was passage of the economic recovery act, which created & saved a million jobs for teachers, policemen, firemen, state service workers, and health care workers (in addition to $10 Billion in funding for medical research by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute to find the cures which have eluded us for so long). This landmark legislation has laid the groundwork for the recovery that has just shown its first dividends – a 3.5% growth rate last quarter (the first in two years), and stabilization of our economy to enable real investments in a solid future.

After that monumental victory for America, we didn’t stop. We launched full speed ahead to take on the Big Insurance Monopoly and liberate American families from the slavery of skyrocketing insurance premiums and cancelled coverage, which leaves millions of us in a state of perpetual fear and insecurity and strangles our economy and small businesses. With the President’s firm leadership, our Congress – at least half of them – has finally stood up to proclaim our basic human right to health care for all Americans. Now we stand on the cusp of a great triumph for America, and for humanity, the likes of which we have not seen since the bold leadership of Franklin Roosevelt and his vision for a Second Bill of Rights, which would include the right to health care and economic security for EVERY American.

Passage of the Affordable Health Care for Americans Act will mark a milestone in the long march toward full equality and true democracy for America, of a magnitude equal to passage of Social Security, worker’s rights and civil rights. We are on the verge of taking a giant step toward the culmination of the vision of our founding fathers for a nation where “ALL men are created equal” – not just the privileged few. We are closer now than EVER before, and now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country. Keep up those phone calls, e-mails, talks with neighbors and friends, so that we can deliver the best Christmas present ever to the hard-working people of Missouri. Then we will ring in the New Year with new hope for our future, and move forward once again on passing a clean energy/climate bill that will free us from the tyranny of oil, revive our economy, create millions of green jobs for America, and save the planet for our children and grandchildren in the bargain.

But it’s not time to celebrate yet – dangerous obstacles still remain in our treacherous journey toward progress for America. These obstacles are called Congressional Republicans. These pre-historic creatures are known for acting only on short-sighted self-interest and greed in the service of powerful interests which refuse to relinquish the impunity they have enjoyed over the last six decades, ever since Franklin Roosevelt was brave enough to take them on. FDR gave his life battling right-wing forces in defense of ordinary Americans and the values we treasure.

But the same Republican Party which devoted its obsessive energies in the 1930’s and 40’s to the destruction of the New Deal and wild vilification of the greatest President of the 20th century (dragging him through the mud at every opportunity & calling him “That Man” and “socialist” just for starters) has now turned its fangs onto our new People’s President and the best Democratic Congress we have had in the history of this country. These GOP elites will stop at nothing to derail, delay and defeat EVERY piece of legislation that promises to lift up the working people of America and bring us the dignity that we deserve.

Just this week alone, Republicans in Congress have blocked unemployment benefits for struggling American families, boycotted work on the critical clean energy jobs bill, and launched a loud shrieking frenzy against the health insurance reform act with crazed accusations that reek of their attacks on Social Security in the 30s and Medicare in the 60s. Well, I have a message for the Republican elites in Washington: NOT THIS TIME. We will NOT be distracted, divided and bamboozled by their snake oil again. We have something now that we haven’t had since 1945: a President with true vision, integrity , and purpose, and an organized people’s movement that is FIRED UP AND READY TO GO!

It’s up to us to move forward this broad vision for progress for America. We the People have shown over and over again in our history that when our minds are made up and we stick together, NOTHING can stop us. Not even powerful Republican elites and their corrupt corporate media that enforces cynicism and despair on a daily basis to try to strip us of our purpose and our power. We have come too far, and there is no turning back now. We WILL bring change to America, to build the country that our founders and their descendants Lincoln, Roosevelt, and King knew that we were capable of. There is no obstacle strong enough to withstand the united power of We the People.

When you leave here, I want you to make a pledge to yourself and your neighbors here that you will continue to step up to the plate to defend the gains we have achieved, and to support the bold new initiatives that are essential to get our country on a firm track toward progress. To quote our community-organizer President, “Change does not come from the top down; it comes from the bottom up.” Let’s get ready to start a new chapter in the history of this great country, and become the next greatest generation in the advancement of humanity. Our future is in our hands; it’s time to make it happen.

- Melanie Shouse

RIP Melanie. We will keep fighting for the beautiful vision you shared with us.

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