Universal healthcare for all Americans, a comprehensive Covid-19 relief program, and raising the minimum wage ‘to a living wage’ are some of the basic necessities that advocate for poor people, Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, called for during the recent virtual conference of the North Carolina Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA). Rev. Dr. Barber, the President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign delivered keynote remarks at the closing session of the NCCHCA conference.
“We must fight to guarantee healthcare for all. This must become a battle. We cannot continue to be a nation that does not provide some form of universal healthcare for all of its citizens and that includes covering pre-existing conditions,” said Rev Dr. Barber, who adopted quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. Rev. Dr. Barber spoke passionately about injustices affecting minorities and poor people in America, ranging from the rights of indigenous people, undocumented migrants, LGBTI rights, migrants, and equal fair taxes. At least 87 million people in American are uninsured or underinsured, Rev. Dr. Barber said.
The United States [of America] is the only country out of the 25 wealthiest nations in the world that does not provide some form of universal healthcare insurance “where healthcare is connected to a person’s humanity and not their job”. He was also disturbed that not a single bill from Congress provided universal healthcare since the start of the pandemic. Yet, corporations have made over two trillion dollars during the pandemic while people have lost billions of dollars and millions of jobs. He was further saddened by the fact that over one million people in North Carolina do not have healthcare insurance even during this pandemic. “Now 500,000 of them could have had healthcare if the Republican legislature had agreed to just expand Medicaid,” he said. Rev. Dr. Barber had a hard time fathoming why even in the midst of a pandemic 32 percent of the North Carolina population cannot afford to pay for clean water.
“In a time where we talk about this need to wash hands and stay clean, we have this ecological issue that we’re facing in this country even prior to the pandemic. Nothing would be more tragic than for us to stop now,” remarked Rev. Dr. Barber.
Spending nearly $800 billion in the war economy is unjustifiable because if that money were cut in half, for example, $350 billion the U.S would still be spending more on war economy compared to China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Russia combined, he said. “If we took 20 percent of that money and put it in our healthcare and education infrastructure, we could fund everything we basically need in the midst of the Covid pandemic. The truth of the matter is we’re putting more money in the war economy to kill than we are money to live,” he said. And still, so many veterans live with low wages and in poverty.
“We have a sickness in society and nothing will be more tragic than for us to stop now,” he said before expressing concern for religious philosophies that encourage only prayer and shouting and those that overlook societal injustices against minorities such as women, and the LGBTI community. He ended his address on a positive note stating that these challenges can be addressed if people unite for a common purpose.
“The issue is not scarcity. We have the resources. It’s the scarcity of will. We cannot continue to be a nation that does not provide some form of universal healthcare for all of its citizens and that includes covering pre-existing conditions. We must raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We have not raised the minimum wage in nine years in this nation. No, no no; there’s no way in the world that corporations are making two trillion dollars in the midst of a pandemic and people are suffering. We must raise the minimum wage. We’re saying to a minimum of $15 an hour initially. That’s what Dr. King asked for and others in 1963. We’re 57 years late. We can do this. It will bolster the economy,” he concluded. The NCCHCA virtual conference took place on April 7, 8, and 9. This year’s theme was “Positioned for purpose: mission and service in 2021”.