On December 17, 2014, Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont recommended against the implementation of a universal health program for the state. Since 2011, when the Vermont Legislature passed it and Governor Shumlin signed it into law, community leaders, grassroots groups, and healthcare justice advocates have been inspired and energized by the healthcare is a human right legislation in VT and the movement that has fought for it. That law, Act 48, passed after a sustained grassroots campaign led by the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) and other groups, committed Vermont to a universal, publicly-financed healthcare system and required the Governor to develop a plan to finance it.
People vowed to support and promote the country’s first healthcare system designed to provide care as a public good and to pay for that care in an equitable and just way. Yet for years Vermonters have been kept waiting as the Administration has delayed putting anything up for public discussion and debate. In December, when he was finally forced to release a plan, the Governor announced that, “In my judgment, now is not the right time to ask our Legislature to take the step of passing a financial plan for Green Mountain Care.”

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Members of the Vermont Workers' Center burned their healthcare bills in protest after Gov. Shumlin's announcement.
This statement—on the part of a governor who was elected on a platform of universal healthcare—is perhaps most curious and deplorable in the words, “now is not the right time.” These words remind me of generations upon generations of dispossessed and oppressed people who have been told by those who uphold the status quo to be patient, to endure more hardship, to suffer quietly, to make more sacrifices. They remind me of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his book Why We Can’t Wait about the Birmingham campaign where he writes: “The words ‘bad timing’ came to be ghosts haunting our every move in Birmingham. Yet people who used this argument were ignorant of the background of our planning…they did not realize that it was ridiculous to speak of timing when the clock of history showed that the Negro had already suffered one hundred years of delay.”
I searched the English Standard Version of the Bible for the English word, “Time” looking for a biblical view on “right time”, “appointed time”, and timing in general and found 678 verses. These included: Ex. 13:14 “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.”; 1Sam. 1:20 “And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the LORD.”; Psa. 75:2 “At the set time that I appoint, I will judge with equity.”; Psa. 106:3, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!”; Psa. 119:126, “It is time for the LORD to act, for your law has been broken.”; Is. 42:14, “For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.”; and Is. 42:23 “Who among you will give ear to this, will attend and listen for the time to come?”
Just in these few biblical references, a biblical approach to time, what to do in the face of injustice, and how to read the signs of our times emerges. We see how God sets aside all time to do justice, that the God of Israel is the God who led the people out of slavery and injustice and that we are admonished to remember that God is on the side of the poor and downtrodden throughout time and generations. We learn that prophets are born throughout the ages, in times when they are desperately needed, to study and understand the situation in which they are living and to provide leadership and direction. In these passages, the people are co-creators with God, asked to honor and worship God by working for justice and equality for everyone. When we do the right thing and practice justice and righteousness, God blesses us. But by receiving this blessing, we are given a big responsibility: We must be ready to work for justice, to no longer restrain ourselves, to hold the peace no more but instead to decisively and powerfully raise our voices and move our bodies in the fight for human dignity.

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VWC organized a sit-in at the state legislatures chambers at the opening of the 2015 legislative session. 29 people were arrested.
In Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. King continues about this issue of time, God, and social change:

“Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

As we all know, the time is right for universal health care in Vermont and across the whole United States.
All over the country, people are denied our basic human right to healthcare. Dozens of state governments have refused Medicaid expansion, including North Carolina. In a North Carolina NAACP press release from last week, Rev. Dr. William Barber wrote: “Over 500,000 poor and working poor North Carolinians would benefit from access to expanded medical insurance. Over 340,000 are white; over 140,000 are black and other people of color. The U.S. government would pay for 100% of the expanded insurance for the first three years and 90% of it until 2022. Hospitals — especially rural ones — would be sustained and saved. Thousands of jobs would be created… Studies point out that anywhere from 1,400 to 2,800 North Carolinians, who would be alive today with the Medicaid expansion program, have already died.”
These stories and statistics remind me of another statement about the “kairos” time we are living in from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his book Trumpet of Conscience:

“There is nothing wrong with a traffic law which says you have to stop for a red light. But when a fire is raging, the fire truck goes right through that red light, and normal traffic had better get out of its way. Or, when a man is bleeding to death, the ambulance goes through those red lights at top speed. There is a fire raging now for the Negroes and the poor of this society. They are living in tragic conditions because of the terrible economic injustices that keep them locked in as an “underclass,” as the sociologists are now calling it. Disinherited people all over the world are bleeding to death from deep social and economic wounds. They need brigades of ambulance drivers who will have to ignore the red lights of the present system until the emergency is solved.”

Dr. King called for a Poor People’s Campaign to sound the alarm on the crisis of poverty, racism and militarism in his last years. He developed his concepts for this Poor People’s Campaign in the Trumpet of Conscience; he continues:

“Massive civil disobedience is a strategy for social change which is at least as forceful as an ambulance with its siren on full. In the past ten years, nonviolent civil disobedience has made a great deal of history, especially in the Southern United States. When we and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference went to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, we had decided to take action on the matter of integrated public accommodations. We went knowing that the Civil Rights Commission had written powerful documents calling for change, calling for the very rights we were demanding. But nobody did anything about the Commission’s report. Nothing was done until we acted on these very issues, and demonstrated before the court of world opinion the urgent need for change. It was the same story with voting rights. The Civil Rights Commission, three years before we went to Selma, had recommended the changes we started marching for, but nothing was done until, in 1965, we created a crisis the nation couldn’t ignore. Without violence, we totally disrupted the system, the lifestyle of Birmingham, and then of Selma, with their unjust and unconstitutional laws. Our Birmingham struggle came to its dramatic climax when some 3,500 demonstrators virtually filled every jail in that city and surrounding communities, and some 4,000 more continued to march and demonstrate nonviolently. The city knew then in terms that were crystal clear that Birmingham could no longer continue to function until the demands of the Negro community were met. The same kind of dramatic crisis was created in Selma two years later. The result on the national scene was the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act, as President and Congress responded to the drama and the creative tension generated by the carefully planned demonstrations.
Of course, by now it is obvious that new laws are not enough. The emergency we now face is economic, and it is a desperate and worsening situation. For the 35 million poor people in America—not even to mention, just yet, the poor in the other nations—there is a kind of strangulation in the air. In our society it is murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist. You are in a real way depriving him of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, denying in his case the very creed of his society. Now, millions of people are being strangled that way. The problem is international in scope. And it is getting worse, as the gap between the poor and the ‘affluent society’ increases.”

So what is demanded of us in these times? Just as in the 1960s, today in the 21st century we need to continue, through nonviolent mobilization and direct action, to underscore the urgency of the needs and demands of those most impacted by the injustices we’re facing. We need to continue to develop leaders and wage campaigns that challenge the prevailing conditions and point to the kind of social transformation we need to truly put people first. We need to make connections across issue and geography. We need to wage a battle for hearts and minds that is rooted in deep moral and rights-based values. We cannot wait for those who uphold the status quo to determine the right time. We cannot look to the people in power for the kind of change we all need. We cannot believe that one law or program is enough. We cannot be fooled into believing that those benefiting from our poverty and oppression will end it for us. We must take up the call of Rev. Dr. King in 1967 to bring the poor together across race, creed, and place and truly combat racism, economic exploitation and militarism (and in these times ecological devastation as well). We must see the role of the poor in history. We must build a new Poor People’s Campaign for today!
We need ambulance drivers. Please sign up now!