By Shailly Barnes and Dan Jones
Update 10/2/16: Belhaven, “the little town that roared,” recently won a major victory and took a big step closer to getting their hospital re-opened. You can learn more about it here. This is a huge win for the people, black and white, of Belhaven, made part in possible by the energy and momentum generated by The Walk this summer.
Update 1/4/17: Pungo hospital was demolished on December 29, 2016. This is a huge blow for all us, but we want to make sure that Mayor O’Neal and the rest of the people of Belhaven know that we still stand behind them. Read our statement here.
We joined The Walk from NC to DC just outside Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday afternoon. We were the third leg of the Kairos Center’s relay team – Larry Cox and Robert Ascherman started us off on June 1, Adam Barnes and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis took over for them a few days later, and then we stepped in. We had been hearing about all the great people on the Walk, and we were excited to meet them and walk with them for the next 70 miles. It’s an amazing group of people.
This walk is a clear expression of the problems facing our society today, and the kinds of responses that are sorely needed. Around the country and the world, whole communities are being cast aside as though they’re disposable. Closing a hospital in a rural community is in effect saying that those lives aren’t worth the money it takes to keep the facility open. This is morally unacceptable. People have died because of hospital closures, and more will continue to die until our society begins to recognize and realize the human right to health care and all of our other basic rights.
A human right to health care will mean that it isn’t thought of in terms of profitability or even affordability. Instead, we would be talking about the health needs of the 70 million Americans – families, children, veterans, farmers, and more – living in rural communities in this country and figuring out ways to meet those needs. What we’re dealing with right now isn’t a problem of scarcity – we’re able to treat the vast majority of people’s health problems, and have enough equipment, medicine, and personnel. The very best health care in the world is available in the United States, it’s just that it’s only available to those who can afford the ever-increasing cost. The rural health care crisis, like the general health care crisis, is a problem of abandonment in the midst of abundance.
We see this pattern playing out all over the world, in relation to all of our basic needs. There is no morally sound reason for anyone on the planet to be going without food, clean water, education, shelter, or healthcare: there is enough for all of us. All around us we can find the evidence of this shameful contradiction between what is possible today, given the amazing technological leaps made over the last few decades, and the reality of poverty and deprivation our communities are facing. And it’s that gap between an old system based on scarcity, desperately clinging to power, and a new world based on abundance, struggling hard to break through, that makes our moment a kairos moment. It’s a moment of extreme danger and suffering, but also one of new and better possibilities.
The power of this moment is in the people who are standing up, calling out the immorality of the current system and demanding that we seize the opportunities made possible today. These are the people who the Walk has brought together – across race, political party, geography and generation – who are committing our hearts and minds for the new world we know is possible. And while we are walking today for rural hospitals, we all know that this is only the beginning.