Eleven South Carolina residents were arrested this week after participating in an act of civil disobedience against their state’s rejection of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. The progressive activists are modeling themselves after the “Moral Monday” movement in the neighboring North Carolina, calling their protests “Truthful Tuesdays.”
“Truthful Tuesdays” began in January, when South Carolina’s new legislative session began. Like the protests in North Carolina, which sprung up in response to a wide range of attacks perpetrated by the GOP-controlled legislature, Truthful Tuesdays has a broad progressive agenda. Activists are focused on voting rights, public education funding, and Medicaid expansion.
This Tuesday, protesters assembled at the entrance to the South Carolina State House garage. They held signs proclaiming “Expand Medicaid,”
“Morality is not Partisan,” and “SHAME.” Eleven individuals took steps forward to block cars from entering the garage, which is what prompted their arrest. They’ve been charged with misdemeanors, and their court date is set for later this month.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has refused to accept generous federal funds to extend Medicaid coverage to additional low-income people in her state, despite the fact that the expansion of the public insurance program is a central tenet of the health reform law. The fight over Medicaid expansion has been drawn on mostly partisan lines, as Republican lawmakers continue to dig in their heels against Obamacare.
But there are steep consequences to rejecting the expansion. States are losing out on billions of dollars in federal funding, and about 5.8 million impoverished Americans are being left without any access to affordable insurance. Researchers from Harvard recently estimated that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid. The states that won’t expand Medicaid are compromising their residents’ access to everything from HIV treatment to mental health care.
Brett Bursey, the director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, believes that this act of civil disobedience was necessary to draw attention to the dire stakes. “We’re trying to educate enough people in the state as to just the insensitive cruelty of these politicians turning down our own tax money, $1.4 billion this year,” Bursey told the Post and the Courier. “They are killing our neighbors and somebody has to stand up.”
One of the protesters who was arrested, an engineering student named Shawn Crowe, is a self-described “life-long Republican.” But he said that the GOP is making health care into a partisan issue, and pushing for the Medicaid expansion is “the human thing to do.” Another one of the demonstrators was a retired United Methodist pastor, and was handcuffed while wearing his clerical collar.
Bursey says there will be more “Truthful Tuesday” protests in the future. A similar effort is also getting off the ground in Georgia. People of faith, community leaders, and social justice leaders from several Southeastern states have been partnering with the activists who spearheaded North Carolina’s protests to expand the grassroots strategy.
And even outside of the “Moral Monday” movement, Americans across the country are protesting their lawmakers’ decision to reject Medicaid expansion. This type of activism is particularly well-organized in areas like Texas, where forthcoming gubernatorial races are turning Medicaid into an election issue. Pennsylvania activists have also staged their own creative demonstrations, and one man recently confronted Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) to ask him how many more people have to die before he agrees to expand the public insurance program.