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2014-03-20

Georgia Activists Confront GOP Rejection of Medicaid as Moral Mondays Spread Across South

Guests

Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, serves as senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. On Tuesday, he was among the 39 protesters arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience as part of the Moral Monday Georgia movement.

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"Medicaid expansion now!" was the rallying cry this week of a rising grassroots movement spreading across the South. Nearly 40 people were arrested at the Georgia State Senate on Tuesday protesting a bill that would bar the expansion of Medicaid. Georgia has the fifth-highest number of uninsured people of any state in the country. Under the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 650,000 additional residents would be eligible for Medicaid. But Georgia is one of a number of Republican-led states that have opted out of such Medicaid expansion. The protest at the Georgia State Senate was the largest to date by Moral Monday Georgia, an outgrowth of the Moral Monday movement that began in North Carolina. We are joined by Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Warnock was among the protesters arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience on Tuesday. "Dr. King said that the time comes when silence is betrayal," Rev. Warnock says. "That time is now. The issue is affordable healthcare for all in the richest country in the world."

Image Credit: Moral Monday Georgia

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn right now to Atlanta, Georgia.

MORAL MONDAY GEORGIA PROTESTERS: Medicaid expansion now! Medicaid expansion now! Medicaid expansion now! Medicaid expansion now! Medicaid expansion now! Medicaid expansion now!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: "Medicaid expansion now!" That was the rallying cry this week of a rising grassroots movement that is spreading across the South. The protest at the Georgia State Senate was the largest to date by Moral Monday Georgia, an outgrowth of the Moral Monday movement that has staged regular rallies against state Republicans in North Carolina since last April.

At Tuesday’s action in Atlanta, nearly 40 people were arrested protesting a bill that would bar the expansion of Medicaid. Georgia has the fifth-highest number of uninsured people of any state in the country. Under the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 650,000 additional residents in Georgia would be eligible for Medicaid, but the state is one of a number of Republican-led states that have opted out of such Medicaid expansion. Moral Monday protests have taken place at the Georgia State Capitol since January.

MORAL MONDAY GEORGIA PROTESTERS: [singing] Glory, glory, we need healthcare. Glory, glory, we need healthcare. Glory, glory, we need healthcare. Tell Governor Deal today.

AMY GOODMAN: In a similar protest in South Carolina, 17 members of a Truthful Tuesday coalition were arrested outside the state House in Columbia. It was the group’s largest action, bringing its total arrests to 39 over the last three weeks.

Well, for more, we’re going back to Atlanta, Georgia, where we’re joined by Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, who serves as senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On Tuesday, he was among the 39 protesters arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience as part of the Moral Monday Georgia movement. Warnock is the author of The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness.

Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about why you got arrested this week.

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Thank you so much, Amy. It’s great to be here with you.

This is a critical moment in Georgia politics, and, really, in the history of our country. I would submit that not since Brown v. Board of Education have we seen the kind of obstruction that we’ve witnessed, not only in the state of Georgia, but across the country, in the wake of a decision made at the federal level. Not since 1954 have we seen a federal decision made that would give ordinary American citizens access to the fruits and benefits of our great democracy, and in the wake of it, we witness a Southern governor stand, if you will, in the doorway and say, "Yes, the president may have signed it. The Congress may have passed it. The Supreme Court may have upheld it. We’ve tried to repeal it some 50 times in the U.S. Congress, to no avail. We will not comply with the law. We will not expand Medicaid." This is a critical time, and people, regardless of their political persuasion, ought to be very concerned.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And why do you feel that the issue of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid is so important to risk being arrested for in your state?

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Oh, it was a small price to pay, and it’s part of our ongoing effort to continue to point to this issue, to shine a bright light on this problem. Dr. King, who was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, said that of all the injustices, inequality in healthcare is the most shocking and the most inhumane. I agree with that. And so, it was a small price to pay to be handcuffed for a few hours.

We were trying to dramatize the fact that there are a number of people, some 600,000 Georgians and more, who are handcuffed to poverty, who could find a way from poverty to the middle class if they could be allayed of the fears and concerns of going to work every day without healthcare. I mean, this is—it’s quite ironic when you think about the push, if you will, of the GOP, the emphasis on work and the ethics of work and the dignity of work. People really need to understand that when we’re talking about expanding Medicaid, we are really talking about, in this instance, the working poor. These are people who go to work every day. We see them. They clean floors in office buildings. They sit with other sick people who have healthcare. But they have jobs which, based on their classification, do not provide them with healthcare. And so, they cannot afford to sign up for an insurance health plan, and at the same time they’re not quite poor enough to get Medicaid as the formula currently stands.

This was an effort to provide Medicaid, to provide health insurance, to some 650,000 Georgians. Georgia has the fifth-highest level of uninsured persons in the nation. We are witnessing, in this very moment, the closing of a number of rural hospitals. And so, while this issue is tragically and unfortunately racialized, often by those who are pushing against the Affordable Care Act, the fact is, it crosses racial lines. It moves from urban to rural issues. There are a lot of people who are suffering as a result of this. And so, we felt that it was important to continue to emphasize the need to expand Medicaid. Dr. King said that the time comes when silence is betrayal. That time is now. The issue is affordable healthcare for all in the richest country in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Republican Georgia State Senator Judson Hill lauded Governor Nathan Deal’s decision not to expand Medicaid. Hill likened the federal government’s lobbying for Medicaid expansion to the sales tactics used by car salesmen. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hill said the Obama administration is making, quote, "a troubled program less solvent" on the backs of the country’s needy and low-income population. Hill went on to say Medicaid is already failing its patients, and any expansion will make it worse. He said, quote, "It is not the lifeline, as some project. This is a bill that Georgia and America cannot afford." I wanted to get your response to that. And just to be clear, the 600,000 people you’re talking about, Reverend Warnock, 100 percent of this bill would be paid by the federal government, is that right?

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: That’s correct. And we witnessed just a campaign to misinform the public. And when that hasn’t worked, now we’re at a point where we’re saying, "Well, we won’t comply to the law."

So, yes, the federal government will cover 100 percent of this expansion. And so, when you think about the argument on the other side, it’s really difficult to wrap your head around it. The argument is that Georgia cannot afford a program of Medicaid expansion in which the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost until 2017, when it will drop then to 90 percent. And so, then, permanently, the federal government will cover at least 90 percent of the cost. It would mean about a 1 percent increase in Georgia’s total budget over 10 years, about $2.1 billion. And for that investment in our citizens, we would reap $14 billion in federal funding over five years. It’s calculated that it would generate about $65 billion in economic activity, 56,000 new jobs. That’s an incredible investment, or return for a very small investment. The truth is, we cannot afford not to expand Medicaid in the state of Georgia, while our hospitals are closing and while our people are hurting. We would get the increase—the increase in revenue would help cover this modest 1 percent increase in terms of our investment in this program.

And the idea that the federal government is somehow lying, we cannot trust that they will do what they say they will do, I mean, it shows you the level at which people are willing to go to obstruct this program. Clearly, the issue is not fiscal. This is a political calculation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend Warnock—

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Getting in the way of "Obamacare" is a part of the playbook for the midterm elections. And people are clearly willing to throw down the gauntlet to protect our own power, in this case, tragically, at the expense of their own citizens. The death panels have already met. And that death panel was the Georgia Legislature, that got together the other day and decided that it would wrest authority away from the governor to expand Medicaid to ensure that it never happens, and then passed a bill that would criminalize the passing on of credible information by state employees to help people to enroll in Medicaid. It is—if the governor signs the other bill that was passed by our Legislature the other day, it will be a crime for a state employee to tell ordinary citizens how to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. We’re at a new low and a scary time in our history.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Reverend Warnock, your Moral Monday protests are part of protests that are scattering—that are spreading across the South on these social and economic issues, in a region that’s more commonly seen as the most conservative region, perhaps, in the entire country. What is your expectation of the impact of the movement in Georgia and some of the other states in terms of turning the tide on some of these issues?

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Well, I am thrilled, as a faith leader, that this campaign is called Moral Mondays. And the NAACP has demonstrated incredible leadership with pulling us together. I’m grateful for the leadership of outstanding people, like my colleague, the Reverend William Barber in North Carolina, who has generated much activity and has organized a lot of people, not only around this issue, but a host of other issues.

What we so desperately need in this moment is for other faith leaders, particularly, to stand up. Unfortunately, over the last couple of decades, the most prominent and loudest voices often coming from the Christian church and coming from the faith community have been reactionary, deeply conservative. And as I watch state legislators who attend church every Sunday pass a bill to make it a crime to help people sign up for healthcare, I wonder where do they go to church every Sunday? Who is their pastor, and who is their god? And so, we need an alternative vision that pulls together people of faith, pulls together people who are outside of the faith community, labor unions, people who are concerned about the working poor, the nonworking poor. We are stronger when we come together.

And I think the Moral Mondays movement embodies what our vision of America is: the beloved community, that brings us together rather than divides us, helps us to see that we are stronger together, that Dr. King was correct, that we are tied in a single garment of destiny, caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality. What affects one directly affects all indirectly. None of us are well served when people are without healthcare in a nation that certainly can provide it. Through this kind of cynical, political maneuvering, we’re actually squeezing Georgia’s economy when we have available to us a tool for helping to stimulate the economy, create more jobs and move people towards what we all want—

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Warnock—

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: —and that is for people to be increasingly self-sufficient and dignified in their work.

AMY GOODMAN: We have less than a minute, but if you could just comment—

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —on the Stand Your Ground law that was just passed that also involves bringing guns into churches?

REV. DR. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Yes, Georgia is certainly a gun-friendly state, but the gun lobby certainly feels that we’re not friendly enough. And so, another terrible bill that passed—really, you ought to call it the "guns everywhere" bill—calls for guns in bars. It was on—it did include university campuses, but the university presidents said they didn’t want it. But it includes guns in churches. And no denomination, no bishops, no faith counsel has gathered in this state to say that what we really need is the ability to carry guns to church. And so, this is the politics of fear and division. America can do better than this. Georgia is better than this.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Raphael Warnock, we thank you so much for being with us, serves as senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the 39 people arrested this week for nonviolent civil disobedience as part of the Moral Monday Georgia movement. Dr. Warnock is the author of The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to Colorado to find out about developments in the shortage of lethal injection drugs used to execute prisoners. Stay with us.

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