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From the Far Margins

What can be done


I'm not a fan of pragmatists. Pragmatists live in tiny worlds where hope is dangerous and low expectations are worn like armor. I don't think anyone's heroes were pragmatists. Heroes do what pragmatists say can't be done. That's all. And when heroes succeed, pragmatists get to breathe a momentary sigh of relief and say to themselves, "Well, today I was not disappointed. The world was not uglier than I hoped."

As for the rest of us, we have spent months telling the pragmatists to stick a sock in it because they are making all our volunteers, voters, donors and young activists fall into despair. It's like hope scares pragmatists as much as it inspires dreamers.

I don't like doing extreme things like asking people to go to jail for a cause. It's an ugly thing that can ruin careers and cost jobs, apartments, income, time, relationships and credibility. Some don't see standing in a street, statehouse or in the midst of giant cacti at a nuclear testing facility as heroic. They see it as foolish. I get that. They are realists. We may or may not have called attention to racism or income disparity, or contributed to the end of nuclear weapons testing. We may or may not have gotten the Idaho Legislature to at least act like it is considering including gay and transgender people in Idaho's nondiscrimination laws. But we dared hope it would.

There is pragmatism for self protection and pragmatism for political purposes. America's entrenched two-party system forces lawmakers to focus on winning more than on policy. A person can accept this state of politics as eternal and unchangeable, or one can decide it is unacceptable and work to educate people and change it.

I am one of the 9 million uninsured people who Bernie Sanders talks about. If you're uninsured or struggle financially, these issues are not political. They are personal. So yes, the comfortable might be a little less passionate than the struggling. The old might be a bit more resigned than the young. Hasn't it been this way forever?

I do not have a good enough memory to be a pragmatist. I have a hard time retaining information that might tell me why what I am doing will end in pain or disappointment. This may be why I was surprised when Hillary Clinton disparaged the idea of Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" universal health care system. Her camp maintains it is unrealistic and unattainable in the current political environment for Americans to pay taxes instead of premiums to access health care—as if that environment will not change radically in the next eight years as it did over the past eight years during President Barack Obama's term.

I feel bad for Obama. The health care system called "Obamacare" is not the plan he argued for as a presidential candidate, nor the one he negotiated to get from a then-Democratic Congress. What we have was essentially designed by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. It looks more like his presidential primary opponent's—that is to say, Hillary Clinton's—plan than like our president's because our president strongly advocated for a public option or federal government-sponsored coverage for all those under a certain income.

This is exactly what Republicans in states like Idaho so easily destroyed within "Obamacare" after it passed into law. I have no insurance because the Legislature chooses not to let low-income people have coverage under Medicaid. And because Mitt Romney and all the Democrats and Republicans took money from the insurance industry—and refused to call attention to how much they took when they were debating whether or not to eliminate the insurance industry, partially or wholly, from American health care.

That's what Sanders wants to do: stop that trillion-dollar industry from acting as an inflationary middleman in our system of billing and care.

Clinton, the single largest recipient of insurance industry campaign donations, chooses to be a pragmatist rather than recognizing these donations are the cause of the political reality that will make such a plan, as she says, impossible.

Clinton's statement that we cannot provide health coverage to all citizens, as developed countries do worldwide, was followed by Gloria Steinem telling us that young women want to vote for Sanders because that's where all the guys are. This has been followed by the unreality of questions about Sanders' support for women—as if college debt, medical bills, insurance costs and poverty are not some of the most pressing women's issues of our time. Sanders was lauded for his work on choice and women's issues and was called an "honorary woman" by Steinem 10 years ago, now anyone who votes for him is failing to support women. And we wonder why people refuse to participate in politics because it feels so dirty or pointless.

I participate in politics, I vote and caucus and work for candidates because I will not cede my country to the angry and the hateful. If I give up and do not vote and do not participate, then the greedy grow more powerful and the pragmatists keep themselves safe but destroy the work of the hopeful with their cynicism. I vote and try with every fiber of my being to inspire others because words matter, words like: "Yes. Yes we can."

Nicole LeFavour is an educator, activist, former Boise Weekly reporter, and served in the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate.