de·pop·u·la·tor n. a person or thing, as war or famine, that depopulates.
This word feels appropriate given recent disasters and the current state of the world. Massive earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The tsunami in Indonesia and hurricanes of growing strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Two wars being led by the United States—one against Iraq, one against Afghanistan. When you add perpetual famine and civil wars in Africa, we are already up to a sizable amount of depopulation.
What seems to be shocking is not that depopulators happen, but that we seem to encourage them and to act in ways that only add to the problems when depopulators occur. Indebted countries that don’t have the resources for building infrastructure or planning for natural disasters become further indebted just to meet the basic needs of their citizens, while lending countries thrive. Citizens of wealthier countries, we who can afford it, give money after the fact, but this money is not enough to rebuild, just to provide in the moment so that people do not starve or die from lack of medical attention or access to prescription drugs. Even our act of population, of producing children, in the United States means more depopulation elsewhere. For it is our children who utilize so many resources. It is we who leave the largest footprints. Our needs and desires mean that people in other countries get less.
Today is the vote for healthcare in Congress. One search of “depopulator” leads me to “Obama Depopulation Policy Exposed” on a website called “infowars” run by a man named Alex Jones. The video’s caption explains that panelists “warn of the revival of eugenics under Obama’s modern healthcare through the denial of care to millions who would be judged ‘not fit to live’, just as in Nazi Germany.” Besides the obvious offensive idea that a man who is half African and who has faced racism all his life would institute policies similar to a race genocide in Europe, I wonder if the spread of misinformation and the encouraging of talking points over a real conversation are not other forms of depopulators. Because the truth is that if healthcare is not more accessible in this country, more citizens will die. And the right is doing everything possible to encourage Americans that healthcare options for all will make us all suffer, financially and physically. This is just not an accurate representation of the bills proposed by Congress nor of the ideals of those in power.
I worked for three years at a San Francisco nonprofit that served the city’s poor and homeless. One of our programs was a free medical clinic. Many of the people we served were skilled workers or people with multiple degrees but they were unable to afford health insurance (http://www.soundpartners.org/node/1606). Because of this, so many poor and homeless people do not receive preventative care. This means that when they actually get to a clinic or hospital, their conditions are critical. And they can’t pay. We are paying for people who can’t afford insurance now, but we are paying more than if we would provide preventative care for everyone in this country.
Yesterday, I was taking a walk with a Canadian friend, who has not paid much attention to the debate here. I told her the vote was today. “What’s the big deal? I can’t understand why people don’t want to have universal healthcare,” she said.
“Well, this isn’t even for universal healthcare,” I told her. “It is just to give people who don’t have insurance an option besides through private companies.”
She looked at me, stunned. “That just seems ridiculous to me.”
I am a writer and an educator. I teach adjunct at a local university and community college. I make meager pay, but I do it because I love teaching writing. I am encouraged when students can tap into their own voice and I appreciate being a person who conveys to them that their voice matters. As a writer, I create work that seeks connectivity. In answering questions for myself, I hope to invite others into my journey and have a pseudo conversation with them. However, I do not receive benefits for my work. I currently pay forty-seven dollars a month for a plan that does little more than cover catastrophic or emergency care. I don’t want to be uninsured and my parents don’t want that. So I pay the money, even though I can’t really afford it. But I don’t know how much longer I will be able to. And I don’t know when or if I’ll have a job that offers benefits. I don’t believe that I, or anyone else, should have to do work we are dispassionate about to be healthy. I don’t think we should abandon the work that is important to us so that we are protected in case of accidents or chronic disease.
I think there is an undercurrent of the health care debate that is seldom identified. I wonder how many people who are adamant about opposing health care reform are uninsured. My guess is not many. If people who have continued to obtain jobs and stay in jobs not because they are following their passions or using their gifts but because they are steady jobs with good health insurance, I can imagine that offering healthcare to everyone could engender a bit of bitterness. What if artists, musicians, writers, freelance educators, woodworkers, pottery makers can have insurance that allows them to be well in their body and still produce art? When then did many people stay in their jobs for? What if people who don’t have “real jobs” get the same benefits as them? What if these freeloading lazy artists get to produce their crappy art on the public’s dime? My sense is that people who have not allowed themselves to create may not want to be a part of a program that takes care of artists, who often sacrifice stability and security because they have to produce their work.
Physical depopulation is a dangerous thing. But so is depopulation of the mind and soul. We need to be mindful of starting wars or of turning away from those in our world that are hungry. We also need to be mindful of spreading untruths or of discouraging people from pursuing what is important to them. Through aid, through dialogue, through healthcare for all, and through a genuine attempt at understanding, we can work against depopulators of our community and of the wellness of our community members. We cannot blame the environment or the government for these casualties for they are our responsibility as well.