Why I sat in: The fight for Chicago's mental health clinics

Nov 29 2011
Marcia Rothenberg

On November 15, 2011, I participated with people from Southside Working Together for Power (STOP) in a sit-in at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office against the closing and privatization of the city’s mental health and regular clinics. The plan for the clinics was part of the mayor’s budget, which was scheduled for a vote in the City Council on November 16. The budget was subsequently approved with no dissenting vote.

Six mental health clinics, primarily in black and Latino neighborhoods, are to be closed; all other clinics are to be privatized, according to the mayor’s, and now the City Council’s, plan. Besides the racism implicit in the closings, besides the disregard for the welfare of some of our neediest fellow citizens, there is the irrationality of ignoring the increasing numbers of people suffering the stress of lost jobs and homes, as well as the trauma of war and of life on the street. Besides the inhumanity, there is the danger to society of people who are mentally ill having to cope with their misery without professional help.

About half of the people who sat in were patients who use the mental health clinics. They told stories of attempted suicide and depression, and of how they were helped back on their feet by the treatment they received. Where will they get their medicine, they ask. What will happen to their relationships with their doctors?

These courageous people will not give up without a fight. So I joined their fight—because it is also mine.

I am a retired nurse. I used to work at Cook County Hospital in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program. I knew that without that program many people without insurance would not be able to get Pap smears or mammograms. I knew then and know now the importance of universal health coverage, which is why I have been active since the 90’s in working for a single-payer system which will cover everyone and which will have nothing to do with profit making. I have the good fortune to be covered by Medicare; it should be expanded to cover everyone.

Under single-payer Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, there would be no cuts in desperately needed services, but rather an expansion of all necessary services to everyone.

Meanwhile, those of us who are fighting for that system of health care need to participate in struggles to keep the safety net we have.

More information on the fight to save our mental health and other clinics is available on STOP’s web site.

Marcia Rothenberg, RN, is a member of ISPC Chicago Group, and works regularly with STOP.

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