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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Seattle activist Kami Bodily talks about health care reform, Obama, and teabaggers
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Seattle activist Kami Bodily talks about health care reform, Obama, and teabaggers

Witnesses signing of historic health care bill by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle activist Kami Bodily - in Washington, D.C. for the signing of the historic healthcare reform bill - has vivid memories of the experience.

"We had less than 12 hours' notice when we flew back for the signing," she told SGN in an exclusive interview. "We got into D.C. at 6:30 in the morning and we went straight to the White House for the signing at 8:00."

"We" included Bodily, 11-year-old Marcellas Owens, who became the star witness in Congressional hearings on the bill, his family, and other activists from the Seattle area.

"No sleep," she shakes her head. "It was quite a painful experience."

Although she says she was exhausted by the time the signing ceremony in the Oval Office concluded, Bodily recounts all the details of her experience with obvious enthusiasm.

"When we met [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, he noticed Marcellas' tie was a little crooked so he bent down to straighten it. And then he kind of looked at it like this," she says, cocking her head and squinting one eye, "and he said, 'Come over here. Take off that tie.' And then he showed Marcellas how to tie a tie."

"It was so magical, so beautiful," she smiles.

At the signing ceremony, Owens took his place just behind President Obama's desk, while Bodily stood toward the back of the Oval Office "right next to this bust of Martin Luther King."

"I thought about how much this was like the civil rights movement," she recalls. "It was amazing. But I also thought about Marcellas's mom and all the other people who'd died, so it was a mix of emotions."

"There are millions of people gone - dead - not coming back. Marcellas isn't getting his mom back. But what we can do is to keep this from happening again," she continues.

"That's what President Obama said at the signing. He said we can celebrate now, but we have a long way to go. We have to educate people to counteract the misinformation put out by corporations."

After the ceremony, Owens, Bodily, and other guests had a chance to chat briefly with the president.

"We talked to him about Capitol Hill," Bodily says. "You know, he used to live in a house on 13th [AVENUE] when he was a baby. We made a copy of an old photo of him and his mom in front of that house and Marcellas gave it to the president."

"He said, 'Thanks for using that photo. I remember another one where I was quite bare,'" Bodily chuckles.

"Then, after a few minutes, they showed us out. We had to leave because the prime minister of Israel [Netanyahu] was scheduled to come to the White House right after us."

After the signing, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) took the group to lunch in the Congressional Dining Room.

They also met with Washington Senator Patty Murray - "She told us to keep strong and keeping working on this," Bodily says - and California Senator Barbara Boxer.

Bodily says she is committed to health care reform because of her own personal experience with the U.S. health care system. Her mother died from lupus - an auto-immune disease - at 40 years old. Bodily also has the disease.

"I'm in pain and in bed a lot," she explains. "I have chronic fatigue from the cortisone. I am living to do this because I spent so many years sick in bed and I really don't think I'll be here much longer. There's so much that needs to be done and I've gotta do it before I die."

Asked if she currently has health insurance, Bodily shrugs.

"Medicaid," she says, pulling the card out of her wallet. "I finally won SSI [Supplemental Security income] benefits after nine years of fighting."

"I had Primera Blue Cross," she continues. "It was very good insurance."

Her father provided insurance for her and the employees of his business, she explains.

"Then my dad was late on one payment - and thank God dad helped me out, because without that I would have been homeless on the street. So my dad was late with a payment and we had to reapply even though I was on it for 15 years. They wouldn't take me back because I had a pre-existing condition."

"The abuse by insurance companies is too much, just too much!" she exclaims, thinking back on her fight to replace her lapsed insurance.

"They lost half the forms! I was sick and in the hospital and they made me re-do all the forms. And I still didn't get the insurance!"

Bodily has little patience for the insurance industry, or for "tea party" opponents of health care reform.

"They were still in town when we went for the signing," she remembers. "They were very, very angry."

"Tea baggers!" Bodily grimaces. "It's insane. It's not right. You know, they dropped $400 or $600 a night on their hotel rooms. And they say they can't pay for sick people to get insurance?"

"They treated us bad when we went down to Olympia, too - to testify against cutting medical services for kids," she adds. "We had a lot of African American kids and Hispanic kids - so we had little box lunches for them and the tea baggers were chanting 'no free lunch, no free lunch.' It was awful!"

For Bodily, it brought to mind the nine years she spent as an AIDS prevention counselor in Idaho.

"It was like living with the Taliban," she recalls. "I couldn't even say anything about condoms. They wouldn't allow it."

"Everybody talked about less government. Less government? Less taxes? If it wasn't for the government, that place would blow away! Try no farm subsidies. No Bureau of Land Management. No reclamation&."

Bodily does not take credit for her own part in healthcare reform. Instead she credits testimony from the many individuals who were able to put human faces on America's healthcare crisis.

"The personal stories I feel were the tipping point. The stories of people struggling against horrendous odds because insurance companies became so greedy, and they couldn't stop."

"Who made it happen? Lots of people," she continues. "HCAN [Health Care for America Now, the activist coalition at the center of the reform movement]. The White House. It was not just me, it was not just Marcellas. It was all of us. There were hundreds behind us and millions behind them."

"And we're not done yet," she adds.

"Be patient," Bodily says. "As the dust settles, we have a wonderful chance. We can pick and choose what we want. We can get a public option. Come to the table and let's get this done for all people."

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