August 19, 2009

Poets with healthcare

A few years ago when I came Stateside, my father asked me to join him on his weekly indy radio show to talk about the Dutch healthcare system. My father is Tony Garr, a major advocate in Tennessee for healthcare reform. He's one of those advocates who spends his days talking to folks who've lost their care or can't get it, and his nights flying to Washington to talk to politicians about how things could change. He's been doing this work since before I was born. He's also nearing retirement age. These days must feel to him like the last best chance he has to help realize a fair and affordable system for all.

Mark Wallace, a poet I recently met when he and K. Lorraine Graham came though Amsterdam, just blogged French system anecdotes from Paris-based poet Joe Ross. Reading these, and comparing them to my own Dutch experiences (which have also been positive), I began thinking about how many of us Americans out "here" must feel exiled from our homeland in many ways, though of course the state of exile itself is by no means our situation:

1. Love exiles - My friend Martha McDevitt-Pugh began an organization several years ago called Love Exiles, calling attention to the unequal marriage rights in the USA (and elsewhere) for (transnational) queer couples.

2. The Bush years - I left America in September 2000 and watched the country seemingly fall apart from my (safe?) vantage point in Glasgow, first, then Amsterdam. I saw much of the political fire get drained from even my most activist friends; I saw my parents and their friends grapple at the last strings of all they'd fought for in the 60s and 70s (and not just in terms of legal rights, though of course those were threatened - but watching them fight for human kindness, forgiveness, the values that came out of the Civil Rights Movement, etc.).

3. Healthcare - At least in Europe, American "expats" can participate in public healthcare systems that are not only affordable, but also very, very good. In the Netherlands, it is mandatory that every resident have healthcare. I have been very sick here and hospitalized several times; the care I have received has been nothing short of excellent. I would not be covered Stateside, and would be drowning in debt by now.

For me, at least, none of this adds up to any real sense of exile (and by real I mean danger) because when I want to go back to the States, I will. And I'll still be queer, and left and a Crohn's patient. But I wonder to what extent my "freedoms" here in the Netherlands have impacted my abilities to do what I do now: write, begin a literary organization and journal, make a living from texts and translation (and at that, freelancing it). I hate the weather here, but I am in this country's debt.

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