By Anh Minh Ta
Bread for the World joined forces with other faith-based organizations for a 23-hour vigil on the Capitol lawn to advocate against the devastating impact of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) – the Senate health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
The vigil began on Wednesday and closes at 3 p.m. today. As a gathering space for the faith community to come together, the vigil included testimonies, stories, and prayers from communities as nearby as Washington, D.C., and as far away as the Lakota Sioux tribe from North Dakota.
Rev. Nancy Neal, interim director of church relations at Bread for the World, opened the vigil with these words:
“As we gather, we call our people, people of faith around the country, to speak up during the most patriotic week of the year, to remind our senators that they took an oath to promote the general welfare and secure blessing of liberty of all Americans, and to demand that they reject any health care bill cutting billions off Medicaid while providing tax credits to the wealthiest amongst us.”
The DC Labor Chorus provided uplifting songs praising God’s love for all. Under the scorching sun, participants kept their signs and their spirits high, as they listened to leaders from multiple faiths share scripture readings and wisdom.
Neal referred to vigil speakers as “truth-tellers.” One of them was Rabbi David Saperstein, former director of the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. He echoed Neal’s sentiment by reminding participants of the work they were here in the Capitol to do. “We are here as well for those who do not have a voice, who is vulnerable and do not have the positions and the privilege and the power to ensure that their voices be heard,” he said.
The mission mentioned by Neal and Saperstein resonated with many. Hannah Evans, legislative representative from Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) was enthusiastic to support the vigil.
“I’m here because I am really fearful for the 23 million people whom will lose their health care if this bill gets passed,” Evans said. “That’s why I’m here, to be loud.”
While most vigil participants learned about the event because they were connected to one of the many organizations involved in putting the event together, others stumbled upon the vigil while on Capitol Hill and decided to join in.
“We need health care for all people in the U.S.,” said Peggy Rainwater, a participant who came to support the vigil as she spotted the signs carried across the street. “I just asked, ‘Is this an event nearby? Can I join you?’” she said. “I think it is critical that we let our elected officials know how we feel.”
The Senate was expected to vote on the BCRA this week. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell postponed the vote until after the Fourth of July recess.
Bread opposes the bill because it significantly caps and cuts Medicaid and also rolls back the Medicaid expansion. The BCRA would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO also reported that 15 million people would to lose their Medicaid by 2026.
Above all the debate about budget and tax credits, for many, health care issues come down to the most basic level – taking care of others.
“There is a saying by prophet Muhammad, ‘a community is like a body. When a part of it is in pain, the whole body responds to that pain,’” said Dr. Sarah Kureshi, one of the first speakers at the vigil. She shared heartfelt stories of her patients, those who have been able to afford health care under Medicaid. “Similarly, when the most marginalized and underprivileged are hurting, forgotten, downtrodden, and neglected, that is our responsibility to respond with love, kindness and empathy, because their pain is our pain.”
The vigil continued throughout the night, as different faith groups participated in two-hour blocks to testify and to pray. Rev. William J. Barber II, a well-known social justice activist from North Carolina, is expected to close out the vigil this afternoon.
Anh Minh Ta is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.