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Why President Obama Should Not Forget Melanie Shouse

Why President Obama Should Not Forget Melanie Shouse

Last week, President Obama, speaking at a Democratic National Committee fundraising event, mentioned a woman named Melanie Shouse. This is what he said:

I got a letter — I got a note today from one of my staff — they forwarded it to me — from a woman in St. Louis who had been part of our campaign, very active, who had passed away from breast cancer. She didn’t have insurance. She couldn’t afford it, so she had put off having the kind of exams that she needed. And she had fought a tough battle for four years.  All through the campaign she was fighting it, but finally she succumbed to it. And she insisted she’s going to be buried in an Obama t-shirt.

But think about this: She was fighting that whole time not just to get me elected, not even to get herself health insurance, but because she understood that there were others coming behind her who were going to find themselves in the same situation and she didn’t want somebody else going through that same thing. How can I say to her, “You know what?  We’re giving up”?  How can I say to her family, “This is too hard”? How can Democrats on the Hill say, “This is politically too risky”? How can Republicans on the Hill say, “We’re better off just blocking anything from happening”?

I knew Melanie. I live in St. Louis. I met her when I attended my first volunteer meeting for the Obama campaign. Melanie was a slight woman, with cropped hair that was too gray for her young face. At the time that I met her, from the moment you saw her, you could tell she was sick. She was obviously frail. Yet this tiny, frail woman who had been aged beyond her years by sickness and pain was nonetheless one of those rare people who positively vibrate with energy at all times. Melanie radiated enough determination to ignite the instant attention of anyone in a room with her. You didn’t forget Melanie, once you’d met her. Melanie Shouse made an impression.

I don’t know whether he knows it, but President Obama owes Melanie Shouse. Big time. Melanie started a Barack Obama campaign volunteer group in my part of St. Louis County before there was an Obama campaign office here. She did it on her own, because the official state campaign administration was too slow. She did it because she thought Barack Obama was our country’s best hope for achieving real health insurance reform.

While Missouri for Obama was still trying to line up a reliable team of field organizers and figure out how to install internet at extra phone lines at the local union hall, Melanie Shouse was holding pro-Obama meetings in living rooms and parks and coffee shops and teaching her friends and neighbors how to register people to vote. After years of hacking through medical insurance red tape, Melanie wasn’t one to wait around for someone else to get organized. 

So when the state campaign officials finally got themselves straightened out enough to open an office in my neighborhood, Melanie’s volunteers, already partially trained and fully enthusiastic, were among the first to walk in the door. Melanie already had an email list of potential volunteers. Melanie had phone numbers. Melanie had a plan.

And why did she do all this work? It wasn’t to save herself from cancer. Melanie’s health insurance problems had prevented her from seeking immediate care the day she first noticed a lump in her breast.

When Melanie’s breast cancer was finally diagnosed, it was already Stage Four. After her diagnosis — delayed because the only insurance policy she could afford for herself as a small business owner was a catastrophic care policy with a $5,000 deductible — her insurance company denied her necessary treatment on multiple occasions. Her prognosis was grim.

Long before the Obama campaign gathered steam, Melanie Shouse knew she was dying.

She didn’t work so hard on his campaign because she wanted health care reform for herself.

She did it because she didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what she already had. 

After Obama won the election, Melanie kept fighting. She had accounts on Organizing for America, Change.org, The Huffington Post, and Facebook that she used to share information about health insurance problems, refute falsehoods about health care reform legislation, promote health care reform rallies and pass on petitions and lobby legislators. She volunteered for the local chapter of MoveOn.org, speaking at vigils and rallies, confident and inspiring in front of large crowds, always showing up, no matter how sick she felt or how tired she was.

Melanie knew she was dying. She could have spent the last few years of her life focusing on her dream of growing her small business, spending as much time as she could with her family, or reconnecting with old friends. 

But instead she spent almost every spare moment in the last few years of her life trying to change her country for the better, so that other women like her would not have to face death from a treatable, curable disease simply because they could not afford to pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for decent medical care. 

I’m happy that President Obama mentioned Melanie in his speech. I hope he meant every word he said.  If he is to succeed in changing the country for the better, he must not forget her. The Democratic National Committee, and Democrats in Congress, and progressive political activists must not forget her. We must not forget her

It was hope like Melanie’s hope — undying hope in the face of adversity, unselfish hope, not just for our individual selves, but for a better future for all Americans, that Barack Obama tapped into during his campaign to get elected against long odds. Melanie never lost her hope. And in refusing to lose hope, she left us all a gift that should not be refused.

The President, and the Democrats in Congress, must not forget that they did not win the 2008 election.

People like Melanie Shouse won that election. And they deserve nothing less than for the government they elected to fighttooth and nail for what people like Melanie are owed — the better American future they envisioned for us all.

This post, by Jaelithe Judy, who also writes at her personal blog State of Discontent, first appeared on Momocrats.com.

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68 comments

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4:45AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

What a great lady!!!

2:12AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

Roger,
I couldn't agree more regarding top management. However, I think that you are indulging in scaremongering to sabotage what is at least a valid scheme to improve health care by suggesting that it would lead to wide unemployment.
After many, many years of cynical neglect the chances of finding a "perfect" scheme are very remote, especially given the rather low level of intellect displayed by so many of your administrators. Therefore anything is better than nothing. If you wait for a faultless system to which every "authority" will consent you will still be waiting in fifty years' time, and in the meantime thousands and even millions will suffer. Do it now!

7:11AM PST on Feb 10, 2010

Does anyone else think that no president or policy can effect change in our present day climate of "my views...right or wrong...my views"? Does anyone else remember "United We Stand..."?

[Note that I make no reference to individual comments read here or elsewhere; it's just my strong belief.] We are a nation (and world) of Monday morning quarterbacks and everyone is an expert. Whether politics, religion, or high school football games, we "choose up sides" and there is little or no listening or understanding of the other side. Freedom of speech is wonderful...I'm exercising mine now. But true FOP means also listening to the other side and finding seeds of agreement which you can plant and harvest progress.

God Bless Melanie Shouse...and those like her who have genuine causes and work diligently to bring them to light. In the tug of war between the extremes, right and left, nobody seems to notice that the rope in the middle has become tangled around the necks of people whose needs are being argued. When Rhetoric acknowleges Reality, perhaps we can stand a bit closer and positively effect our issues.

3:42AM PST on Feb 10, 2010

Lionel,
I'm not at all concerned about the people in management in the health care or big pharma, the employees I am concerned about are the millions of low level employees that will be affected and add to the current crisis.
Pond scum always floats to the top, as the saying goes, when talking about the management people that are currently denying benefits to millions of people.

12:31AM PST on Feb 10, 2010

Roger,
Sure, but when you are spending billions of dollars stomping around the world, indiscriminately slaughtering thousands of civilians in wildcat military adventures, it seems inappropriate, to say the least, that "financial difficulties" are cited as a cause for inadequate health-care.
As regards employees of insurance and other finance companies, do not bother with them; they are partly responsible for the present Great Depression. Let them suffer as have so many millions worldwide as a result of their ineptitude, greed and stupidity.

7:23PM PST on Feb 9, 2010

health care reform is needed now!!!

4:55PM PST on Feb 9, 2010

Subject: Proposed 28th Amendment to US Constitution


For too long we have been complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that (1) Congress members could retire with the same pay after only one term; (2) that they didn't pay into Social Security; and (3) that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from fear of prosecution for sexual harassment. Congress's latest game is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform Bill that is being considered. Somehow, this doesn't seem logical. We do not have an elite that is above the law.


I truly don't care if members of Congress are Democrat, Republican, independent, liberal, conservative, progressive or whatever. The self-serving must stop. The below listed proposed 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would do that. This is an idea whose time has come.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.?

This is fair, to the point and non-partisan. Who could be against it? Congress, that's who.

3:05PM PST on Feb 9, 2010

We need to come together in the US for health care reform and support good health care for every person in the country. We can afford every electronic gadget, every new fashion fad, every new product on the market, we can afford to take care of people.

12:07PM PST on Feb 9, 2010

So many countries (some a lot poorer than the US) have managed to take care of their citizens medical needs. Although today there is a trend towards less governmental money to cover health and education. (a bit bitter, because that is what is happening in our country, and the rich pay even less in taxes than before, so the heaviest burden falls on the middle class, while the poor just get it worse)

I hope the US could get its act together instead of spreading bad influence around the world.

Still, now is not the time to abandon the rest of the world. Let's not forget that the global recession was mostly Americas fault. Although I was very firmly against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq before they happened, now they're fait accompli, and the US has to stay and take its responsibility in giving the moderate people in those countries control. Drawing all troops at this point would just make all the lives and money poured into the wars count for naught.

9:27AM PST on Feb 9, 2010

thankyou for the article, i hope melanies work wasn`t in vain.

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