I am a retired family-practice physician currently living in West Virginia — in the same house I left 70 years ago to study for and then to practice my profession.
The 50 years of my medical career started with 28 years in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Foreign Service. I then returned to my home in West Virginia and worked over the past 20 years in vaccine safety research, at our local VA hospital, and briefly in addiction-medicine clinics.
With 12 assignments (including nine in foreign countries), I learned a lot from my foreign friends about what they thought about our country, our political leaders and our people. I also watched how those opinions clearly shifted over the decades since I started my travels.
In the beginning, the phrase “Shining City upon a Hill” seemed to be the best way to describe the enchantment they felt toward America, but, in more recent decades, much of that luster has been lost.
Today, our nation is facing the urgent issues of climate change, politically driven terrorism and disinformation, the rise of autocratic social and political forces in other countries and our own, a global pandemic, health care deficiencies and decisions about how America should create the economy and jobs of the future.
In the past, America showed itself to be a leader in addressing challenging social issues. That is what made us that “Shining City.” But those important changes happened because the political elites were forced to move aside and to respond to the demands of the American people. The majority of Americans support constructive change on issues like voting rights, sustainable energy, immigration and health care, but the political deadlock in Washington, with filibuster-strangled politics, gerrymandered voting districts and big-business funding of political campaigns, has managed to drown out the peoples’ voices.
As a doctor, I am especially concerned about climate change. Extreme weather events are accelerating, overwhelming our ability to cope and to provide care. Organizations representing more than 70% of the physicians in the United States advise that we act quickly to lower greenhouse gas emissions. That will provide tremendous health benefits to West Virginians now, while averting potentially irreversible climate change that will cause tremendous human suffering. Failing to enact strong emissions reductions now would be like diagnosing cancer, and then telling the patient to come back in a year. Our climate and health can’t tolerate gridlock.
This is why democracy reforms are vital, to ensure that all eligible voters can exercise their constitutional right to participate in our democracy and have a voice in the policy decisions that affect their health and well-being. No matter where you live, how rich or poor you are, or what color your skin is, your voice — expressed through your vote — needs to be heard.
That is why I joined more than 500 doctors, nurses and other health professionals from all 50 states in a letter to all U.S. senators of both parties, demanding our representatives take immediate action to pass critical democracy reforms, like the provisions of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. This legislation (if it survives the gridlock in Congress) will expand and protect the public’s access to free and fair elections, rein in corporate polluters’ destructive influence in political decision-making and ensure that our democracy works for everyone.
Our health and our climate depend on a healthy democracy and, right now, the stakes couldn’t be higher. There is a cancer eating away at our democracy, and it’s up to our leaders to be the healers where we cannot.
I urge Congress and, especially, our own Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., (who has already provided excellent support for the Freedom to Vote Act) to do whatever it takes (reform or remove the filibuster, if necessary) to restore a democracy that reflects the voice of the people.
The well-being of our patients, our communities — indeed all of humanity — depends on it.