Watch Mayor Adam O'Neal on The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann, June 15, 2015 the day The Walk arrived in Washington DC. Fore more, please go to primary website for The Walk 2015: TheWalkDCtoNC.com.
June 1, 2015 | Day 1
by Devon Geary
Twenty-three miles—walking along rural roads, beside fields of gold, barking dogs, old oaks interlacing in the distance. The soreness and ache in my legs renders standing an incredible inconvenience. But the beauty of this place, and the commitment and compassion of these people will rejuvenate our energy for the next fourteen days.
We were greeted in Belhaven this morning by press, and community bearing signs—“save the 283”,“ 283 miles for 283 rural hospitals” and well-wishes for our group. Many Belhaven residents approached us individually to ask our state and voice their appreciation for our effort. One commission member revealed that a 6 million dollar loan is currently available to reopen the hospital. His fellow commissioners are blocking the effort, yet led a failed attempt to vote for the building of a new prison.
Money controls like a puppeteer.
I walked with a husband and wife from Belhaven, likely in their seventies, who had been arrested with others a few months back for “trespassing and loud singing” in the municipal building. On the day of their “offense,” they spent three hours in the basement with their arms tied behind their backs.
Outside the city limits, the fifteen walkers started off, led by Zellner and Oneal.
Nine hours together. The endorphins and eventual physical strain united our diverse group. With vastly different backgrounds, all charismatic and caring—laughter, intensity, peacefulness, encouragement rippled down the line of walkers as topics ranged from politics, NGOs and capitalism to family, magic tricks and future dreams.
My brain and body are fried, but a couple of mental notes:
Mayor Oneal explained: a photograph revealing the nation’s dirty laundry worries politicians little because it’s often exposed to the public briefly. Video coverage of an issue that reappears on the news for two weeks—drawing national attention—causes a ruckus at the capital.
I walked with New York today, an NYU student organizing nationally and internationally—he leaves for South Africa on the 15th and will step onto his NYU campus before the semester begins in order to organize freshman around the issue of student debt. NYU shared the story of a man attempting to organize individuals in a homeless shelter in Detroit. The shelter residents would not listen to his ideas aimed at enacting reform to better their living standards. Finally, the man asked the individuals sleeping in the shelter what problem needed to be addressed. They responded that they were rationed toilet paper; not provided what they needed, their dignity was stripped daily; this injustice demeaned them, degrading their humanity. The organizer listened. He created a movement to demand and eventually effectively campaign for toilet paper. By listening to the people instead of assuming an understanding of their plight, beneficial change was effected—and new issues, chosen by this community, could be tackled with newly established trust.
To increase movement participation, use an escalating tactic: for example, start by asking an individual to attend a letter delivery (“Hey, today a group of us are delivering this letter to this congressman. It will make a powerful statement, do you have ten minutes?”). Next, increase the intensity (“The congressman did not meet our requests; he didn’t even acknowledge his receipt of the letter. Will you join us together to rally on the square?”). This technique strengthens the connection with participants by increasing their connection with the cause. Dipping their toes in the pool of social action expands their consciousness and activity.
The primary website for The Walk 2015 is TheWalkDCtoNC.com.
Small Town Mayor Leads 283-Mile Walk from North Carolina to D.C. June 1-15 to Protest Potential Closing of 283 Rural Hospitals
Conservative Mayor, a Famed Civil Rights Activist & Participants from 11 States Will Walk One Mile for Every Hospital in Jeopardy…
Will Petition Congress from Capitol’s Steps to Act on Rural Healthcare Crisis
BELHAVEN, N.C. In 2015, 283 of America’s rural hospitals face the very real possibly of closing down.
To draw attention to a life or death situation for some 62 million Americans who rely on rural healthcare, The Walk will begin in Belhaven, North Carolina on June 1 and conclude on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on June 15.
The Walk will be led by a most unlikely pair, conservative GOP Mayor Adam O’Neal of Belhaven and Civil Rights legend Bob Zellner, whose purpose is to keep hope alive in the rural town of Belhaven (pop. 1,687) and other small towns across the nation, as well as to encourage Congress to enact legislation to sustain rural hospitals.
On June 1 at 9am EDT, O’Neal, Zellner and supporters representing 11 states will leave Belhaven for a two-week, 283-mile walk to D.C., one mile for every hospital that may be closed, letting people know along the way that possible closures will leave millions in a dangerous and vulnerable position.
Indeed, Belhaven is Ground Zero for the present-day crisis. It was the first rural town in the U.S. to get a hospital under President Truman’s 1947 Hill-Burton Act that established community rural hospitals, and ironically, Belhaven was the first Hill-Burton critical access hospital closed in July 2014.
“All Americans must be made aware of the dire rural health care crisis we face in this country,” said Mayor O’Neal. “Our rural hospitals are just as important as any urban medical center. When hospitals close, emergency rooms close and that means needless deaths -- our children, family members, veterans, and neighbors. We have to stand up for ourselves and The Walk will get Washington’s and the nation's attention,” said O’Neal.
During The Walk, participants will stay in Plymouth, and Ahoskie in N.C., and Courtland, Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Arlington in Virginia, before arriving at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on June 15. Participants will host rallies with the community, as well as meet with local and state officials along the route.
To date, supporters from N.C., S.C., Tx., Ala., Wash., Va., Tenn., Fl., N.Y., Ga., and Calif. will join O’Neal and Zellner with representatives from some 40 states expected at the Capitol on June 1. Also, joining The Walk at the Capitol will be elected officials and prominent dignitaries.
“This is a bipartisan grassroots movement with a single purpose,” added O’Neal. “Imagine having to drive 80 miles to get to an emergency room on a country road? Or, wasting precious time for an ambulance or helicopter? Sadly, we’ve seen multiple, preventable deaths occur for these very reasons.”
Since its hospital closed in 2014, Belhaven has witnessed several deaths that many say could have been prevented had the hospital remained open. Today, the nearest hospital is 30 miles away. In the neighboring county, where none exists, residents must travel some 80 miles for emergency care.
Belhaven is not alone. In a rural East Texas town, an 18-month old died from choking on a grape. The baby was rushed to the nearby hospital, the only one in the entire county, but it was closed and locked. The next nearest hospital was some 21 miles away, but it was too late.
The possibility of a rural hospital closure is more than a health issue. The National Rural Health Association projects in a 2015 study that 36,000 jobs will be lost if the 283 hospitals are closed. Also, rural communities will lose an estimated $10.6 billion in lost GDP if the hospitals are shuttered.
According to a recent Associated Press report, 50 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, with the pace accelerating. iVantage Health Analytics, a firm that works with hospitals, reports that the 283 rural hospitals vulnerable to shutting down are located in 39 states, and that 35 percent of them are operating at a loss. To date, most of the closures have occurred in the South and Midwest. In fact, nearly 70 percent of those at risk are in states that have declined to expand Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, but some experts are not drawing a cause-and-effect correlation, the AP reported.
Adds O’Neal, “We are going backwards with healthcare in America. Hospitals are not like hardware stores; we can’t simply close them and not expect people to be affected. The Walk must start a national debate about the condition of rural hospitals today. This is an American issue, regardless of party or politics. If 283 hospitals close and there are 10 preventable deaths, due to no emergency care services that will almost equal the number of lives lost on 9/11 every year, and every year thereafter. We must demonstrate to lawmakers in D.C. how we the people can cross party lines to work on this vital issue.”
The Walk began on July 14, 2014 (to the 28th) when Zellner and O’Neal walked 273 miles to D.C. as the result of the death of 48-year-old Portia Gibbs. She had suffered a heart attack and died after waiting - one-hour, in the back of ambulance, in a high school parking lot - for a medical helicopter to arrive. She could have been at Belhaven hospital in less than 30 minutes, had it not closed just six days earlier. For details on The Walk, visit: http://thewalknctodc.com
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SCHEDULE:Monday, June 1 | Belhaven, NC
Kickoff at 8:30 am at Belhaven's Pungo Hospital Public Docks, Wynne’s GutTuesday June 2 | Plymouth, NC (20 miles in 1 day )Lunch location TBA, possibly with Plymouth mayor)Wednesday-Thursday June 3-4 | Ahoskie, NC (45 miles in 2 days)Lunch location TBA
Friday- Saturday, June 5-6 | Franklin, VA (40 miles in 2 days)Lunch location TBA
Sunday-Monday, June 7-8 | Petersberg, VA (40 miles in 2 days)Lunch at Croaker's Spot
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 9-10 | Richmond, VA (40 miles in 2 days)Lunch/rally at the Capitol at the Bell Tower
Thursday, June 11 | Mechanicsville, VA (40 miles in 2 days)Lunch location TBA
Friday, June 12 | Bowling Green, VA/Fredericksburg, VA (20 miles in 1 day)Lunch location TBASaturday, June 13 | Stafford, VA (20 miles in 1 day)Lunch location TBA
Sunday, June 14 | Woodbridge/Alexandria, VA (20 miles in 1 day)Lunch TBA
Monday, June 15 | Washington, DC (8 miles in 1 day)
Rally, Lobby Day TBA