Monday, May 21, 2012

The Scourge of Cancer, the Importance of Protests

It seems that the NATO Summit in Chicago has wound down, meaning that the city streets will again be free from the "scourge" of protestors.

Yes, that's a bit of sarcasm, referencing what I've gleaned as largely derisive sentiments--from news reports and social media--about the Occupy sympathizers and myriad others who have accompanied world leaders on their visit to the Windy City.

Although "the protester" earned recognition as TIME's Person of the Year in 2011, it feels to me that the term is largely being used as an euphemism for "vagrant," "thug" or, at best, "hygiene-challenged hippie who's disrupting normal routine due to envy of the rich."

I think this kind of feeling is needlessly insulting and rather misguided.

While I do not personally know any current protestors, let alone all of them, I am fairly certain that as with any group of people--including both the 1% and the 99%, as well as Republicans and Democrats--among their ranks are people I would like, admire and applaud, and others that I would abhor, disagree with and repudiate.

This dichotomy would also hold true regarding the police, but I have tremendous respect for what they must do and face, such that--albeit still with a disclaimer about possible mitigating circumstances--I'll stipulate that any protester who threatens a cop, causes damage to property or harms another human being (or advocates such) is rightfully deserving of contempt.

But any other protester, who peacefully dedicates time and energy to heightening awareness of a perceived wrong, is entitled to our appreciation, not disdain. And having gone to the National Nurses United rally at Daley Plaza on Friday, where thousands of nurses were accompanied by the great Tom Morello, Tom Hayden and protesters from many organizations in proposing a financial transaction tax that sounds quite sensible to me--and certainly worth at least considering--I never felt even the slightest sense of threat.

Protesters outside President Obama's campaign office in Chicago
Some out-of-town protesters have been sleeping in tents--and they look like it. As a gross generalization, many hardcore protesters more closely resemble fans at a Metallica concert, rather than those who might jam to Dave Matthews...but I have no problem with that. And from small glimpses, "the protester" cuts across gender, race and age rather robustly.

And rather than ridicule them for being "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore," I applaud them.

Because I'm mad, too.

It's been too long since I've had steady employment, and comparatively speaking, I'm lucky. I'm still a ways away from losing my home or being in a truly desperate situation. But I'm plenty pissed off about our state of affairs and what got us here, and anyone who wants to raise their voice in anger or disgust--without otherwise doing any harm except occasionally annoying commuters--is someone I fully endorse.

And while my anger (and conceivably that of many protesters) is--in sound-bite terminology--aimed at "the 1%," I don't have status envy. Though I'm not a fan of conspicuous consumption nor selfishness, I have no hatred of the wealthy. If you work hard and make a lot of money--or even inherited it--more power to you. Enjoy your life and its blessings. 

While "being rich" isn't something to which I acutely aspire, I'd certainly like to make enough money to live comfortably, not only without worry but with some pleasurable indulgences like nice meals and an occasional overseas trip. But I'd want this for everyone else, too, rather than personally having $1 billion while others go hungry (as it's estimated 1 in 6 Americans do).

And when I've made a decent buck, I've paid my fair share of taxes, without griping. When I've owed money, I've paid it back. I'm well underwater on my condo, and paying a mortgage rate I can't lower without a steady job, but so far I've been able to stick with it, thankfully, even if walking away from my mortgage might make more fiscal sense. 

So when people "get mad at the rich," it isn't that (most of them, I presume) want to lead an angry mob up Sheridan Road, it's that we want millionaires to pay taxes at a higher rate, albeit one that will never cause the slightest difference in their lives. It's that we want corrupt Wall Street gamblers who lose all their firm's money to suffer some consequences beyond getting a rebate from the taxpayers. It's that we don't want corporations controlling Congress, especially when they've been bailed out with our money.
The protests aren't about wealth; they're about soulless greed, corruption, criminality and a sense of fairness. 
And if you're wondering what that has to do with NATO, I think any call to action and awareness is a good thing, but more pointedly, after hearing yesterday that Robin Gibb passed away from cancer--which in recent weeks has also taken Donna Summer, Adam Yauch, Levon Helm and thousands of less famous people--I did a bit of internet research.

As you can see above, it is estimated--in Cancer Facts & Figures, by the American Cancer Society--that cancer of all forms will kill over 577,000 people in the United States in 2012.

Regardless of your political persuasion, financial stature, personal beliefs, etc., I think we can all agree on one thing: Cancer Sucks. It's hard to imagine very many people not having at least one relative or friend who has suffered--and possibly even died--from cancer. Talk about a real "scourge."

So I would think it would follow that there'd be common consensus that everything possible should be done to find a cure for cancer, which is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., following only heart disease.

And as published on Wikipedia--as sourced from this 2008 Newsweek article--since President Nixon declared "War on Cancer" in 1971, roughly $200 billion (plus the outlay since 2008) has been spent on cancer research by the government, foundations and companies.

This might sound like a lot of money that's been put toward (so far with scant success) eradicating a disease that has killed--extrapolating the 2012 estimate--over 23 million Americans since 1971.

But consider that in 2012 alone, defense-related expenditures for the U.S. are estimated at more than $1 trillion.

The more narrowly-defined United States "2012 defense budget" of $711 billion is not only well over three times what was spent on cancer research from all sources--over 40 years!--but is more than the annual military expenditures of the next 20 highest-spending countries, combined.

Dare I say--with full deference to the importance of ensuring our security--that perhaps it might be wise to reassess some of our government's budgetary priorities?

According to this study, which provided participants with in-depth information on defense spending, 75% of Americans would elect to reduce the 2013 Defense Budget, "including two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats."

On average, the respondents indicated they would lower defense spending by 23%. If my math is correct--using just the defense budget, not all related expenditures--this would free up about $163 billion in just one year.

Think about all the research into cancer and other deadly diseases that could be funded, let alone better education and so much else to help right the world's economy.

Add to that the $350 billion National Nurses United estimates their proposed Financial Transaction Tax would raise annually, and suddenly--without substantively impinging on anyone's wealth or well-being--things are looking a lot brighter for everyone.

Given that one of the NATO protests was a Healthcare Not Warfare gathering--this one acutely focused on stopping the shutting of mental health clinics as part of Chicago's austerity program--it seems to me that the protesters, and what they're protesting, deserve a bit more respect and consideration, even if their presence happened to be somewhat disruptive and annoying.

Apathy won't cure cancer.

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