SOMETHING IN THE AIR...... Over the past year, Rock A Mole Productions of Los Angeles has conducted a nationwide survey of the conditions of life of musicians in America with the following results:
87% of the musicians surveyed have played a benefit for another musician in a time of health crisis. 96% have had problems obtaining health care. 84% have had problems finding a place to stay or paying the rent.
These figures may seem fairly predictable. The revelation comes when you focus on the benefits musicians do for each other. 29% of all musicians surveyed have participated in or know of 1 to 10 such benefits; 20% have participated in or know of 10 to 25 such benefits; 17% have participated in or know of 25 to 100 such benefits; and 21% have participated in or know of more than 100 such benefits. Rock A Mole estimates that there are over a thousand musician-for-musician benefits in America every week.
This mind-boggling frenzy of activity is a potentially powerful health care movement if the isolated efforts by musicians in every city, in every genre, can be connected.
To help accelerate that process, Rock A Mole and RRC co-sponsored a panel, "No More Benefits," on March 16 at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. Moderated by RRC's Dave Marsh, panelists included musicians (Patty Griffin, Ernie Perez of the Boxing Gandhis, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Detroit's Stew Francke), health care providers (Peyton Wimmer of Austin's Sims Foundation) and activists (Cheri Honkala of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union).
Despite competing with a Courtney Love Q&A in the main ballroom, the panel drew a good crowd and a better discussion. It bounced between horror stories (a young woman from Philadelphia fought back tears as she talked about her brother, a drummer with cystic fibrosis and no insurance) and emphatic declarations that benefits cannot solve the health care crisis, only a universal health care system can do the job.
Nevertheless, the general consensus is that we need to keep holding benefits and using whatever clinics and hospitals will take us in, not just as a stopgap but also as rallying points to organize for a health care delivery system that's about people, not profits.
Toward that end, Rock A Mole proposes to use its web site (www.rockamole.com) as a connecting center for information about benefits nationwide and as a place for touring musicians to find out where they can get whatever health care may be available in a given city.
Pointing out the ideological hurdles in the path of health care reform, Dave Marsh said: "You can talk to almost anyone and they will give you a long list of the fundamental evils of our current health care system. But when you ask them about a single payer system that eliminates the insurance companies, they say, 'That will never work. It's not perfect.'"
To get people's eyes off their shoes, Rock A Mole is promoting the Labor Party's Just Health Care campaign which, while certainly not "perfect," details exactly how universal health care can be paid for without raising taxes on anyone who makes less than $184,000 a year. Just Health Care has been endorsed by voters in non-binding elections in Massachusetts, Florida, and Maine, despite expensive disinformation campaigns by the insurance industry.
It won't be long before musicians in your town hold a benefit for a fallen comrade. They deserve all the support we can offer. But what would happen if, at every one of these shows, artists delivered a message in favor of Just Health Care [www.justhealthcare.org]? What would happen if we openly began using the love surging from those stages to liberate us from the shadow of the insurance industry, to bring us into the bright light of health care for all? At the very least, we would begin to take all this activity to the next level. That's the only real way to take care of our friends and neighbors.