March 29, 2003

A Protest of One
Anti-War, Anti-Saddam, Pro Troops

I was involved in my first anti-war protest yesterday. It started innocently enough. I had no prior plans to publicly voice my concerns. It seemingly came out of nowhere. While activists formed human chains across 14th and Pennsylvania yesterday morning (a block from the White House), my protest occurred in the early evening at my local CVS drugstore.

Two weeks ago I had a root canal. At the time, I was effusive about the whole affair. It was one of the best dental experiences I had ever had (I still stand behind that). But in the past week I’ve come to discover I have a zombie tooth. It’s dead, but it’s alive. Last week the pain returned. How a dead tooth could still give me pain was the subject of two post-canal endodontist visits. They have their theories. The human body seems to have a mind of its own. And, like geopolitics, things are often not black and white.

The dentist noticed my tooth had erupted, that is moved down a bit and was now rubbing against my lower molar. The tooth wasn’t being given a chance to “settle down” after the procedure. So, he grounded it down and gave me a prescription for an industrial-strength anti-inflammatory. I stood waiting at the pharmacy when the cashier called my name.

“Mr. Gates, you will need a pre-authorization from your insurance company to fill this prescription. Your doctor will have to call Blue Cross.” It was 6:45 on a Friday evening. I wouldn’t say I had a fit. No, it was a measured response. “What do you mean I need a pre-authorization? I have Federal Blue Cross. I’ve never had to have this before,” I said with the same type of conviction President Bush emotes when talking about toppling Saddam.

“People are often surprised,” she responded. “So much so, we’ve printed out an instruction sheet with the phone number your dentist needs to call.” “It’s Friday evening. What am I supposed to do for the next two days?” She informed me the prescription could be filled but I would have to pay for it out-of-pocket until this could be resolved ($51 for seven tablets).

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back (are there camels in Iraq?). A Federal worker in pain (and, I might add, in the grips of my first massive allergy assault of the spring) is not a pretty sight. I took a deep breath and clearly stated: “The government is spending billions of dollars in a war I am having trouble accepting. Our young men are dying and the Feds refuse to co-pay for my medicine?!”

True, the connection was dubious. But days of questioning and trying to find a place to stand had simply taken their toll. I protested. With restraint, but with no doubts. The pharmacist leaned forward and said he understood. I peppered my words with I’m sorrys and with all due respects. The cashier wasn’t sure how to react. Luckily, the place was virtually empty. This was between me and the staff.

I stood there while they filled my order. The cashier’s young co-worker took a swig of her Coke and innocently queried me on how the war was going. “Have you been watching TV?” she asked. “I’m the last person you want to ask. You don’t want to know my opinion. You don’t want to know,” I replied.

• • •

Anti-War, Anti-Saddam, Pro Troops

I viewed the Al Jazeera video of our dead American soldiers the other day. It wasn’t as gory as one might have anticipated. Yet, I was deeply moved by watching it. All along I have felt compassionate about the lives of our troops. In this war of words very few would argue that all Americans are thinking about those of us who are fighting in Iraq and the sacrifices they are making.

That being said, I’m disturbed by the way conservatives (compassionate and otherwise) have succeeded in repositioning the anti- and pro-war dialogue. In an effort to do a little repositioning of my own I have created another set of graphics, Anti-War, Anti-Saddam, Pro Troops. Please feel free to use these on your own site if you wish.

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