Nona France doesn’t want your awards. She doesn’t want commendation, she certainly doesn’t want worthless plaques and speeches from the governor. Instead, Nona France wants Iowans to have health care. Sadly, plaques and speeches are all she is getting.
On Sept. 26, France, 67, was among a group of volunteers honored by Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. The ceremony was held at Kirkwood Community College. It’s an annual tradition. The awards honor volunteers who help organizations and agencies achieve their mission. France was nominated for the award because of her napkin project. She created cloth napkins and sold them at New Pioneer Co-op. France donated 100 percent of the profits from the sales to the Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic.
She told me in a phone interview that she was at first surprised by the recognition and that she is proud of the work she has done. But she also feels hopeless in seeing the effects of Gov. Reynolds’ managed care system. France spent her career working as a child psychiatric nurse at the University of Iowa. She has seen firsthand the impact of Gov. Reynolds’ health care policies — the closure of clinics, people unable to afford to see a doctor or buy their prescriptions and the loss of continuity of care for children. “Iowa is in a crisis,” said France, “and it doesn’t seem like the governor cares.”
So, France decided to go to the ceremony because, while she didn’t want the award, she thought it was a moment to speak up — a chance to show the governor how Iowans are hurting. France made a T-shirt. On the front, in multicolored Sharpies, she wrote, “Healthcare is a right not a privilege!” On the back, she wrote, “We really care, do they?”
The back of the shirt is a clear reference to the infamous coat worn by first lady Melania Trump when she visited McAllen, Texas, with the president in October 2018. The coat was an army green and had bold white lettering on the back, which read, “I really don’t care. Do U?”
Critics accused the first lady of sending a callous message about the harmful effects of her husband’s policies, which have imprisoned immigrant children on the border in cages and detention centers. The first lady herself said her jacket was a message “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.”
But France does care, and she cared enough to protest. She put on her shirt and went to the banquet, which she describes as tightly managed and filled with a “bunch of empty words.” Award winners were warned not to bring anything when they met with the governor and were herded through the photo line like cattle. France folded up her award certificate and a letter she had written and printed out and hid them both in her hands.
When it was her turn, she stepped up to the governor and handed them both to her and said, “I am pleased to meet you, but I can’t accept this award and here is why.”
The governor nodded and handed both pieces of paper to Gregg. France doesn’t think she even read the letter. “I think she just wanted me to go away,” said France.
The letter is a powerful indictment of the governor’s policies. France shared the letter with me in an email and it reads, in part: “… during the years that your administration has been governing, Iowans have increasingly lost significant access to affordable, quality healthcare. The strain on providers, hospitals and clinics to provide care is enormous and doors to care are closing for Iowans. Your alignment with for-profit organizations to manage Iowa’s health care systems only serves to fatten companies’ purses and deplete the resources available for Iowans to receive care. You have a lot of power and resources at your disposal to help Iowans receive quality health care, and yet look at what is happening to us here in Iowa. Listen to the anguish in the voices of the elderly, the parents, the family members and the women who can’t pay for the care and medications that they need, and who can’t find health care providers to care for them. Do you have the courage to sit in the waiting room of an emergency room or a free medical clinic and listen to Iowans’ experiences in trying to secure health care for themselves and their families? Perhaps, that would make a difference to you.”
France concludes the letter by asking the governor, “As a nurse and as a volunteer, yes, I really do care, and will you as well?”
France said she’s heard nothing in response. I called the governor’s office about the letter and for comment on the interaction with France, but I didn’t get a response either. And I know the governor’s press officer knows how to reach me; he’s already complained to my boss about me.
This isn’t even a “no comment.” No, this silence is intentional, and it’s something this governor is good at — the tight-lipped smile of a person who’d rather not hear you. The unreturned phone calls of a press officer who’d rather not deal with your questions and doesn’t see you as worthy of taking seriously. This silence is worse than a scream or a denial or a PR spin.
This silence is an erasure of the stories and experiences and pain and struggle of everyday Iowans who are crying out to be heard.
It’s a silence that shouts: I don’t really care. Do U?
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