Thank you University of Washington Continuing Nursing Education for the opportunity to share my ZOOM videotaped thoughts on all things nursing advocacy, activism, civic engagement and voting. And I meant what I said towards the end of my remarks: my nursing students give me great hope for our collective future. Most of them already understand the importance of this, are doing this work, and are keen to hone their advocacy, activism, and civic engagement skills. I’d also add here that we need to stand up against voter suppression and intimidation.
Note: The following is a letter from eight past presidents of the American Nurses Association in support and endorsement of Biden-Harris in the 2020 election. It was shared with me today by past ANA president, Virginia Trotter Betts who asked that I share it widely. Nurses, nursing students, and everyone whose lives have been/are/will be impacted by a nurse need to read this. And vote for Biden-Harris in the November election.
Open Letter from American Nurses Association Past Presidents as signed below
The 2020 presidential election will be one of the most consequential decisions our nation has ever faced. Over the course of more than four decades, we, the undersigned past presidents of the American Nurses Association (ANA), led the nation’s nurses without deference to specialty or affiliation on matters of policy and politics. Instead, our work was grounded in the tenets of the ANA’s Code of Ethics for Nurses and the principles of its Social Policy Statement, venerated guideposts that establish nurses’ professional values and direct their practice, embodied in a commitment to serve all society. Our body of work compels us to speak out and express our support for the presidential candidate who we believe will best serve the people of this nation—Joe Biden.
We believe that Americans have a choice on the ballot this year between a candidate who will be inclusive and restore a moral compass with empathy for human beings or a candidate who has sewn chaos and division while showing no compassion for the American people. The Trump administration has us literally fighting for our lives as we face down the Coronavirus pandemic while sparring over our economic futures; access to affordable and equitable health care; racial equality; social justice; and immigration policy.
From bedsides to boardrooms, professional nurses across this country have always served the healthcare needs of our people. We know firsthand the value, knowledge, and skills nurses bring to the care of others. Perhaps more than at any other time over the past century, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus the essential nature of nurses’ contributions to the health promotion, illness prevention, and compassionate healing of all people in need. It has also laid bare the lack of a coordinated national response to COVID-19, which has failed nurses and all Americans. A failure to promote and enforce life-saving coronavirus mitigation strategies through organized, consistent, and evidence-based guidelines and the silencing or denigrating of scientific and medical experts and institutions has denied critical public health safeguards for us all.
Utilizing nursing’s core principles, the eight of us have analyzed the positions of each party’s presidential candidate. Without question, the Democratic Party platform aligns best with nurses’ ethical values and numerous ANA positions on important issues such as promoting public health, healthcare access, ensuring racial equality and social justice, ending the epidemic of gun violence, providing humane treatment for those seeking refuge from danger, and securing a clean energy future, among others.
The choice is clear. As national nurse leaders, we strongly support Vice President Joe Biden for President. He will safeguard the future and health of our nation. Join us in support of the Biden-Harris ticket!
Signed, Past Presidents of the American Nurses Association in Support of Biden-Harris
Pamela Cipriano, RN, 2014-2018 Virginia Karen Daley, RN, 2010-2014 Massachusetts
Rebecca Patton, RN, 2006-2010 Ohio Barbara Blakeney, RN, 2002-2006 Massachusetts
Mary Foley, RN, 1999-2002 California Virginia Trotter Betts, RN, 1992-1996 Tennessee
Eunice Cole, RN, 1982-1986, California Barbara Nichols, RN, 1978-1982 Wisconsin
As I prepare to teach public health to nursing students this fall, I am mystified by and angry at the absolute wreckage Trump has made of our public health system and of our country. How to teach in the climate of hate and discord and blatant disregard for basic human rights, for human lives, for the lives of our COVD-19 pandemic frontline nurses and other healthcare providers, for scientific evidence? How to teach in the time of Trump?
Back in January 2017, as Trump was being inaugurated President of the United States, white supremacist hate groups infiltrated our university campus. They spread virulent racism, hatred, violence, and intimidation across our campus, including inside our health sciences/hospital buildings. In some cases, they attached razor blades to the backs of flyers they posted in classrooms so that people who removed the flyers could be cut in the process. Two of our university students brought weapons–including a gun–to campus and shot and seriously injured a protestor at the ill-advised Milo event sponsored by the Republican student group–an event that was allowed to happen by our university administration. I wrote about this and subsequent white supremacist group activity on our campus in a previous blog post, “Teaching in a Time of Hate and Violence.”
I thought it couldn’t get much worse than that, but, of course, it has. Trump’s complete bungling of our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the deaths of over 200,000 people in the US and to the deaths of over 2,000 frontline nurses and other healthcare workers who were denied proper personal protective equipment in caring for patients with COVID-19. And, with Trump and Trump appointees politicizing/meddling with public health institutions including the Centers for Disease Control, there is now even more public distrust of and confusion over scientific, evidence-based public health individual and community level recommendations. Public health officials across the country are receiving death threats from Trump supporters.
I am dismayed by the decision by the current leadership of the American Nurses Association (ANA) in deciding to ‘sit out’ this election, in pretending to be politically neutral by not endorsing the clear choice of Biden-Harris to lead our country out of the current public health, economic, and social mess Trump has made. Shame on you ANA for being so spineless. History will not be kind to your choice.
Trump is now doing the theater piece of establishing the 1776 Patriotism in Education Presidential Commission to push for revisionist and white supremacist education throughout our country. Trump does not want the history of slavery in our country taught or anything else resembling (the truth) and having to do with anti-racism.
In addition to teaching the basic principles and practices of public health nursing, this year I will teach even more to civic engagement, the importance of being an informed citizen, of voting, of speaking up for what’s right–not only for individual patients our nursing students will care for, but also communities, our entire country, and our world. The two required textbooks will include one basic textbook on public health nursing and How to be and Antiracistby Ibram Kendi.
Nurses in the United States: Please do not sit this election out. Do your duty as an American citizen and as a nurse. Make informed decisions about candidates and issues and cast your ballot (just once, that is—don’t listen to our current president, silly man that he is, only vote once, whether it is by mail or in person or via e-mail for oversees folks). Voting is always important and is a sacred civic duty. This year, it is especially crucial for the health and future of our country. And do whatever you can to encourage and enable other people to vote, including your patients and your community members.
If you happen to be a nurse educator as I am, remember that you can and should provide course content on the importance of political knowledge and advocacy for nursing. It seems to be a common misperception among nurse educators that political content is somehow a no-no and that it can get them in trouble with their employers. Providing non-partisan information on being an informed voter is never a no-no. And, our nursing students need to be exposed to nursing faculty and other mentors who are politically engaged—including nurses who run for political office at the local, state, and national levels. A great non-partisan resource is the All In Campus Democracy Challenge. Check to see if your college/university has signed on to this challenge and what resources and activities you can tap into.
In just a few weeks, I will cast my ballot here in Seattle, King County, Washington. I am proud of our state and county for ensuring that our elections are safe and open to every eligible voter, no matter their race/ethnicity, country of origin, language, able-ness, and political affiliation. I am proud to be part of the grassroots Nurses for Biden-Harris group, working to promote information on the reasons why nurses should strongly consider voting for the Biden-Harris ticket: compassion, faith, resilience, empathy, kindness, humility, joy, respect, inclusion, and dignity. Those are the core values of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They also happen to be core values and part of the Nursing Code of Ethics of the American Nursing Association.
We are excited to announce a series of web discussions “Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing” starting on September 12th, and every week through October 10th! This initiative is in part an outgrowth of our 2018 Nursing Activism Think Tank and inspired by recent spotlights on the killing of Black Americans by police, and the inequitable devastation for people of color caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Racism in nursing has persisted far too long, sustained in large part by our collective failure to acknowledge the contributions and experiences of nurses of color. The intention of each session is to bring the voices of BILNOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other Nurses Of Color) to the center, to explore from that center the persistence of racism in nursing, and to inspire/form actions to finally reckon with racism in nursing.
Lucinda Canty, Christina Nyirati and I (Peggy Chinn) have teamed up…
Ibram Kendi writes, “We are surrounded by racial inequity, as visible as the law, as hidden as our private thoughts. The question for each of us is: What side of history will we stand on?” (How to Be an Antiracist, p. 22).
In preparing to teach population health nursing and health policy and politics again this coming academic year, I am working with the good folks at StoryCenter to develop media literacy content utilizing digital storytelling videos. And, since our University of Washington Health Sciences Common book will be Kendi’s How to Be and Antiracist (not to mention the current moment in terms of racism in our country), I plan to use digital storytelling focusing on racism and bias in nursing and health care.
Nurstory, working with StoryCenter, has some excellent digital storytelling videos by nurses across the country, including nurses with the Nurse Family Partnership. Dr. Raeanne Leblanc and her colleagues at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, completed a Nurstory project on social justice. My plan is to work with our students on the use and making of digital stories related to racism and bias. Since I believe that I should practice what I preach (or teach in this case), I recently made a digital storytelling video on my experience of racism in various aspects of nursing, including nurse education. Titled “Relics,” here it is:
My hometown of Richmond, Virginia is a city anchored to its past by bronze and marble Confederate shrines of memory. I was born in Retreat for the Sick Hospital, Richmond’s oldest hospital opened in 1877 by Civil War nurse Annabella Ravenscroft Jenkins. The hospital was around the corner from the towering memorial to Jefferson Davis—a memorial topped by Vindicatrix, the symbol of virtuous white womanhood—a woman literally on a marble pedestal.
My paternal great-great grandmother from a Georgia cotton and slave-owning plantation was a first cousin of Varina Davis, First Lady of the Confederate States of America. I was raised on Richmond’s eastern edge, on the relic-strewn Civil War land of Cold Harbor. I am a product of Virginia public schools: Battlefield Park Elementary School, Stonewall Jackson Middle School, and Lee-Davis High School. I went to high school with the son of the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who threatened me with physical violence if I did not stop campaigning for Jimmy Carter. The high school’s song was the “Rebel Yell” and then, as now, it is called the “home of the Confederates.”
During my nursing education at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, I mostly cared for homeless and impoverished (and oftentimes imprisoned, shackled to their beds) African-American patients in the ‘old hospital,’ formerly the ‘Negro-only hospital.’ The new MCV hospital curled around the White House of the Confederacy like a lover. In nursing school, we were taught that the profound racial health disparities in our country were caused by inherent biological differences of African-Americans, rendering them more susceptible to disease. Therefore, it was implied, we could do nothing to change these health disparities. Racism and its health effects were never discussed.
Starting in 1986, as a newly-minted nurse practitioner, I ran a health care for the homeless clinic in the Richmond Street Center. My first HIV/AIDS patient was an African-American man who became so ill that I drove him to MCV Hospital where, after a protracted and painful month, he died. His hospital chart listed me as next of kin and I was asked to attend a hospital ethics meeting to decide whether to remove him from life support. I was not there when he died but I attended his graveside funeral in the Potters Field area in the city-owned Oakwood Cemetery. Even then, I was aware of the moral pitfalls of white supremacy masquerading as white savior.
For the past three decades, I have lived and worked in the younger and more progressive city of Seattle. It took this geographical cure, living away from and looking back at my upbringing in the American South to understand the insidious and caustic effects of the South’s sense of history and of place, including the rigid roles of race, class and gender. These insidious and caustic effects are on me as an individual, and on my family, community, and country.
But my smugness and sense of living in a morally superior region of our country has long since been tempered by experience. Deeply entrenched racism is not just a relic of the American South. It should not have taken the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis to have reminded us of that fact.
I teach public health at a school of nursing founded by Seattle public health nurses and stemming from their response to the 1918 influenza pandemic, a time eerily reminiscent of our current COVID-19 pandemic, including its disproportionate burden on communities of color. Elizabeth Soule, our school’s first dean and dubbed the “Mother of Nursing in the Pacific Northwest,” banned admission of African-American students until her retirement in 1950. My students have pointed out that several of our required medical-surgical nursing textbooks continue to erroneously perpetuate a biological basis of African-American health inequities. Our students of color continue to encounter white patients who refuse to be cared for by them. Our hospitals and our school continue to support these patients’ wishes, reinforcing institutional racism.
It heartens me to know that protestors tore down the Monument Avenue statue of my relative, Jefferson Davis, in early June. As of this writing, Vindicatrix remains high on her pedestal but the city plans to remove her and all other Lost Cause statues. This, and the activism of my nursing students, give me hope that there will be meaningful dismantling of the systemic racism running through our monuments, schools, healthcare institutions, and professions.
In this time of justifiable anger, protest, and civil unrest, let us not forget other ways that the rights of persons of color are being undermined in our country. DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an Obama-era program that gives temporary legal status and work permits to undocumented immigrants who came to our country as children. The vast majority of DACA recipients are young people of color and many of them work as nurses and other essential workers. (see “Washington’s DACA recipients on the coronavirus frontline await Supreme Court ruling” Nina Shapiro, The Seattle Times, May 31, 2020)
The Trump administration, big on building walls and racial/ethnic/political divisions in our country, has been trying to dismantle DACA. The NAACP is a staunch supporter of DACA. The Supreme Court is set to rule on a major DACA case any day now. In fact, they were expected to release their ruling today but likely delayed it in case their ruling fuels further protests.
So proud of our University of Washington nursing students for using their talents and experiences to speak out on important health policy current event issues. This is just one of the student group digital storytelling health policy videos they produced for my spring quarter 2020 healthcare systems course. They consented to me sharing it. I will share additional health policy student-produced videos in future posts. This one is especially relevant to the current outcry across our country about racism, hate crimes, and police violence against black and brown people.
Since I have posted a summer reading challenge (with a health humanities/social justice focus) beginning in 2015, I continue the tradition this year. Please support your local independent bookstores because we need them to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. I miss being able to visit in person my favorite local indie Elliott Bay Book Company.
Thirteen books, left to right in the photograph above.
11. American Birds: A Literary Companion, edited by Andrew Rubenfeld and Terry Tempest Williams. Because watching birds in my backyard during the pandemic shelter-in-place spring have entertained and soothed me.
12. Brian Doyle’s One Long River of Song, a collection of essays. Because I miss the compassionate and lyrical voice of one of my favorite contemporary writers who died in 2017 from a brain tumor.
13. Louise Aronson’s Elderhood. Because I have heard good things about geriatrician and writer Aronson’s book. And because this is the summer I officially enter elderhood. And because as a society we suffer from extreme ageism as highlighted by our seeming indifference to the high death rates from COVID-19 among our elders. (see Aronson’s article “Ageism is making the pandemic worse” in The Atlantic, March 28, 2020.