Saturday, March 21, 2015

Selma marchers needed strong hearts and lungs and thanks to open commensal penicillin, they had them

Conservatives have always opposed health care for all. Partly because their opponents must first be healthy to be effective protesters...

Gary May
, the most through historian of the historic 1965 March on Selma, has made it clear just how physically demanding the whole march was for leaders and ordinary marchers alike.

Forget, for a moment, the stress of possible fatal violence that they all faced ---- most of us, even fifty years later, can sense that side of the story.

I mean what it must have been like walking all day for days and days --- and then trying to sleep on non-beds, always outside, often in March's wild rain and wind, with almost no washing or bathroom facilities and doing all this while surviving on extremely basic meals.

Develop a painful foot blister - as Dr King did on this protest - and most of us would not walk much for a few days until it heals.

But what if you can't stop - must walk on and on and on ?

Well the pain can, well the pain alone --- shooting up your foot to the hair on the top of your head with every step you take --- that pain alone can give you pneumonia.

It did so for me in August 1984, under somewhat similar circumstances, when I felt I just had to keep on marching to do right.

All this got me thinking as why the Selma March didn't happen in 1925 or 1935 or 1945 or 1955.

To be a pioneer of Sixties Civil Rights, it is often said you needed a strong heart.

This expression is meant figuratively and I can't really fault its reasoning.

Successful protesters must have strong lungs

But what if we do take it literally and added a requirement of a strong lungs as well ?

Diseases that affected the heart and lungs hit the young adults of the poor, immigrants and minorities particularly hard.

Patients with heart valve problems caused by Rheumatic Fever (then the leading killer of school age kids - again particularly kids of the poor, immigrants and minorities) were told to avoid activities like dancing, sexual acts, childbirth and child-rearing, so as to not further strain their heart and lungs.

TB was very common in slightly older youth among these  groups, also gravely straining the heart and lungs.

Obviously no great protest marching, no loud verbal protests or prolonged protest singing was medically on the cards for either type of sufferer !

But by 1945, it was clear that wartime conservatives had totally failed to make wartime penicillin an expensive patented drug, available only for the well to do whites.

Instead the extensive post-war use of inexpensive (Public Domain) penicillin to prevent Strep Throat soon created a sort of Herd Immunity effect that had reduced new cases of Rheumatic Fever to almost nothing.

A varying cocktail of new antibiotics similarly greatly reduced youthful deaths from TB, though not to the invisible small levels soon obtained with Rheumatic Fever.

So a whole postwar generation of kids with a healthy set of lungs had grown up by 1965.

Some obviously became loud-mouthed rock 'n' rollers --- but others just as loudly and relentlessly led the chants at protest rallies for blacks, chicanos and reservation natives all over America.

Simply put : better health for the poor and minorities proceeded better civil rights for the poor and the minorities and was its necessary pre-condition --- just as conservatives had feared all along ...

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