Don’t just sit there fuming because the Allen Icet entourage is attempting to turn down 100 million free Medicaid dollars for people earning less than half of poverty level. Get your little heinie down to the west side of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 for a protest rally. Give the Post-Dispatch an excuse to publicize what the Republican House caucus is up to.

That was the most important message Jobs with Justice organizer Amy Smoucha had for me. She sees the budget fight in the state lege this year as seminal. Out of the current economic crisis and the stimulus funds being used to counter it, Missouri will emerge either as a state with smaller government and few, if any, social services (go ahead, guess which group wants that outcome) or as a state that is more responsive to the needs of the people in the community (take another guess). Federal stimulus funds are coming, but Icet are doing their damndest to take education and transportation money while concocting a succession of excuses for turning down additional Medicaid money, as well as for chopping … but I stray. I started out to tell you about Amy Smoucha. Let me reserve more info on the vagaries and cruelties of the House budget for my next posting.

Smoucha organizes statewide action on health care issues. She started out in the health care trenches as soon as she got out of college, working at Regional Hospital in St. Louis, where she helped people apply for Medicaid benefits. The job in itself was an eye opener because most of the people she helped were African-Americans. Now she’d been raised in a white, fairly racist culture in Chicago, but she was impressed by how similar her clients were to her own mother–a clerk at Sears, who had never had health insurance.

Amy had barely adjusted to the harsh reality of what her clients faced, when local and state officials began pushing to close down Regional Hospital, as well as neighborhood clinics in St. Louis. These were the only places where uninsured people could go for treatment–88,000 of them. The mantra from the officials was that other clinics would have to absorb those folks. As if that were possible.

A long fight, with ACORN in the forefront, ensued, with the result that the clinics were saved and a few hospital beds. Smoucha moved on to do similar work at Legal Services, but two years ago, she had had enough of holding her finger in the dike. She saw a job opening for a health care organizer posted at Jobs with Justice and applied for it. She wanted to effect systemic change instead of–always and forever–only helping people into lifeboats.