I had a chess set when I was in my teens. I woke up thinking about the pieces this morning, about the feel of them, how they looked. But it was one of the black pawns I held mentally in my hand, representing the rest of the set.
Looking back, I realize I had more affection for the pawns than the other pieces. Even then I was a populist, I guess, the real kind: populists who believe in the people, not those who simply use them.
I had a real experience of being a pawn this past month. The health clinic in Lindsay that I have been using this year, Clinica Agua Viva or Living Water Clinic, was excluded from the contract with Key Medical Center in Visalia (the IPA, whatever that is) for the coming year. Starting Nov. 1, I had the “choice” of finding another health insurance company outside the Key Medical system which would cover my clinic, or finding a clinic within Key Medical’s network that is accepting new patients. Neither my clinic nor Key Medical could/would provide the reason for this change, and when I asked the question Why, the answer was either “we don’t know” or “it just happens.” There is only one doctor in Lindsay listed within Key Medical’s system, and he is not accepting new patients.
According to the insurance specialist at my clinic, just among their clients over a thousand people were impacted by this change. But I saw no one going to bat for them/us. I began to feel that we’re just pawns in the health insurance game, not patients.
My chess set was a Christmas gift, I think, in response to my desire to be part of the high school chess club. The chess club members were identical to the debate team, which I had joined over the objections of my father, who thought the drama club would be a heck of a lot more fun. Fun wasn’t the point for me even then: I wanted to learn how to be a player in the game of life, not a pawn. All my after-school activities were chosen to learn skills, not to play. Of course, acting is a skill, too. Witness our politics.
What I feel now is that the real divide between us as people, whether we be Palestinian or Israeli, Ukrainian or Russian, ethnic indigenous or modern commercial industrialist, is whether we think life is a game of chess or something else. My Republican friends think the government is trying to remove us from the “something else” (i.e, the true realities of life on the planet,) and turn us into pawns. I think our government is just the queens and kings, the rooks and bishops with their armies of pawns, the pieces someone else is playing, trying to win the game. But if you believe life is something else, the proper question is “what is the point of winning?” Why are you treating life as a game?
I have a new friend in Santa Cruz, a gift from another new friend who sent him one of these columns. He’s an environmental attorney named Gary Patton, who teaches a couple of courses at UCSC. He has a blog he writes daily, and in it he proposes we look at life through a different lens—actually, a pair of binoculars. We live in two worlds, he proclaims regularly: in the natural world, with its unbreakable laws, like gravity, and in the world humans have constructed with their unsatisfiable minds, trying to agree on how we will treat each other, and frequently how we will defy the natural world’s laws. The second world is the game part; the first world is the one we have regularly damaged and diminished with our relentless sport. I have found great clarity reading his daily messages, looking at world events and domestic issues through his lens. If the news is causing your vision to blur, I recommend signing up for his posts (www.gapatton.net).
That black pawn I saw in my mind this morning—that pawn I loved—suddenly spoke to me about the pain of slavery, the crime against humanity and God that was committed in this country. It started with the English capitalists who settled in the colonies, those who wanted to become kings in their own little plantation fiefdoms, winners by all accounts. It was tolerated by the people who wanted to be free of kings and not be pawns themselves as America was formed, transformed from colonies into states. In the 1860s it was fought over by people who did not want their states to be ruled by the land capitalist/kings whose use of slaves gave them an economic advantage over the ordinary farmer. But that “something else” has yet to overcome the game mentality.
We are not pawns, none of us. We are members of communities and the human race, members of the vast universe we sometimes refer to as Creation. When we remember that and maintain our belief in it, even go to bat for it, we’ll stop being played for pawns, and that game will be over.
Trudy Wischemann is a natural-born populist who now hates chess. You can send her your gaming-mentality admissions c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.