by Marina Smoske, Editor-in-Chief
***The views expressed in this piece are my own and those of the individual featured. They do not reflect the opinions and values of Bridgewater State University or the Bridgewater State University Honors Program as a whole. This piece is not a political endorsement.
I first ran into Tawana Cadien in the ladies’ restroom at the Philadelphia Convention Center during the Democratic National Convention. There to represent her home state of Texas as a delegate for Hillary Clinton, she made a striking first impression with her southern drawl and cowboy hat, adorned with a bedazzled state of Texas. “Well, you look like a young delegate!” she said to me with a warm smile. In fact, I was attending the convention through a student seminar, and was fortunate to gain considerable access to the main venue with press credentials. And while I spent the better part of the following three days hustling up and down stadium steps, notebook and recorder in hand in search of my next big story, it was this serendipitous hand-washing small talk that led me to one of the most heartening narratives I would hear that week, one where a strong woman fights tooth-and-nail to protect the health and wellbeing of her fellow Texans.
I met with Ms. Cadien again the next day at the Wells Fargo Center, where in between roll-call votes she recounted to me her concerns about healthcare in the United States, the primary issue that drove her to run for Congress:
“I am an RN educator, and a public administrator. I was working for a nonprofit organization that provides mammograms and prostate screenings for people with no insurance. That was something, to see people constantly being diagnosed late, because they did not go and get the preventative screenings in advance. Their medical treatment was basically taking place in an emergency room when they could not take the pain anymore.”
For Cadien, a life of civic engagement is rooted in the compassion that runs in her family. She spoke highly of her mother’s influence, and how she strives to instill strong values in her own daughters. She has served as Precinct Chair in Jefferson County, Texas and in her local Democratic Party Executive Committee. As a nurse, she has made numerous speaking engagements to educate audiences about the importance of breast and testicular self-exams and other preventative medical care. “It is easier to prevent than to cure,” she told me.
In 2011, Cadien relocated to Cyprus, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Bearing in mind the suffering she had witnessed, she was thrilled when the Affordable Care Act came up for a vote, especially given the bill’s provisions for free preventative care.
“In my own naivety, I assumed that everyone else would be elated about this. I thought that Texas would be the gold standard for every other state, that one day I’d see a press conference, and that one day we’d see Republicans and Democrats from Texas having formed a coalition, saying ‘we are going to support the ACA because we need it.’ But that’s not what happened.”
In fact, Cadien’s local representative for the 10th District of Texas, Michael McCaul, voted against the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that, according to Cadien, Texas then had the highest percentage of uninsured citizens in the country. Disgusted that the bonds of partisanship appeared to have prevailed over meeting the needs of her community, Cadien decided to act:
“I said to my husband, I’m running against this guy.’ I couldn’t believe that nobody was running against him. I said ‘if I’m the only person that votes for me, I want him to know that I don’t like what he’s doing.’ It’s just not right.”
Eight months passed before I spoke at length with Tawana Cadien again, this time without the formality and the ostentatious backdrop of the convention- she in her car between errands, and myself sipping tea in my dorm room between assignments, had much to discuss over video chat.
In that time, we had seen the conclusion of an unprecedentedly divisive presidential election, a seemingly endless parade of scandal, and almost inconceivable allegations thrown between political elites. We had observed the tumultuous lifespan of the American Healthcare Act, which had been pulled from the floor a mere day before our interview was scheduled. Unfortunately, this meant little in terms of assuaging Cadien’s long term concerns:
“It is so disheartening for me as a fellow citizen and as a healthcare professional to see all the efforts to take away healthcare from millions of people. I don’t understand that. Millions of people, just by the stroke of a pen, were at the brink of a life-and-death situation because of those in public office who were elected to represent them.”
Cadien’s estimate is not off the mark. Just last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report stating that if the Affordable Care Act were repealed and replaced, 14 million more Americans would lose coverage within a year. By 2026, the number is projected to reach around 24 million.
She directed me to a video of a recent Town Hall gathering she attended, where she spoke emphatically to a camera about the state of healthcare in her community. Her message, like several others, was recorded to reportedly be sent to her local representative. He was not in attendance.
During our conversation, she shared with me even more anecdotes from others who spoke at the gathering. Many of her fears for the future remain the same:
“Let’s just say that this plan did go through. Things would change immediately. People who were in treatment- in chemotherapy for cancer, people that were scheduled to have a gallbladder repair, anything- they would have just been without.”
Cadien lost the 2016 election to McCaul, who took 57% of the vote for her 38%. For some, this news comes as disheartening. Despite my commitment to neutrality in pursuing this story, I admittedly found myself somewhat disappointed, albeit unsurprised. Running as a Democrat against a tenured incumbent in the state of Texas might just be the apex of uphill battles, as far as politics is concerned. For Cadien, the loss simply means a longer fight, another election, and a renewed spirit to serve her community. After all, healthcare policy is not only of importance to the old and sick, but to the young Americans who aspire to live a prosperous and healthy life, she says. She spoke to me with conviction about the power of young people like me, who at times might feel disillusioned and powerless:
“I would like the millennials to get involved. It is easier to prevent than to cure. How can you do that? Be a voice. Don’t think that because you’re young that you’re not impactful, because you are. You’re young, you’re not afraid, you have more energy, and you’ll be saving your own life.”
As I look back on my conversations with Tawana Cadien and reflect upon my own role in the American political system, I have found one of her mantras learned in nursing school to be especially poignant, for it applies not only to ailing human beings, but to an ailing democracy. It speaks to the importance of proactivity, leadership, and grassroots action for young Americans. Indeed, it is easier to prevent than to cure.