Crystal Lee Sutton died last week. You might know her by her "other" name. It was Sutton’s story that inspired the film Norma Rae, starring Sally Field who won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of Sutton, a North Carolina union organizer in the early 1970s. In an act of defiance Sutton wrote the word "UNION" on a piece of cardboard and stood up on her work table at the J.P. Stevens textile plant. Her co-workers followed and turned their machines off in solidarity.
After hearing of her death, Field said that, "portraying Crystal Lee in Norma Rae not only elevated me as an actress, but as a human being."
Sutton fought for the working poor much of her life. What she also had to fight for, it turns out, was healthcare. After being diagnosed with cancer a few years back, she was told that her insurance wouldn’t cover the potentially life saving medication she needed. By the time the approval came through Sutton’s cancer had spread.
Speaking of her own predicament, Sutton said, "How in the world can it take so long to find out [whether they would cover the medicine or not] when it could be a matter of life and death. It is almost like, in a way, committing murder."
She died at 68.
It makes all the talk of death panels, a government takeover, and socialized medicine sound rather silly, doesn’t it? Cancer’s bad enough. But at least it’s an equal opportunity killer. Our current for-profit insurance system isn’t benign, and there’s nothing equal about it. Is there someone out there somewhere standing on a table with a cardboard sign: ‘HEALTHCARE’? We’d love to make a movie about it.
Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on Twitter.com.