Tia Mitchell: Watch a health care protest turn into dialogue

Tia Mitchell

When I met Molly Gosline on Thursday morning, she was fired up.


Gosline and about a dozen others were preparing for a sit-in at Sen. Marco Rubio’s office in the towering Florida State Capitol.

She said she would stay until he agreed not to vote for the Senate’s health care reform legislation … or she was arrested.

She choked back tears as she told me how she arrived at that position. Gosline had not been particularly active in politics until recently. Not until Donald Trump became president and Congress began considering proposals that would repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Two years ago, Gosline suffered a double brain aneurysm and massive stroke. At the time, she was already a breast cancer survivor and later needed another mastectomy. Out of work, she signed up for health care on the Obamacare exchange.

“The Affordable Care Act, literally for me, saved my life,” she said.

She saw on social media that protests were planned across the nation Thursday, targeting senators who were undecided on the repeal legislation. Sit-ins were staged for Rubio offices across Florida. Gosline, who lives in Tallahassee, decided it was worth her time and possibly criminal charges if Rubio didn’t meet their demands and they refused to leave.

I had to part ways with Gosline for a couple of hours because I had another appointment. By the time I returned to the Capitol, she and several others had gathered in Rubio’s office on the 21st floor.

This is where they surprised me. Not just the protesters.

But Rubio’s regional director Brian Mimbs, who, as far as I could tell, was the only person in the office.

He was in a chair with a pen and a pad. And he was listening.

Later on, he gave up his chair and perched on the edge of a desk. Still taking notes; still listening.

The protesters gathered in their wheelchairs, in chairs and on the floor. One of them had printed out studies and news articles; she wanted to make sure she had facts on hand to back up her concerns.

The group, which was organized through a coalition of left-leaning organizations, had three demands for Rubio:

1. That he vote “no” or abstain on the Senate’s health care repeal bill.

2. That he agree not to tinker with language in the Affordable Care Act that prohibits insurers from refusing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

3. That he pledge not to reduce Medicaid funding or create block grants.

Let me be clear here: Mimbs made no promises. He told the protesters Rubio was undecided on the bill as filed, and expected new information and changes before any votes were taken.

But Mimbs also said he was absorbing what he was hearing and would take it back to his boss. He told the group that face-to-face interactions with officials and their staffers is the best way for them to affect change.

“I learn a lot,” he told them. “I share as much up the chain as I can possibly think to type up.”

When I left the group at 5 p.m., they were still talking with Mimbs. It had been more than two hours. I heard many complaints about Rubio, about politicians and about how damaging they believe any repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be to people like Gosline who suffer from chronic illnesses or relied on subsidized health care.

But they applauded Mimbs for his listening ear and his patience.

Just in case you were wondering, nobody got arrested. Gosline and two others even spent the night right there in Rubio’s office.

Contact Tia Mitchell at 850-933-1321 or email tia.mitchell@jacksonville.com.