September 2014: John Zippert- Civil Rights Activist

By Alene Anase, Communications and Fundraising Intern 


John Zippert has been in the Civil Rights spotlight for nearly 50 years, making a courageous stand for basic human rights in the South; from racial inequality and segregation, supporting voter registration laws and farmer’s rights, to his recent stance with regard to Medicaid expansion in Alabama. Mr. Zippert’s passion and work continues because each of his stances is linked, in his words, with a “focus on public policy on rural communities that would be more beneficial than they are now.”


IMG_5789 (2)With a passion for human rights, John Zippert takes a stand on the Affordable Care Act, which in Alabama allowed the state to decide against expanding the eligibility of Medicaid for residents. Regionally, along with other Southern states who decided not to accept Medicaid expansion, millions of the poorest and sickest people are denied access to affordable health care. And although Mr. Zippert acknowledges he has been blessed that the Federation of Southern Cooperatives has provided him health insurance, he is advocating for the people within his community who are not as fortunate.

On Thursday, August 28th, Mr. Zippert and colleagues arrived at the State Capitol in Montgomery to express their concerns and to respectfully urge Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama to change his position and expand Medicaid coverage to 300,000 residents of the state. Governor Bentley, formerly a Medical Doctor, had previously stated that he does not want people to become more dependent on the government. Mr. Zippert challenges that statement by asking “what about the sick people today?” and the sick people of tomorrow who cannot work due to aliments; or the 200,000 low-wage service industry workers with no health coverage at all?

Before Mr. Zippert and his fellow supporters could advocate their position before Governor Bentley, they were handcuffed and led out of the capital building by an armed escort. Admitting that this incident is the latest in a long list of previous Civil Rights arrests, Mr. Zippert stated that “we need to challenge these issues, to improve policies that lead to loss and discrimination.”


Saying that he is a “community organizer at heart,” John Zippert is passionate about staying involved by attending community meetings concerning issues where he tries to find answers: “People need to realize that to make change, people need to spend time with other people within the community, state, and wider regions and see what needs to be changed and what actions it will take.” With increased civic engagement and voting, people can expand their knowledge and increase interest in the issues; “pick the one [issue] you are strongest about and focus on that one; then move on to the next one, then the next one, and then the next one.”

Mr. Zippert believes health care is key and everyone should have coverage; but with the exemptions in the Medicaid program for the poorest and sickest people, he says there is an enormous “wrinkle in the system, a failure of American democracy.” As the majority of detractors and Southern Governors are Republicans, Mr. Zippert has suggested that an underlining premise may be that this program is assumed to be for black people, when in fact, more than half of the needy individuals are deprived whites.

Perhaps in the November election, if more people lose their sense of fear and believe that they can make a change in the current social and economic policies, they can defeat the “power structures.” Mr. Zippert stated that the November election is the time to support Governor Bentley’s opponent who supports the expansion of Medicaid for disadvantaged southerners. Mr. Zippert encourages people to vote to change our broken system and make a stand for change. With a living icon from the Civil Rights movement and role model like John Zippert, he demonstrates that individual efforts can help to create a more equitable system; and that together will make a stronger community.


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