Eleven-year-old Marcelas Owens, who last week invoked his deceased mother’s memory during a speech on Capitol Hill, won’t stay America’s youngest health-care activist for long — his sister Monique, 7, is next to be thrust into the limelight.
“She’s learning the process like Marcelas learned the process,” the siblings’ grandmother, Gina Owens, an activist herself, told The Daily Caller. “Now that the 7-year old wants to know more about it, whenever we do events or workshops with Wa-CAN [Washington Community Action Network], Marcelas will come home and immediately tell his sister about it, how fun it was or how hard it was.”
On the Hill last week, Marcelas’s home-state senator, Democrat Pat Murray, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid flanked the boy during his remarks. “My mom was a health-care activist just like I am today,” Marcelas said, as Gina Owens looked on, smiling and nodding. “She would testify at rallies about everyone having health care.”
Senator Dick Durbin said, “We are asking for an up or down vote and that sounds abstract, but an up or down vote is about Marcelas’s mom.”
Some said the boy, whose mother died three years ago without health insurance at age 27, was being exploited for political gain.
“You can’t talk to Marcelas and listen to this brave young boy talk, and truly believe that,” said Joshua Welter, an Wa-CAN employee and the Owens family’s spokesman. “He asked to share his story, he asked Senator Murray to share his story. People who would stoop so low to attack this 11-year-old kid who has lost his mother and who has the courage to speak up are just disgusting.”
When asked if he felt attacks against the adults closest to Marcelas were warranted Welter said, “I hear what you’re saying. I feel very, very strongly about this, and I just want to push back against the idea that it’s not an attack on the kid.”
“It’s absolutely an attack on him, on his integrity, on his intelligence — to think that people could be putting words in his mouth,” he said. Welter said when he picked Marcelas up from the airport after he returned from Washington, reporters greeted the boy at the airport. “He told me that was the 26th time he’s talked to a reporter in the past week — he really wants to see this passed.”
“To be honest with you, he tells me what he wants to say, and all I do is help him put it in words, but the words and ideas are his,” Gina Owens said. “After I’ve written it on 3×5 cards for him, he’ll practice a lot, he’ll practice the timing.”
Responding to criticisms that adults are putting words in his mouth, she said, “I have seen that and so has Marcelas, and Marcelas has answered that … he was taught that everyone has their own opinion, and that people who have negative things to say about what he’s talking about or doing can have their opinions, but it’s not going to stop him from having his opinion and fighting his fight.”
“We’ve had discussions about it, and he wants to know what it means when people say that: ‘They’re using me.’ And so I have to explain to him that some people are accusing Democrats who want health care to happen of telling you what to say to the press and are using your story to get health care passed,” Marcelas’s grandmother said.
“What they’re saying is that the Democrats don’t care about you, they just want the bill to pass,” Owens said she tells her grandson. “And he says, ‘Well, I want health care to pass too, so what’s the difference?’ and I tell him that for us there is no difference.”
Owens explained that she and Marcelas hadn’t planned to come to Washington last week because it was the boy’s birthday.
“HCAN wanted Marcelas to come and talk about his mom’s story, but Marcelas didn’t want to go because it was right during the week of the wrestling event we had tickets to, he really wanted to just be a kid and spend his birthday looking at wrestling,” she said.
“We had tried arrange for someone else at Wa-CAN who was close to our family to go in our place, but HCAN called and said, ‘It was Marcelas’s story that Senator Murray was talking about — it was Marcelas’s story that got to Barack Obama during the big health-care summit, so it’s really Marcelas’s story we want to see here’,” she said.