By Caleb T. Maupin
Published Dec 12, 2010 11:34 PM
It was early Friday afternoon. I went down to the west side of Cleveland to sell my blood plasma like I often do. Because winter is gradually setting in and the holidays are approaching, there was a bigger crowd than usual.
Each corner of the waiting room was full of people. It was standing room only, as we waited one by one to stick our thumbs in a computer scanner. As usual, we each filled out a questionnaire on the computer screen, clicking “yes” and “no” to health questions. Just a few months ago, someone got paid to ask us these questions. Not anymore, though; computers are much cheaper.
There were probably several hundred of us packed into the little facility. We were Black and white, young and old. There were moms taking turns watching each other’s children while they had their veins pumped.
We sat in the waiting room, some of us leaning against the walls, others just standing. Somebody’s cell phone rang or vibrated practically every minute. We breathed and coughed on each other. We were packed in tight. We waited until they said our name over the loudspeaker. Then they extract our blood plasma and give us “compensation” for our “donation.”
Suddenly, a woman who works at the clinic appeared in the middle of the crowded waiting room. She was distinguished by her long white coat. “If you already signed up, it’s going to be two more hours,” she announced. There are groans.
We were all there because we need the money. The first five times, they reward you with $50. After that, it’s $20, and another $35 if you provide plasma later in the same week.
The compensation you receive for your donation no longer comes in cash. Instead, it gets put on a debit card. For every transaction on the debit card, the credit card company gets 25 cents. It’s a fee for the credit card company for performing a service we do not want.
I sometimes think about the executives who own the credit card company. They get at least 25 cents for my plasma. But they don’t bleed for it. They just scrape it off the top, from the money I bled for. Even though I’m not selling my labor or my time, they still find a way to get “surplus value” from my blood.
When they changed the policy to giving cards instead of cash, they pretended it was a good thing. “Now you can order books or DVDs online from your donations,” the poster said. I had to laugh. None of us in the waiting room was there because we wanted a new copy of Harry Potter.
We seemed to have just gotten over having to wait another two hours when the woman came back. This time she had a cop with her.
‘How will we eat tonight?’
She looked at the cop, who opened his jacket and revealed his uniform and gun holster underneath his winter coat.
“The freezer is broken,” he announced. “This place is closed for the day. You all need to leave.”
There was anger, expressed as swearing and fuming.
“You could at least compensate us for our time!” somebody shouted.
“We don’t buy time; we buy plasma,” the woman in the white coat said, seemingly frustrated to have to argue the point. “It’s not our fault. The government says we have to keep blood in the freezer.”
We pour out of the lobby into the cold. We’re all frustrated for the same reason. Between our angry thoughts, we’re recalculating how to eat dinner tonight, pay our rent, put gas in our cars and deal with other basic things.
We pour out to the bus stop, and the bus fills up. There are hundreds of us — way too many for one city bus. Another bus comes in 15 minutes and takes another load. Then another bus, then another.
We, the human cattle, are transported away.
Soon the parking lot is closed, and the cop is locking the door. Just a few people stand outside the door smoking cigarettes.
As I waited for my ride, I thought about things. I wondered if the reason they stopped handing out cash and have an armed cop around is for days like this. I wonder if they realize some day people might not go home when the place is “closed.” We might refuse to leave until we get the money that not just us but so many others bleed for.
Will one armed cop be enough?
Maupin is an unemployed youth activist.
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