Fighting Like Hell for Healthcare Now

At Upper Senate Park on the grounds of the US Capitol yesterday, on a
hot, humid DC summer day, 10,000 people from across the country rallied
for healthcare reform
with a real public option.

They flew in from as far as Washington state, Montana, New Mexico and
Nebraska; bussed in from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and
New Jersey; and made the trip from Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee,
Missouri and Illinois.

It was a vibrant crowd, showing the colors of unions that turned out in
force: CWA red, UFCW yellow, AFSCME green, SEIU purple, LiUNA orange,
IBEW lime, and SIU blue.

They were there not only to rally but to lobby. They understood the
urgency with nearly 50 million people uninsured and millions more
underinsured and an illness away from bankruptcy. They understood the
opposition as the industry lobbyists fight tooth and nail to protect
their profits. And they understood the need for citizens to make the
for real reform each and every day until we win.

Maddie, a resident caregiver for children with developmental
disabilities in Vineland, NJ, made the bus trip down with AFSCME Local

"We have a lot of people -- even in the bus that we brought down today
-- they have children that are sick. One lady has a daughter who has a
rare disease -- she doesn't have any healthcare," she said. "It's more
important than getting a raise, or making extra money. We fight health
issues every day of our life... The private companies aren't necessarily
gonna give us that healthcare, the public option makes sure it's for
all. I just hope my brothers and sisters make a statement today and do
what we came here to do -- convince Congress."

Ronald, a splicer for Verizon, came from Wilmington, Delaware with CWA
local 13100.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done. Everybody needs to rally
together and get this," he said. "We're in America -- strongest nation
in the world. We shouldn't be going through this -- with all these
people not being able to take care of their family members .... We vote
these guys in to do a job -- not to leave their state, come down here to
DC, and then all of a sudden they flip the script, they have their own

Congressman Charles Rangel told the crowd that their efforts were
historic, drawing a parallel to the March on Washington.

"Civil rights without the right to health -- you can't use it much," he
said. "Remember this day the same way we remember the day that we
marched down here with Dr. Martin Luther King. No one knew how
important that march was....One day you'll tell your kids and your
grandkids that have healthcare, 'Enjoy that, but don't take it for
granted because [I] came to Washington on a hot, June day'...."

Senator Charles Schumer -- who has taken a leading role in speaking out
for a public plan option (in contrast to weak substitutes like
Democratic Senator Kent Conrad's regional coops) -- also fired up the
crowd. He called for a public option that isn't "diluted" and told the
people to "hold [Congress'] feet to the fire" in this "long, hard

Actress Edie Falco -- a breast cancer survivor -- talked about her past
as an unemployed actress who needed to make the same tough choices so
many people are forced to make today.

"It's bad enough the emotional impact of not having a job, but to get
sick on top of that, and worry every day that [you're] not getting
better, figuring out what you're gonna have to do without so you can
afford a doctor's visit," she said. "I'm far more familiar with that
than I am with my situation these last number of years. I'm here on
behalf of all the people who are still in that situation, working hard,
doing their jobs, and not being able to take care of themselves or their

The rally lasted for about an hour and a half, then folks headed to
lobby their legislators or attend town meetings. Pennsylvania -- which
had 2,000 people who came down in 36 buses or carpools -- packed the
main floor of the Capitol City Brewing Company and its balconies with
hundreds of rank and file union members. (There were definitely more
than 700 people -- the official capacity of the establishment.) There
was word that Senator Arlen Specter was on his way, and with his plans
for reelection hinging on Democrats who were unsure about his position
on the public plan option and the Employee Free Choice Act, there was
quite a buzz.

He kept getting delayed, however, and most were predicting he wouldn't
show. In the meantime, Congresswoman Allison Schwartz stopped in to
pledge her continued support for this cause. So did Sen. Specter's
rumored challenger in a Democratic primary, Congressman Joe Sestak.

Rep. Sestak told the crowd that while his opposition to the Iraq War is
often reported as the reason he ran for Congress in 2006, his primary
motivation was the debt he feels to the nation for the healthcare he and
his family received while he was in the military.

Four years ago his daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor
and given just months to give. But she received the best possible
treatment and she is now eight years old. Her roommate her first day
in the hospital -- a two year old boy with acute leukemia -- didn't
have insurance and treatment was much more difficult to obtain. That
was when Sestak began to focus on healthcare for all Americans. He said
he's in this fight as "payback to the citizens of this nation" who
provided the care his family needed.

The crowd began to disperse as people gave up on Sen. Specter. But
about three hours after the meeting began, he showed -- having been
delayed, it turns out, by the White House meeting on immigration.

For some minutes before the Senator spoke, the crowd chanted repeatedly,
"Healthcare is a right. Stand with us and fight." So when Senator
Specter finally stepped to the mic he said, "I compliment you on your
tenacity.... And I think Sen. Schumer has the right idea about having a
public component which has a level playing field with the private

While it's good news that Sen. Specter called for the public option that
Senator Schumer hours earlier said can't be "diluted", we know this is
far from a done deal.

It would be good to see President Obama tap into the grassroots energy
that brought so many to Washington yesterday. Congress now begins a
recess that runs through Fourth of July weekend, and Pres. Obama should
barnstorm around the country for the robust public option he wants.
With his approval rating remaining high, and 72 percent of the country
wanting a public plan, he can tap real momentum which could decide this

Too many craven Democrats are still talking compromise in an effort to
win 60 votes. We don't need a few out-of-touch Republicans. What we
need is real health care reform that includes the public option, and it
can be done with just 51 votes thanks to the arcane "reconciliation"
rule in the Senate.

But to win this, it might take the President coming out and fighting
like hell -- just like the good people who came to Washington to make
their voices heard yesterday.

© 2023 The Nation