COLUMBUS, Ohio — “I’m tired of rallies. I want to fight!” So said Tim Burga, operations director of the Ohio AFL-CIO, addressing the hundreds who had braved the cold Feb. 20 to attend a “Pass It Now” rally for health care reform at the SEIU Local 1199 hall here.
There was a sense of real urgency in the hall, as speaker after speaker pounded on the point that, as Brian Rothenberg of Progress Ohio stated, “We now have 6 weeks to win the fight our people have been fighting since the Truman administration: health care for all!”
Becky Williams, president of SEIU, 1199, was interrupted by loud cheers as she led off the rally, telling the crowd, “We have three things to tell the administration and the majority in congress.
“One — we worked for and voted for change last year. That means actually changing what was there when you got there.
“Two — we need for you to lead with courage, not be intimidated by Fox News and Teabaggers.
“Three, don’t be fooled by lies!” she said. “If you do these things we’ll be with you, and the 66% of Americans who, according to polls are demanding that health care reform be passed.”
Williams went on to point out that “pundits are talking about bipartisanship, but over 40% of that 66% supporting reform are Republicans. While the national media talks, 44,000 Americans lost health care last week and that many will be dropped next week, and every week until we win this fight,” she said.
“Four hundred twenty one of our friends, neighbors died last week for not having access to health care, and that will continue, as well.”
Besides SEIU and the Ohio AFL-CIO, a wide list of sponsors were announced for the rally, including the Alliance of Retired Americans, UFCW, Ohio Faith & Justice Collective, Health Care for America Now, Planned Parenthood, UHCAN, Jobs with Justice & Ohio Consumers for Health Care.
Speakers included Ohio House Reps. Mary Harris and Ted Celeste, both Democrats, and, in a show of unity, both Democratic Senatorial candidates, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown addressed the rally by video from Washington. “We are fighting now at a time of great crisis. Eight hundred thousand Californians are facing massive rate increases this week from the profit-bloated insurance industry. Thousands of Americans are, literally, dying each year due to the continued inhuman rationing of health care in our nation. We can’t give up and let others die because the fight is tough,” he said. “If we keep up the fight, we’ll win!”
AFL-CIO’s Burga also slammed the insurance industry, stating that the health care system today is “corporate socialism!”
“Instead of public monies going for the common good, this is socialism for the rich. Our tax money is going to support these wealthy companies, in the form of tax breaks, public aid for research and development, all the while our people are starved. They,” he said, to loud cheers, “just have no shame!”
“We’ve been horribly frustrated,” said retired steelworker and SOAR member Ron Wharton, “but we have to push to win some type of health care reform or else it’ll just get put off another 15-20 years. We can’t let that happen. That’s why we attended the rally.”
That same point was made by Cathy Levine of UHCAN & Ohio Consumers for Health Care, as she told the crowd, “Don’t believe those that tell you that its all OK and we’ll just go back to the beginning and get a better bill if this one is defeated, it’s just not true! If we don’t win now, it may very well be a long time before another congress has the courage to take this on!”
Rev. Tim Ahrens, highly respected pastor of First Congregational Church in Columbus, closed the event with an emotional appeal to “stand together and don’t give up the struggle.” He spoke of now being the time of Lent, and how that is a time of renewal, for springtime and a better new time coming.
He closed with the following quote; “I can feel the suffering of millions. Yet, if I look to the heavens, I think that it will all come out right, that the cruelty, too, will end and that peace, justice and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I can carry them out.”
There were many moist eyes in the hall as he announced the author of the quote to be Anne Frank!