AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine people came out May 30 in support of single-payer health care. Some 300 of them joined a rally outside the Statehouse here on a day that demonstrations for John Conyers’ Medicare for All bill, HR 676, were taking place in 50 other U.S. cities.

Jerry Call, leader of the newly formed Maine Midcoast Healthcare Reform group that organized the rally, started things off, chanting ‘Everybody in, nobody out.’ He introduced the rally’s theme: ‘Put your feet on the street.’ The mood was festive, with vivid banners on display, health screenings for participants, and food. The Raging Grannies sang. Signs urged removing profit from health care.

Call was arrested in Washington last month, spending 30 hours in jail with his legs shackled. His crime as one of the ‘Baucus 13’ had been to bring up single-payer health care before a Senate Finance Committee hearing headed by Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.). Publicity the Maine media gave that experience helped recruit the crowd.

Former Green Party vice presidential candidate Pat LaMarche served as facilitator with the grace, humor and political acumen that has also been evident in her weekly Bangor Daily News op-ed contributions, many recently featuring single-payer health care.

Speakers included health care workers, people with first-hand experiences of a failed system, and political activists. They included state Rep. Ed Mazurek (D-Rockland), regarded as a single-payer hero in Maine for having shepherded a resolution through the legislature calling upon Maine’s representatives in Washington to vote for legislation ‘substantially similar’ to HR 676.

Retired Portland surgeon Richard Dillihunt got high marks as he told about learning from a patient. Wearing a shirt showing off an American flag, Dillihunt presented himself as a political conservative. That was until his patient, a single, uninsured mother of two, moved from fear of extensive surgery for a life-threatening illness to fear of paying for it. She was inconsolably afraid of opening up bills at home. She explained, said her surgeon, that in Canada, where she used to live, she had only to deal with a card.

A survey of 605 Maine physicians several months ago showed 52 percent of them approving ‘a single-payer system as a ‘Medicare for all’ approach.’

John Newton, speaking for the Maine AFL-CIO, reported that its Executive Committee had just endorsed a resolution of the Troy, N.Y., Labor Council calling upon the AFL-CIO to support HR 676 at its September convention. He indicated a campaign was underway to secure support for national AFL-CIO endorsement of the legislation from the labor councils, area labor federations and state federations that have already endorsed HR 676. All four Maine central labor councils have endorsed the legislation.

Jerry Call told listeners that as another sign of grassroots support for Medicare for All, four Democratic Party county committees recently had endorsed HR 676, following the lead of the state Democratic Party platform. A team headed by Dexter Bellows brought 40 Hancock County Democrats to the rally.

A populist theme prevailed. Former antiwar independent candidate for Congress Dexter Kamilewicz observed that ‘the United States does not provide single-payer universal health care to its citizens because corporations see it as threat to profits and they have the power to stop it.’

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Maine-based Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, proclaimed that ‘Until we deal with domination by the medical industrial complex, the oil corporations, the media corporations, and the military industrial complex we aren’t going to get single-payer health care or anything else.’ Social worker Mary Beth Sullivan concurred: ‘We can’t have guns and butter. Which do you want, weapons or single-payer health care?’

Speakers were preaching to the choir, one of them observed, noting a choir’s duty was to sing, in this instance to friends and neighbors about single-payer health care. Second District Rep. Mike Michaud, who has yet to co-sponsor single-payer health care, was targeted for attention. The other Maine representative, Chellie Pingree, endorsed HR 676 immediately upon taking office earlier this year. Both are Democrats.

Media reports balanced coverage of the single-payer rally with reporting on a demonstration put on simultaneously at the State House by the well-funded, right-wing lobby group, Maine Heritage Policy Center.

atwhit @ roadrunner.com

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