ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As a huge Organizing for America bus rolled into the Hispanic Cultural Center here on the evening of Aug. 27, it was greeted by the shouts of nearly 1,000 people: “Health Care Now!”
Stepping out of the bus were health care activists from New Mexico and as far away as New York. Among them were Fonda Osborn, president of Local 1199 Health Care Workers, Dr. Luella Toni Lewis, executive vice-president of the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare, Greg Bloom, state director for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and state Sen. Dede Feldman from Albuquerque.
While all the people on the stage spoke strongly for health care with a public option, the most significant contribution was made by Sen. Bingaman’s staffer Greg Bloom, who relayed the message that Bingaman continues to support a strong public option in health care reform, and is joined in this by the state’s junior senator, Tom Udall.
Don Manning, national AFL/CIO coordinator for health care and the Employee Free Choice Act, said Bingaman’s stand was reinforced by his announcement at a recent town hall debate that he backed use of the congressional reconciliation process to get the health reform bill passed and prevent the Republican minority from blocking it. This appeared to put to rest some public concerns that the senator was waffling.
Of the nearly 1,000 people who turned out for the spirited health reform rally, more than a third were members of local unions and of Working America, according to participants. One of the most active unions was the New Mexico Federation of Teachers, whose political action director, Tiffany Fiser, was busy handing out blue AFT T-shirts to the crowd.
People from southern New Mexico reported that they had collected thousands of signatures for national health care reform from constituents that the right-wing “teabaggers” had previously claimed as their own. It was proof positive, they said, that the vast majority of New Mexicans were for a strong public option.
As Bloom made his announcement on behalf of Bingaman, a number of people in the audience started to chant “Single Payer Now.” The chant drew little attention and quickly died down. In a marked contrast with the Republicans’ responses in 2004 and 2008, where dissenting opinions were either not permitted in their town hall meetings or their advocates were thrown out, this was an extraordinary example of civility.
Emil Shaw contributed to this article.