COLUMBUS, Ohio -- My whole body was pounding from the roaring chants of "Health Care Now," as I walked into the Expo Center at the Ohio State Fair Grounds here Sept. 1 evening. On less than a week's notice, thousands mobilized to make their voices heard in favor of health care reform, with a strong public option.
Thousands of more people have joined the fight for health care reform since August.
A sense of urgency and determination marked the huge, energetic rally. Many expressed the need to counter corporate media claims that the public has turned against health care reform.
"There are only a tiny handful of those ‘tea baggers' outside yelling about ‘death panels' and ‘Nazis,' while thousands of us pour in here to say that we must have real health care for all," said Susan Childs, director of Planned Parenthood here.
"The opponents always yell about ‘abortion' to try to deny women the health care they need and take people's eyes off the real issues. It won't work this time!"
The crowd, estimated at 2,500, included many unionists and hundreds of retirees, as well as younger folks, disabled, veterans and many who just wanted their voices heard.
"Everyone I know wants this to go thru, but you don't see it on the corporate news," said retired steelworker, SOAR member Ron Wharton. "I've had prostate and skin cancers, while my wife has a serious heart ailment. If the Goodyear VEBA we have goes broke, we're in deep trouble. I'm more likely to walk on the moon than be able to get private insurance. The public option is vital to us!"
The Rev. Reems, from a west side Columbus church, opened the rally calling the fight for health care "a moral issue, today's civil rights movement!"
Reems is part of the Interfaith group, "We Believe," which recently held public events supporting health care reform, the public option and calling for civility and honestly in the health care debate.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, author of the Senate bill's public option, was clearly the event's main attraction.
To those who call for reformers to "go slow," Brown said, "that's what they told Martin Luther King. Those 12,000 people across our nation losing health care every single day don't need us to ‘go slow.' I hear your voices, and we plan to go back to D.C. & pass real health care reform, with a strong public option."
Brown cited the event he had earlier in the day in Cincinnati, saying "all the advisors and experts told me, ‘Don't go to Cincinnati, they're all religious nuts and right wingers there, they'll chase you out of town." Cincinnatians, Brown said, were "regular folks, people who work for a living and who need health care. Some 1,400 of them came out this morning to support us and urge us to keep fighting for real health care reform!" The building exploded into cheers and chants.
After asking all unionists to yell out, (& pointing out how "damned hot" it was getting on the stage), Joe Rugola, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said to cheers, "Our nation's trade union movement won't stop marching, speaking out and fighting for health care for all until we've won this fight!"
Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy and U.S. Action leader Bill McNary also called for continuing mobilization to win the health care fight. McNary called the rally "an historic event that we'd all remember helped us win universal health care!"
The rally was just the latest and biggest example of how the public mood is shifting strongly here in favor of real health care reform, with a public option. The interfaith events brought out hundreds and helped reframe health care as a moral issue.
Beside Sen. Brown's Cincinnati event, he also held a town hall in rural Dover, Ohio. To the surprise of some, hundreds turned out in support of health care reform. Service Employees union sponsored a large, successful event in here with Howard Dean and Rep. Marsha Fudge also held a big and enthusiastic event in Cleveland.
Right wing "teabaggers" have mobilized in attempts to disrupt most of the events, but have been greatly outnumbered. They do appear, however, to have strongly inspired thousands of regular folks to turn out to support the need for health care reform.
"We're especially seeing more retirees showing up at these events," said Norm Wernet, Ohio director of the Alliance of Retired Americans. "They've been targeted by opponents, but the ability of the older worker, 55 to 64 years old, to buy into Medicare, this is a life/death issue. One of ARA's key goals is to close the ‘donut hole' in Medicare Part D, and the proposed bill will do that. People just need the truth!"