Recess rallies take place in Big Sky country

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Montanans, labor ready to take on ‘mob rule,’ push for health care reform

When you organize in Montana expect to spend a lot of time on the road. That’s what a coalition of health care reform organizations, rural associations and labor unions are doing this month to demonstrate the mass support health care reform – including a public option – has in the state.

Montana figures large in the health care fight because its senior senator, Max Baucus, heads the Senate Finance Committee where, according to reports, the reform legislation has been tied up in attempts to hammer out a bipartisan bill.

Molly Moody has spent 11 years in Montana. Based out of Missoula, Moody is the statewide coordinator of Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and has been traveling around the state for the last year talking to farmers, ranchers and anyone else who would listen about the need to reform the nation’s ailing health care system.

Like polls nationwide, Montanans support the government providing affordable, public insurance for those uninsured and underinsured, she said, with 73 percent overall and 62 percent in rural areas in favor of such reforms.

“It’s appealing to farmers and ranchers – who are mostly self-employed – to buy into a public option. Many cannot afford health care now,” Moody said.

HCAN, along with their coalition partners including Service Employees Union, Organizing For America (Barack Obama’s grassroots group), and state-wide groups representing young people and farmers, are door-knocking, writing letters to the editor, calling their two senators and one House member during the August recess.

“We’ll be at Max’s ranch, Sieben, just north of Helena on Aug. 8 as part of our citizen lobbying effort,” Moody said. Baucus is holding a fundraiser there. But the senator’s schedule has not been released yet, Moody said, so meeting with him hasn’t been set.

The pro-reform coalition isn’t the only ones planning for the August break. Americans For Prosperity – the group behind the far-right extremist “mobs” who have aggressively, and even violently, disrupted meetings with Democratic officials – is planning its actions for Montana.

According to the Flathead Beacon the group has “scheduled bus tours across the U.S. to generate a push back against the direction in which the bill is heading. Its bus will spend two days in Montana, arriving in Forsyth Aug. 14 and passing through 11 communities in the state before heading south into Wyoming.”

But the “mob rule” days may be numbered for these extremists. Labor unions have said they will organize en masse to “counter” the fringe groups.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a memo to affiliates, “''We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing ‘Tea-Party Patriots’ who will try to disrupt those meetings, as they've been trying to do to meetings for the last month.”

Sweeney went on to compare these mobs to the indicted Republican, former Majority Whip Tom Delay’s staff members/thugs who shut down Miami-Dade, Fla., vote recount in the infamous 2000 presidential election.

As one participant at a recent Philadelphia town hall meeting said about the disrupters there, “A few well-placed unionists, who actually feed their families by the sweat of their brows and with the muscles to show for it would have a quelling effect, as would more security.”

At the same time, SEIU Healthcare Chair Dennis Rivera challenged “radical-fringe groups” who are “disseminating discredited myths about health care reform bills that were adopted by four Congressional committees” to have a “serious and civil discourse about health insurance reform.”

SEIU’s Change That Works team is driving an ambulance through Montana offering information on health care reform, the Employee Free Choice Act and the economy. The team is sponsoring 400 events during August nationwide.

Montana’s Emergency Drive for Montana's Middle Class kicked off in Great Falls on July 26 and ends up in Missoula on Aug. 8. The ambulance riders have collected stories from all sorts of Montanans, like Karlyn Zimbelman, a farmer's wife from the tiny Montana town of Conrad, who said it’s cheaper to go to India for medical care.

And business owner and Chamber of Commerce member Margaret Novak from Chester, pop. 730, on the broad northern grasslands, who said she supports both health care and labor reform.

Or homecare worker and SEIU member Demetria Morrison and her three sons from Lame Deer, which is on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Southeastern Montana, who feel “the pinch of reduced funding” for the Indian Health Service.

Unions from Montana’s AFL-CIO are scheduling more than a dozen appearances at fairs, festivals and rodeo’s in conjunction with AFSCME, the public workers union, which is sending an RV throughout the country spreading the word about health care and labor law reform.

With all these activities underway, HCAN’s Moody is optimistic about winning real reform. But, she also warned, that the bill coming out of the Senate Finance Committee could be “sobering.”

Montana’s junior senator, Jon Tester, who has seldom weighed in on the health care issue did recently tell reporters that he wouldn’t rule out a public option and that everyone knows the status quo is not working.

'I think we'll end up with a good health care bill in the end,” he said.