Thousands demand health care now!

SEATTLE—Led by mothers and their children, thousands of union members and other health care advocates marched through the city here May 30 behind a giant banner that proclaimed, “Health care for All in 2009 … We Can’t Afford to Wait.”

The marchers flowed out of Pratt Park in Seattle’s African American community carrying hundreds of multi-colored banners and placards with messages like “Medicare For All” “Support HR-676” “Health care is a Human Right!” and “People’s Health First Profits Out. ”

The marchers, African American, Latino, Asian American and white poured down Jackson Street filling the broad avenue curb-to-curb for more than 20 blocks. They chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho high cost health care’s got to go” and “We need health care, not corporate welfare.”

Sponsored by more than 200 grassroots organizations, the demonstration was swelled by busloads from Yakima, Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham, Mt. Vernon, Everett, Olympia, Tacoma and the Tri-Cities. It was part of a national day of action for health care sponsored by Healthcare-NOW, a coalition that advocates single-payer health care such as Rep, John Conyers’ HR-676 “Medicare for All” legislation.

Events were held in 50 cities on or around May 30. The mobilization is building toward a June 25 demonstration in Washington D.C. that is expected to draw tens of thousands.

Neal Safrin, executive board member of Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 1015, was marching with a contingent of Seattle bus drivers and mechanics. “We have a health care crisis across this country and we need action now,” he told the World. “We need to put tens of thousands of working people on the streets to assure that the people have a place at the bargaining table on health care legislation. We can’t allow the insurance companies to dominate the negotiations in Washington D.C.”

Duane Sordahl, a Tacoma sawmill worker, a member of the International Woodworkers of America, said, “Health care is a right, not a privilege that can be afforded by the few. It’s time for people to stand up to the insurance companies. We’re not asking for health care. We’re demanding it.”

Richard Gurtiza, director of Region 37, the Cannery Workers division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union told the World, “This is the best opportunity in 50 years to win real healthcare reform. FDR had it on the table and it was sidetracked again and again. If we miss this chance, are we going to go another 50 years? We can’t allow that to happen.”

Dan Burdick traveled by car, two ferries, and three buses from Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula to join the march. Self-employed as a homebuilder and cabinet maker, he must purchase health insurance for himself with high co-pays and deductibles. “I’m an example of someone who would benefit tremendously from single-payer healthcare,” he told the World.

Felicia Yearwood marched with the Seattle Human Rights Commission. “As long as we have a system based on insurance company proifits, we will never have sustainable health care,” she said.

Gabrielle Lavalle was wearing the long, pink gown of a beauty queen, with a ribbon that proclaimed, “Miss Universal Coverage.” She said her concern is the cost of wars and weapons. “If we eliminated nuclear submarines and closed the 700 military bases we have around the world there would be plenty of money to provide health care for everyone,” she told the World.

Carmen Miranda marched with El Centro de la Raza. Their banner read, “Cobertura de Salud para Todo en el 2009.” (Health care for All in 2009).

“We have a lot of families in our communities that are not covered, especially undocumented workers with children. This is the wealthiest country in the world. We should provide health care for everyone without exception. It works for Canada. It works for Cuba. Why not the U.S.?”

She said she worked for many years among migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington. “These are workers who get injured in the fields, are exposed to pesticides, yet they have no health care. These are the people who put food on our tables. People are dying for lack of health care.” She urged a fight to remove from some health care reform bills clauses that would deny coverage for undocumented workers and their families.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who serves on the Senate committee drafting the health care bill was warmly applauded when she told the crowd at Pratt Park, that while the movement for health care reform is diverse, “we speak with one voice and march in lock step when it comes to doing what’s right for our kids, our families, our economy and our future and that is ensuring access to quality, affordable health care for all this year. Here in America, families are struggling with the crushing costs of health care that threaten their financial stability, leave them exposed to higher premiums and deductibles and out them at risk of losing coverage as employers struggle to provide coverage.”

She assailed the foes of health care reform and urged a movement of “moms in tennis shoes” to help galvanize the grassroots movement to overcome that opposition. Amid the applause, many in the crowd shouted out “single-payer,” as she spoke.

Ten-year old Marcelas Owens, told the crowd that her mother “fought for health care for everyone” and died as a result of not getting proper care after an illness caused her to lose her job and her health insurance. “I’m marching today to continue her fight,” she said.

The two-mile march ended at Westlake Center in downtown Seattle. Deanna Knutsen, co-chair of Washington CAN (Community Action Network), a veteran health care advocate, told the crowd that thousands are rejected by the for-profit health insurance corporations because of “preexisting conditions,” a crisis that can only be solved by a universal plan that covers everyone, she said.

She added, “President Obama has proposed a ‘public option.’ The private insurance companies don’t think they can compete with a ‘public option.’ Do you think the private insurance companies are thinking about you?” The crowd roared, “NO!” She continued, “Do we need change NOW?” The crowd roared, “Yes!”

Kim Armstrong, a registered nurse and leader of the Washington State Nurses Association deplored the fact that 47 million people are without health insurance. She said nurses are “acutely aware” that millions of uninsured people postpone going to the doctor until too late and die while others pay for medical care on credit, fall into debt and lose their homes in foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of Mom’s Rising drew cheers when she said, “We need to get health care reform done immediately and get it done right for kids and families. It’s fiscal folly to continue with our broken health care system—both businesses ad families are hurting.”