Some three dozen people rallied today for universal health care. The group, organized by Community for Change, walked from the Gateway campus to Monument Square, where their visual message competed for attention with the sounds of Lake Effect and the construction work under way on Sixth Street.
Participants in the rally said they were interested in health care reform, but they didn't necessarily agree with President Obama's plan to revamp the current system. Scott Jarvela, of Racine, said he felt Congress was moving too fast. "Slow down, fellas," was his message on national leaders trying to expand health care coverage to most Americans.
But Jarvela said the need for reform is real. While his job provides him solid benefits, his mother struggles month-to-month to pay for the prescription drugs she needs. Her Social Security payments barely provide enough to cover her living expenses plus the $150 to $200 she pays for prescription drug coverage.
Jarvela said he came out to the rally because it was described as nonpartisan. He simply hoped to learn more about the issue and get a gauge on where people stand.
Jeff Pellerin, of Racine, started work when he was 14 years old and never let up until a bad back and battered hands forced him to retire. He's on disability, but has to wait until August 2010 before he's eligible for government-assisted health care. Until then, he's scratching by on Social Security and hoping he lives long enough to get to a doctor.
"It's been a struggle," said Pellerin, who can feel something wrong inside of his body, but doesn't know what it is. Without insurance he can't afford to see a doctor, yet his Social Security payments (built up from working since he was a teenager) are too high for him to qualify for health coverage now.
What frustrates Pellerin is he did everything right. He worked hard all of his life, made decent money as a truck driver with the Teamsters, and his reward is a life on the edge. Pellerin even turned down a life living on disability. He was in a car crash that left his hands as burned stumps with fingers that don't bend. Doctors told him he'd never work, but Pellerin ignored them and got a job anyway. Now, as his body gives out, he's left to wait for a catastrophe.
"It's gonna cost more to leave me untreated," Pellerin said. "They're going to wheel me into the ER someday and spend a hundred times more to treat me."
Pellerin shared his story with Paulette Garin, the former Congressional candidate who's made health care reform her signature issue. Garin supports a single-payer system that would, essentially, wipe out the current insurance industry and replace it with a government-run health care system that would guarantee everyone automatic coverage for life, even if they change or lose a job.
"It's the only way," said Garin, who is the state coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America.
Garin was critical of Obama's plan, saying not enough is known about the "public option" for health care. (The "public option" would create a government-run insurance company that would be available to all Americans and compete with private insurance companies.) Garin said as companies continue to cut costs and look for efficiencies they'll drop health insurance and force employees to sign up for a government program that is, at least now, ill-defined.
Friday's rally was a precursor to the Health Care Forum that Community for Change is organizing from 1-4 p.m. on July 26 at the Masonic Center, 1012 Main St., in Racine. The nonpartisan event is open to the public. Participants will be able to share their stories about the health care system and learn more about the national debate on the issue.
During the rally on Monument Square, Community for Change set up a table to promote its July 26 forum. A representative from Downtown Racine Corp ordered them to move the table, saying DRC had paid to lease the square for its Music on the Monument series. It was a somewhat surprising request because Community for Change had been on the square the previous two Fridays without being asked to move, and the table clearly wasn't interfering with the music. Here's a further explanation from Community of Change's Ryan Gleason about what happened (as left in the comments):
A person from the DRC approached me at the Square and informed me they had Monument Square reserved and that we would have to leave.
We were situated on the opposite end of the square from where the music was taking place. After the notification we immediately packed up without disagreement or incident. The music was not blocked and there was no shouting or unruly behavior.
As the DRC had paid to reserve the square, I have no issue with their decision or the way they went about it. In fact, many of us stayed to enjoy the music and get lunch, which was the intention anyway. We were well out of view of the music and spectators, but the DRC reserves the right to make the call since they paid.
The participants were well behaved and promoted an agenda of asking our lawmakers to reform our health care system. I'm very pleased to get this nonpartisan message out there and of the people that chose to participate. Both parties have different solutions to get us there, but the main point is that we have to get there. That was the message.