Friday, August 14, 2009

A Rally for Healthcare in Jackson, MI

Today we had a rally for Healthcare reform in Jackson, MI. Somehow, people had gotten word that there was a rally scheduled at 4:30 to protest against healthcare reform, so various local groups got together to state a counter-demonstration in favor of healthcare reform starting at 3:30. I got notified of the event from several different agencies--Organizing for America, the Jackson Democrats, theMichigan UU Social Justice Network, MichUHCAN, andPlanned Parenthood, as well as some church members. After four e-mails in a row popping into my inbox about it, it was clear this was a big deal in Jackson.

My husband and I got there a little after three, and things were already well underway. There was a table registering people, handing out signs for those without (we came prepared), and handing out buttons to locals only and stickers to all. It was being run by Organizing for America personnel. This event was happening at Rep. Mark Schauer's Jackson office, and congressional staff passed out a flyer warmly welcoming everyone to his office, inviting people to come in and sit if they got overheated, use the restrooms if necessary, and help themselves to bottled water provided. It urged people to be peaceful and respectful of local neighbors and businesses.

Near the peak of the event, I asked an Organizing for America worker if he knew the count. He was sure it was over 300 at that point, but they were still tallying based on their sign-in sheets (and they knew at least 40 hadn't signed in). I was proud to see there were at least 14 people of our 92-member church (15%) in attendance, especially since this was during work hours, and many of our most involved social justice advocates I knew couldn't be there. We hadn't organized formally, but we had talked about it at the board meeting the night before (two board members came), and I had listed the event on the church "unofficial" Facebook page. Several members are very involved in the local Democrats, however, and I knew that one had sent out e-mails to a lot of people, including most church people who would be likely to attend.

The group was looping around the front of Rep. Schauer's office when we got there. By that peak time, it was looping in front of the store next door, the parking lot beyond, and a little beyond that, as well. The group mostly chanted ("What do we want? Healthcare. When do we want it? Now?" and "Everybody in; nobody out") as they walked in the circle. There were a few protesters against healthcare reform during the first hour--about five that I saw. Things remained peaceful, although one person from each side did engage in a fairly heated debate, but managed to cool off and go separate ways.

Shortly before the main opposition group arrived, Rep. Schauer addressed the crowd. He stood in front of his office, balanced on top of a chair so people could see him. It was a pretty gutsy move, I thought, as there were opponents there who tried to both shout him down (but were shushed by advocates) and forcibly move their way up to him. He talked about this being a very important time in our history, and about the way the system is broken, and pledged that if the final bill did the things he listed--protected seniors, kept parents from living in fear that their child would get sick and they couldn't go to the hospital, etc.--then he would vote for that bill.

After Rep. Schauer re-entered his office, the opponents to healthcare reform arrived in full. They numbered probably less than 50, from what I could see. The news articles I've seen on TV and internet have not reported this disparity in numbers, so it's important to note. Another thing I saw on the comments to the Citizen Patriot article was someone basically calling it cowardly of Rep. Schauer to not hold a traditional town hall or take questions at this event. To the contrary, I think he's showing courage by speaking publically at all, and common sense by holding the telephone town halls, where disruptions can be managed and civil dialogue can be held. There is absolutely no democratic process occurring when congress representatives are shouted down when holding public forums so that nobody else can be heard but the irate citizen. The purpose of that is to shut down discourse. The virtual town halls are a way of allowing discourse to continue despite such scare tactics. Another piece of misinformation in the comments was someone claiming that basically most of the pro-reform ralliers were bussed in, whereas the con-reform protesters were local. As a local, I can say recognized dozens of people who I know from the area. Obviously, as someone who has lived here only five years, I can't know everyone in town, so it's not surprising for me not to have known more. I spoke to numerous other people, however, and everyone I spoke with was from within Schauer's congressional district. Furthermore, I did not see any busses in the parking lot next to the office. I have no doubt that some people came from further away, but from what I could tell, that would represent a minority of those present.

Among the opponents to healthcare reform was one man holding a sign with a swastika on it with a circle around it and a line through it (a "no" symbol) (Picture from Mlive). The Citizen Patriot article identifies him as Jackson County Commissioner Phil Duckham, and says:
"This is how Hitler started out," Duckham said. "First, Obama took over the auto industry, then the banking industry. We don't need him to take over the health care industry."
This comparison of Obama to Hitler has got to stop. It is inflammatory, inaccurate, misleading, ignorant, and, as I heard someone on NPR say today, it is a denial of the real truth of the Holocaust and what caused it--racism/anti-Semitism. For a government representative, no matter how small the office, to make such a statement, and to be identifying himself as not a private citizen but with his office, is deeply troubling and deeply offensive.

The behavior of the people on the other side stands in stark contrast. The signs I saw in favor of healthcare reform said things like "Democrats = Caring," "Standing Together," "I Love Mark Schauer," and other affirmative messages. (I have to say, I found very sweet and amusing the "I love Schauer" signs. How often do you see that kind of affection towards the government by liberals?)

Unitarian Universalists have a new campaign called "Standing on the Side of Love." What I can say is that the UUs definitely stood on the side of love today.

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Some pictures, in which you might see some local Unitarian Universalist faces (and behinds):








5 comments:

Caroline said...

I have to say how proud I am of the East Liberty UU Church members and their obvious presence (seen through these pictures) at this rally. You go guys! You do stand on the side of love. Wish I could have been there with you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, cool. Great post and great rally. Plus, I recognized a couple of faces in those photos! Did you take those pictures yourself? - Carrie

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Carrie - Other than the Phil Duckman photo, which came from the CitPat, yes, I took the rest on my cell phone, which I'm not very good at using the camera function on. But most of the time I was focusing on people I know, so that's why you recognize the faces. I only caught a fraction of the church folks that were there (14 myself & husband included).

Cynthia Landrum said...

UPDATE: Based on the tallying that Organizing for America has done so far (they're still entering data), based on those who signed in (which were not all the people) we know that the pro-reform group included:
--over 60 people with Jackson addresses,
--over 90 people from Jackson county,
--over 160 people from the 7th Congressional District.
Rumors that people were bused in or were paid to be there are entirely false.

Cynthia Landrum said...

Further Clarification:
That "someone on NPR" I referenced was ethicist Arthur Caplan:
http://www.hereandnow.org/2009/08/rundown-813/