Rallying against Perry’s assault on Medicaid

September 26, 2012

SEVERAL HUNDRED activists from a handful of cities turned out in Austin on September 21 to protest Texas Gov. Rick Perry's assault on Medicaid.

That day, during the opening session of the Texas Tribune Festival, Perry spoke on various issues of public policy and his belief that the devil is working misdeeds across the country. For millions of Texans, especially the poor, Perry is devil enough to worry about.

The most recent Census concluded that 5.8 million Texans--23 percent of the population--didn't have health insurance in 2011, but that hasn't kept the governor from rejecting federal funding that would extend access to Medicaid to an additional 2 million people.

Activists marched first to the governor's office at the State Capitol and then to the governor's mansion, hoping to deliver a petition asking Perry to accept the badly needed funds signed by 16,000 uninsured citizens. Protesters then gathered at the Texas AFL-CIO headquarters and enjoyed a spirited performance by the West Irving Community Choir before marching to the University of Texas, where Perry was speaking.

In addition to more familiar chants like: "Hey hey, ho ho, Rick Perry has got to go!" demonstrators sang old nursery rhymes with a few new lyrics such as: "Five young Texans jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head. Mommy called the doctor, but Perry said: NO, NO, NO!"

Perry may feel as though the Medicaid debate is little more than a quick way to score some cheap political points with his ultra-conservative base, but the health-insurance crisis in the state is very real. Despite having been in his office when the protest began, he opted to stay inside and remain aloof from the people his policies are harming.

Dea Blue said that she came to the capital from Houston because Medicaid cuts are an issue that affects her personally:

I was out sick, I had two strokes, and I couldn't get any benefits. It took six months before I could get any help. I had to rely on my kids, and even after six months, being totally disabled, I only got $419 a month. I used to work at a senior care facility, but we didn't have any health benefits.

Gwen also came in on the bus with Good Jobs=Great Houston, one of the sponsors of the event. "I'm here so that my kids can have health care. My parents don't have health care, and I want to make sure that my kids are covered. I can't even find two doctors who will accept Medicaid to treat my son. And there's no benefit for women's health," she stated.

Brenda expressed her anger at Perry. "He's playing politics. Two million people lost coverage because he refused federal money. The money's there, and he won't use it."

It is too early to tell just what kind of response Perry's war on Medicaid will produce. He is likely hoping that this demonstration will be the only public pressure he'll have to deal with. If it is, very little will stand in the way of his plans.

A growing number of Texans want to stand in the way, and with some patient organizing and a little luck, the protesters will keep coming back in greater numbers and they'll get harder and harder to ignore.

Jess Martin contributed to this article.

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