Our voices deserve to be heard

September 3, 2009

Rick Greenblatt describes the debate at a town hall meeting in San Diego.

THE HEALTH care town hall roadshow made a visit to San Diego yesterday. Over 1,000 people attended the meeting, hosted by congressional representative and centrist Democrat Susan Davis in suburban and largely working class Spring Valley, about 10 miles east of San Diego's downtown.

The meeting filled the local gymnasium, while the overflow remained outside on a hot summer afternoon, with both sides picketing and chanting throughout the afternoon. About one-third of the crowd consisted of right wingers, mobilized by 24-hour talk radio, Fox News TV commentators and Internet meet-ups.

The majority, however, were Democratic Party liberals, trade unionists--including members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) United Domestic Workers, Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Teamsters and Communication Workers of America--and leftists and progressives representing various organizations, including Health Care for All, the San Diego Green Party, ACORN and the International Socialist Organization.

Before the meeting began, chants of "Health care for all" dueled with "Just say no," filling the gym. These and other chants continued intermittently as the meeting went on, punctuated by jeers, cheers and boos. It was not a quiet meeting.

Tim Finley, a postal worker from San Diego's Ocean Beach and a supporter of WorkersUnited.org, said that he supported the Obama health insurance reform plan and was there because people do not understand health care.

"Basically we have medical mercenaries out there that work strictly for money," Finley said. "In every other western industrialized country, health care is a right. That's why we have the most outrageous health care costs in the world."

"We are tired of the health care industry making billions of dollars of profits while we are watching the poor die," said IBEW Local 569 member Johnny Simpson. "It's wrong. Wait until the last minute to go to the hospital because they can't afford it. They die. It's not right."

Although Obama supporters and single-payer advocates were the clear majority at the meeting, the right-wingers dominated the discussion from the floor. Health care has become the central issue to mobilize the Republican right. "If we are able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," Republican Sen. Jim DeMint was quoted as saying recently.

But health care was not the only hot-button issue. When one woman attacked hate crimes legislation for "discriminating against white people," she was greeted by a mixture of cheers and boos, as well as a chant of "racists go home" from the left.

"Undercover communists" in the Obama administration seemed to be another pressing issue for the right-wingers, with various "secret plans" by the nefarious president and his co-conspirators to take away their liberties, best known to those who follow Fox News' Glenn Beck. According to one speaker, this conspiracy even includes active planning to shut down talk radio and Fox News.

THERE WAS another side to all of this, however. Several speakers supported single-payer and "Medicare for All." Rep. Davis dismissed this by thanking them for their contribution, but did not address any of the real issues raised by the for-profit medical insurance industry. She has a history of almost unwavering support for the Democratic leadership since her initial election in 2000, and will clearly support whatever bill emerges from the current legislative negotiations.

Speaking from the floor, Tony Perez questioned Davis about single payer. Perez asked her, "If health care is a right, and it is, why didn't you support HR676 (the single-payer bill introduced by John Conyers)?"

Davis replied dismissively:

I think that the effort on 676, Medicare for All, has been very helpful. What I want to do is to have some principles that are shared with Medicare for all as we move forward...I think that you have made a great contribution to the discussion. I will continue to make certain that we get something out of Congress.

There was little enthusiasm from the floor for the insurance-based reform that Davis, the Democratic Party and much of the trade union leadership support. Several concerned seniors raised questions about the effect of the pending changes on Medicare coverage, reflecting a widely held view that Medicare cutbacks will be needed to fund the health insurance changes mandated by the Obama administration proposals.

Is it worthwhile for leftists to come to these events? The people that I talked to seemed to think so. Susan Dirksen, an unaffiliated local resident, was happy that she had been there. "I am glad that people from our side, people with some sanity, were there," Ms. Dirksen said. "Instead of it just being people shouting down Susan Davis, it just turned into a shouting match, but at least it was a two-sided shouting match."

Arcadio Gutierrez, a home health-care worker and supporter of AFSCME United Domestic Workers, said, "I think we are making an impact. They want to kick us all out of society and left alone to die or not. They don't want to spend the money. They want to keep it under control"

The afternoon was lightened up by the street theater of "Billionaires for Wealthcare." Arriving in a stretch limo, dressed in their finest evening wear, and chanting "Wealthcare for us," the "billionaires" made their case that the health insurance profiteers need more and more profit to keep them healthy.

Perhaps the most bizarre sign (and there were no shortage of contenders) was one that read "Health Care=Gas Chamber for Seniors and Babies"! That one, sadly, was not meant as a joke.

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