In The News
Rally pulls the plug on myths, sends Congress back to ‘get it done’
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Bolstered by African drumming, personal stories of health disasters in the current system, hundreds of signs, speeches by leading elected officials and tributes to Ted Kennedy, whose coffin at that moment was being carried to Arlington National Cemetery, more than 800 citizens jammed into a parking area across from Summerfest’s main gate Saturday August 29 to send Wisconsin’s congressional delegation back to D.C. with a simple demand – “Let’s Get It Done!”
To underscore its belief in President Obama’s health care reform, the crowd helped present Wisconsin’s two senators and eight members of the House with more than 50,000 declarations of support along the lines of Obama’s strategy, signed by residents and separated into piles, so that each representative knew how many thousands were personally marked by voters in their district.
The temporary stage, the removable camera platforms for TV and print, the spaces for wheelchairs for the elderly, the cheering sections for the young, the stands for special guests were crammed with participants for the hour-long event despite the chilly wind and blackening clouds as dusk approached Lake Michigan.
The surprisingly successful hour-long send-off also served as an early test of a national push, state by state, urging Congress to get it done – the “it” in this case reforming America’s health care system to modernize a complex system, insure the 45 million excluded and save the future with a healthy drop in the soaring premiums charged by a monopoly of private insurers.
The lead sponsor of this rally, Organizing for America (OFA), whose Wisconsin director, Dan Grandone, served as emcee, will be arranging such gatherings, declarations, testaments and fact-based discussions elsewhere for the next several weeks, re-establishing the grassroots organizing enthusiasm of the presidential election.
Milwaukee served as an early blueprint of sorts, signaled by the presence of speaker Jeremy Bird, the national OFA deputy director (who previously worked as Ohio chief for Obama’s presidential campaign and before that as field manger for the Wake-Up Wal-Mart effort of the United Food and Commercial Workers).
Successful portions of this rally outside Summerfest – declarations to members of Congress, personal stories so much more effective than the made-up generalities of the right-wing -- will be reflected in coming weeks by this national campaign of testament and irrefutable facts across the nation.
In Wisconsin the rally may have inadvertently offered a prelude to other issues and political campaigns likely to unfold in a suddenly unstable statewide election environment, given Gov. Doyle’s decision not to run in 2010 and some last minute maneuvers by him and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and perhaps a few others, that have suddenly cast doubt about previously assured alliances of progressive groups around the state.
OFA’s rally here was supported by like-minded organizing groups including the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, the state AFL-CIO, SEIU – whose organizing leader and familiar Wisconsin figure, Bruce Colburn, not only spoke but was quoted – Citizen Action of Wisconsin, religious groups, health reform advocates and others.
It was clearly dominated by supporters of the emerging House and Senate bills backed by the White House (all facing a few amendments and lingering financial issues). But then, supporters of this initiative also dominated all of the responsibly organized town hall meetings, despite media coverage that pretended an equal split or gave time to forums organized by threatened corporate-supported groups and hosted by a hired ABC-TV pitchman.
This send-off rally measured its criticism of opponents’ myths with something of the hope expressed by speakers in funeral services for Ted Kennedy that weekend.
The hope, cited within Obama’s eulogy and others, was that the distorting heat of August would give way in September to cooler reflection and acknowledgement of the needed goals and actual contents of health care legislation. Not an abandonment of partisan discussion – that would be too much to hope for -- but at least an effort to stick to realities as opposed to inventing hate crimes.
Certainly the speakers at this rally debunked and even pointedly trashed proven inventions about the evils of health care reform and also some emerging new myths that sought to turn upside down even basic religious teachings about caring for the neediest among us
But the tone was much more about the human condition and the urgency of finally acting after the decades of blockage reflected in Ted Kennedy’s unflagging decades of struggle for health care for all.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), the lone Wisconsin member of Congress to attend this send-off, anchored her rousing speech in the reality of what the current legislation intends and includes, not the fantasies promulgated on the Internet and cable news.
What makes the issue tough was how easily fear can be thrown into the debate and the complexity of issues still unfinished, which opponents are using, she suggested, to hide the harsh truth in front of us.
She quoted a veteran organizer she admired, Colburn, who had told her of his concern that health care reform was being dismissed by the opposition as just a case of money, just one of many issues the nation must address – rescuing business, revitalizing manufacturing, returning families to savings not debt, pushing green technology and mass transit, finally passing employee free choice, education improvement, using cap and trade to fight an overheating planet.
(In a conversation with Labor Press, Colburn expressed similar concern that Democrats weren’t focusing on health care reform enough to prevent opponents from sidetracking it.)
“But you know,” said Moore, “the road that leads to these other solutions runs right through health care reform.” As she told the crowd, only by bringing down this relentless escalation in premium costs will businesses stop arguing that they cannot afford to raise pay, invest in the future, improve the environment – or address the host of other changes needed to pull the nation out of neglect and failure.
Health care reform, she said, is the lynchpin to the entire agenda of restoration. “We can’t let this remain,” she told the crowd, emphasizing the call by the late senator and the current president that affordable health care is a right that should not be prevented by the current policies – and that competition (often demonized as “public option”) is needed to end the corporate stranglehold.
Moore was introduced by the state’s lieutenant governor, in a similarly impassioned speech that brought in several of the other issues that face the nation. The crowd made clear in its vocal thunder that Barbara Lawton is the only announced candidate for Doyle’s seat that at this point retains the support of Wisconsin’s forward-looking organizations and voters, and in Milwaukee progressive support remains a key to any Democrat’s election.
Opposition noise did not exist at this rally, so the media inevitably went to extraordinary lengths to seek it out. On Chicago Ave. outside the parking lot, there was one man and one signholder opposing health care, so the TV news cameras that had just interviewed Moore and Lawton went out on the street to film them, creating a sense of “balance” out of an 800-2 ratio.