By Vivion Vinson
Between 500 and 700 people gathered on Sunday in front of Temple University Hospital for the Philadelphia sister rally of Bernie Sanders’ Our First Stand: Save Health Care — a day of rallies across the country to protest the pending repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals (PASNAP) hosted the event, in conjunction with a variety of labor and community activist groups. Speakers included Senator Bob Casey, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Congressmen Dwight Evans and Bob Brady, State Representative Jordan Harris, and State Senator Vincent Hughes, along with labor leaders, patients, and health professionals.
Patricia Eaken, the president of PASNAP, introduced Senator Casey, who described the health care challenges Pennsylvanians face, saying, “We’re going to fight like hell!” Hecklers attempted to interject a few times during his speech, with shouts of, “Your vote on Big Pharma!” and “Why’d you vote against Bernie Sanders?” (Senator Casey was one of 16 Democrats who voted against Sanders’ recent amendment proposing that Americans be allowed to purchase drugs more cheaply from Canada.) However, the shouts died down quickly and Casey was finished without further incident.
Next, Tarik Khan, a nurse practitioner, said he spoke “for the over 1000 patients at our clinic who will lose their insurance with the complete repeal of Obamacare.” He reviewed what he saw as the accomplishments of the ACA, saying that the U.S. had “lowered the uninsured rate to the lowest in our nation’s history.” The crowd cheered its support when he concluded by saying, “I am a nurse practitioner, but I am also a proud Muslim.”
Ted Dallas, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Human Services painted a sobering portrait of what is at risk with the repeal of the ACA. 700,000 people in the state, 150,000 of whom are in Philadelphia, are insured under Obamacare, he said. 65,000 people in Pennsylvania have accessed drug and alcohol recovery services because of the ACA, according to Dallas. “I will have to stop providing treatment for all of those people if Obamacare is repealed,” he said, “I will have to tell 700,000 people that they don’t have healthcare any more.” At one point he begged the audience “to fight to not repeal.”
Mayor Kenney followed, emphasizing the role of cities in progressive change. “Cities stepped up and took the lead” in the movement to divest from the South African apartheid state, he claimed. “We have the power in cities to change things!”
Denise Major, a healthcare worker and a recipient of Medicaid, testified about the impact of the ACA on her ability to get proper medical care and survive a critical illness. “Why do we have to work so hard and stand out here in the cold to get health coverage?” she asked to a round of applause and cheers. “How are you going to make America great again if you’re going to take away my medical coverage?”
Congressman Bob Brady added color by summing up a short speech: “Make those phone calls! Call them sons of bitches!”
Congressman Dwight Evans spoke a message of unity. “You’ve got to recognize that we are in a struggle — all of us. We may have come over in different boats, but we are in the same boat now. This is *our* country!”
Patrick Eiding, the president of the Philadelphia Council at American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, emphasized the role of labor in the ACA issue. “I have a message for my brothers and sisters in the labor movement… This is against working people, whether you’re in a union or not.” He exhorted the crowd to “go over to Toomey’s office!” (At this, a vocal group in the audience called out, “Tuesdays at Toomey,” referring to the weekly visits currently occurring at the Senators office.)
State Representative Jordan Harris introduced himself as being from South Philadelphia, saying, “Listen, I was raised to fight, and today we’re here to fight!” He poignantly reminded the crowd of the wording in the Declaration of Independence, and said, “How can you have liberty and the pursuit of happiness if you do not have LIFE that is secured by healthcare?”
Bringing the session to a close, State Senator Vincent Hughes spoke briefly, and then got the crowd chanting, “Fight back!” The event wrapped up with a group picture, and ad hoc networking in the crowd.