On February 18, 2010, Organizing for America (OFA), Health Care for American NOW! (HCAN) and no less than THIRTY other organizations sponsored a CALL FOR ACTION rally in Madison Heights in southeastern Michigan calling for Congress to act now on jobs for Michigan. These sponsoring groups represent a broad coalition of interests including health care reform, peace, immigration reform, clean energy and climate change prevention, jobs/labor, and social justice. There were about 350-400 people in attendance. This was just one of many such rallies being held across the country.
|United Food & Commerc. Workers||SEIU|
|MichUHCAN||MI Citizen Action|
|UAW||Mich. Universalist Social Just. Net.|
|Reform Immigration of America||Planned Parenthood of MI|
|Women’s Internatl. League for Peace & Freedom||Progress Michigan|
|AFSCME Council 25||America Votes Action Fund|
|Unite HERE Local 24||MoveOn.org|
|Interfaith Council on Peace & Justice||Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring of MI|
|Health Care Now||SE Mich. Jobs with Justice|
|Detroit Metro Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice||Detroit Area Peace with Justice Network|
|Gray Panthers of Metro-Detroit||Mich. Alliance to Strengthen Soc. Sec. & Medicare|
|Mid-MI Coalition for Health Care Reform|
The event was moderated by former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, former state Representative and current Michigan Director of Health Care for America Now John Freeman. His opening words were powerful and energizing and set the stage nicely for what was to come. He encouraged attendees to visit the various booths set up around the room to take action.
John Freeman warms up the audience
There were posters and yard signs for folks to take…
There were laptop computers set up by Progress Michigan to email members of Congress.
Jesse Worker from Clean Water Action showing laptops
And many other groups had materials.
OFA table with Mich. Exec. Director Aletheia Henry in purple
Health Care for America NOW! handing out yard signs
Repower American booth staffed by state volunteer coordinator Abby Clark
Peace & Justice booth
Reform Immigration of America booth
The first speaker was Representative Sandy Levin, older brother of Senator Carl Levin also of Michigan. He talked about the disparity in unemployment according to a person’s economic status.
Representative Sandy Levin
This is from a recent study on unemployment compensation. We know what the figures is in the country, about 10%. In Michigan about 15%. But these are bulk figures. When you break down the figures in this country by income, the figures become even more startling. For households with household income of $150,000 or more, the unemployment rate in the last quarter of 2009 was, guess what? 3.2%. For those in the next highest bracket — $100,000 to $150,000 — it was 4%. For those in the lowest quintet, essentially making $12,500 or less, the unemployment rate was what? 31%.
On creating jobs:
I went to Jack Murtha’s funeral and I flew up with [United States Secretary of Transportation] Ray LaHood and this is what he told me. He talked to all the states and he now has put together a list of construction projects that are ready to move. This is real, not fantasy. And the figure is $70-80 billion of construction jobs/infrastructure jobs that are ready to move in America. When we go back next Monday, including the Senate, we ought to pass a jobs bill that has adequate money for infrastructure to help get America back to work.
On President Obama’s summit next week with Republicans and Democrats:
Another #1 priority is health care. The president has called for a meeting with Democrats and Republicans one week from today. And he has said to the leadership, “Come to the White House and come forth with your program and your plans.” The hope is that the Democratic in the House and Senate will be working on and will work through a health care reform bill. And I think what the president is going to say to the Republicans: “Put your plan on the table so we can see what you stand for.”
He also said that if Republicans want to continue to use the filibuster, they should be forced to stand and talk (just like they used to have to do) and against the Senate bill’s plan to tax health care benefits.
Next up was Chris Michalakis from Reform Immigration for America and Legislative & Political Director for United Food and Commercial Workers. He tied the importance of immigration reform to the job situation in this country.
We need to fix the whole system, not just cut around the edges…we want a system that makes sense for families to go through, not go around. And we need to create an earned path for undocumented citizens who register with the government, pay a small fine, pass a background check, start to learn English and earn and pay taxes.
Businesses that play by the rules with reform wouldn’t be run out of town by employers who take the low road just like we see today. Immigration reform is going to crack down on employers who exploit workers and undermine our wages.
The crowd listens to speakers
Next up was Luke Canfora, Michigan Executive Director of Repower America.
Clean energy legislation and comprehensive energy reform is the number one thing we can do today and we can do NOW to create jobs in the United States of America. And we’re talking about great jobs that can’t be outsourced. Don’t believe me? Go to Hamtramck and look at the Volt plant. Men and women are back to work building cars here in America…And parts are made here in America, especially the energy segment. Danotek Motion Technologies that creates high-efficiency wind turbines is right here in Canton. In Warren they just opened a new battery plant that will go into all these new cars of the future.
When it comes to climate change and science, who do you trust? Nobel Laureate Al Gore or Glenn Beck? And when it comes to issues of national security and safety, who do you trust? Wesley Clark or Sarah Palin? Where do we want to create jobs? Do we want to create jobs here in Michigan? Or in Tehran, Iran? And who do we want to make wealthy and give a better quality of life? Michigan workers or fat cat oil executives?
Al Fishman, a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Detroit Area Peace & Justice Network spoke eloquently about the need to reconsider how and where we expend our nation’s precious treasures. And he exhorted people to take personal action of their own.
There’s an old expression in the movement because sometimes we have looked to the magnificent figures like Dr. King and others to lead us. And the old expression is “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.” And that is true. We need to reinvigorate the spirit of 2008. I’m especially concerned and we should all be concerned about the number of young people who took part in that campaign. And we need to build a movement that inspires them to into the practice of participation rather than sitting on the sidelines. Because we need their energy and their enthusiasm.
And finally I’d like to say that, I think for all of us, the success of the Obama administration is not just a question of success for Barack Obama. Because the failure of the Barack Obama administration means that this country could turn dangerously to the right and that danger is ever-present. So WE are the people we’ve been waiting for and we have to guarantee the success of the Obama administration.
Speaking on behalf of health insurance reform were Professor Marcia Boehm, a handicapped business owner and professor at Schoolcraft College and Aletheia Henry, Executive Director for OFA in Michigan.
Professor Boehm also attended a health care townhall held by Rep. John Dingell in Romulus last summer that was overtaken by Teabaggers (read about it HERE). Professor Boehm was a passionate voice for the personal impact of the debacle that is our health insurance system today. She herself has a broken hip that goes untreated because she doesn’t have insurance. Her sister-in-law and niece both have breast cancer and neither has insurance.
My sister-in-law knew she had a lump but because she didn’t have insurance, she just ignored it. Because that’s what do you do when you don’t have insurance in this country…[both her and her daughter were] in the OR at the same time, the mother was getting the port put in for her chemo and the daughter was having her breast removed. She has since found out that she carries the gene which means she either has to find a way to pay to have her other breast removed or find a way to pay for a mammogram and an MRI every six months. How do you do that when you’re making less than $7,000 a year? You don’t.
Do we want an America that forces people to make decisions like that? Do we want a system that forces people struggle and suffer? Isn’t health care an absolute right?
Let your voice be heard.
Aletheia Henry talked about OFA and moving forward from the grassroots level.
I love working with Marcia because she reminds us that health reform is about real people. I understand that we are all really into it and we get into the weeds about reconciliation and filibusters and all that. But it’s about people like Marcia. It’s about people like my dear friend Elaine who is 27 years old and is $100,000 in debt because of a pre-existing condition. Or the man I talked to in the Upper Peninsula a year ago who broke down in tears when he told me about his best friend who had died because he couldn’t afford post-op care after his cancer surgery. That’s not okay in America and that’s what we’ve been fighting against.
Organizing for America started it’s kickoffs last June. We got together in coffee shops and living rooms and libraries across the country and we said, “We need to keep working to get these stories out there at let our voices be heard.” And we’ve been doing that ever since. When the Tea Party wanted to disrupt townhalls, we made sure that we were at those town halls, making sure our legislators knew that people want reform. In August we got together and asked “How many calls do we think we can make to Congress in one day? Maybe we can make 100,000 calls.” On that day people spoke up and we made 350,000 calls because people want reform!
We’re not going to stop because health insurance isn’t just about those that don’t have insurance. It’s also about those who do have insurance.
On the path forward:
We are eagerly awaiting, in one week, President Obama sitting down with a “bipartisan” group of folks and laying it out on the table and saying, “This is our plan, this is what we know America needs. Where’s YOUR plan?” And I think from there we’ll move forward and move forward quickly. But the president can’t do it alone. He can’t do it unless we’re there supporting him. He can’t do it unless we talk to our neighbors, talk to our legislators, talk to people in our community and be that voice for change and get involved.
Speaking for the labor movement was Dave Ivers, Secretary-Treasurer of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. He talked about how improving the economy and creating more jobs isn’t just a union issue. And he outlined how all the issues raised by the previous speakers are directly connected to improving the jobs situation in our state and across the country.
Finally, Representative John Conyers spoke. He brought a bag of potatoes up to the stage and sat it on the dais.
Representative John Conyers, Jr.
Reading off an attached label he said “We need real reform, not small potatoes”. The bag of potatoes was a gift from a constituent who was trying to get his attention and clearly succeeded. He went on to talk about the need for comprehensive health care reform and the situation in Congress.
The strength of a universal, single-payer health care bill, H.R. 676 is stronger than ever! Now, I’m going to hold my nose and vote for whatever the Senate sends over. I’m going to vote for it because I have come to the conclusion that it’s better to take whatever we can get and then build build forward from that than to vote down the bill. So you know that I’m not voting FOR the bill, but we’ve got to make this little piece of progress. And, by the way, what’s wrong with Obama getting a little more spine and kicking the crap out of some of those Congressmen?!
On the public option:
Can’t we have one public alternative to the 1,300 private insurance companies???
On the retirement of Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana:
I know Birch Bayh and for his son to say “I’m quitting because there’s to much partisanship” is the most hypocritical thing — he’s one of the ten that has said no to the public option! I’m not glad he’s quitting but I’m not shedding any tears, you can be sure about that.
He finished with this:
We’re going to keep working and get those ten Senators to understand that people are dying every day of the week because we’re playing political games. It’s the most immoral subject matter that I’ve ever had to handle in the House of Representatives. It’s a disgrace. But, look, we’ll fight through it, brothers and sisters. We’re gonna get a universal health care system after we get the stink-a-roo that’ll probably come to us. We’ll start building from there. We can do that, we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.
After the speakers, people from the audience were given a chance to come to the microphone and make a brief comment and many did, expressing a wide range of opinions and letting the audience know about their personal concerns.
Overall this rally was one of the best I have seen organized since Barack Obama was elected president. There was excellent coordination between the various groups. The speakers were very good and very inspiring. There was lots of positive energy and motivation toward action and the jobs message which underpinned everything came through loud and clear.
Now let’s hope that rallies like this that are happening all across the country have an impact.
I’m just sayin’…
Please Digg this blog entry HERE to help get the word out.