Pittsburgh: National Day of Action for Single Payer
Pittsburgh's part in the National Day of Action Against Health Insurance Companies took place today downtown in front of the Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield building. I was able to be there for about 45 minutes.
The good parts: perfect weather; a wide sidewalk on a busy corner with lots of pedestrians and cars; a decent sound system; good people speaking with something to say and the ability to say it briefly and affectingly; plenty of signs and leaflets; the news that Pittsburgh City Council is on record as endorsing single-payer healthcare; the Tribune-Review (Scaife's paper!) sent a reporter; the local CBS affiliate sent a cameraman.
The bad parts: a Verizon truck parked on the corner (foily thought: did Highmark call them?) separated us from the street traffic on one side; the Three Rivers Arts Festival stage nearby meant our speakers had to compete with a country music event; if the Post-Gazette sent a reporter I didn't see her/him; ditto for the other local TV stations.
About 100-150 people came out for this (my estimate, seconded by one of the organizers). I don't know how that compares to expectations for a weekday event downtown in our not-very-large city.
The first speaker was a minister affiliated with a local interfaith group (I had trouble hearing at first until they fixed the sound). He spoke briefly and movingly of health care as a human right. After him we had a nurse who alluded to the hideous gangrene cases and amputations she sees because uninsured people neglect their injuries until it's too late. She also spoke about her mother-in-law who lost her job and health insurance, and died two years later of a treatable illness. The President of City Council was scheduled to speak, but had a death in the family and sent a staff member instead - she spoke very well, citing rather horrible statistics about local infant mortality rates, and telling her personal story of losing her small business because of hospital bills. Another substitute speaker was there in place of her younger sister, an asthma sufferer, hospitalized again, unable to get coverage for hospital stays due to complications caused by her pre-existing (since birth) condition - deep in debt, moved back into parents' house with kids, can't go to college since every cent goes to pay off her medical bills, etc. etc. Ironically, she works as a nurse's aide. In fact it's becoming a theme at these events: people who work in health care, other than nurses and doctors, often can't get health insurance.
Our little protest was very polite. I couldn't help thinking about the extremes to which our predecessors in the Civil Rights and other movements have had to go before anyone took them seriously.