BY AMY LYNN SMITH
WARREN – This was more than a great turnout. The response to the “Save Our Healthcare” rally in Warren on Sunday was so overwhelming the event had to be moved to a larger venue than the one originally announced. According to Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon, 9,000 people RSVPed for the rally.
“9,000 is a huge response,” Dillon told me. “This is a real issue for people — they are telling us the Affordable Care Act saved their lives.”
It’s no surprise that the ACA, or Obamacare, is saving people’s lives. I’ve been telling those stories here for three years. But that isn’t stopping Congressional Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump from moving to repeal the law at the first opportunity.
I talked to people at the rally about why they were there. Here’s what Carl from Warren told me:
“I’m here to support the Progressive movement. I’m a retired autoworker, so I’m not as worried about myself as I am about others. I’m pretty sure this rally is the beginning of something and it’s imperative that we stand up.”
Brigitte from Southfield told me she doesn’t want to see 11 million kids lose their healthcare if the ACA is repealed. A U.S. Army veteran with a special-needs child, she doesn’t want to see veterans lose their healthcare, either.
Shawn, a 26-year-old from Pontiac, told me this: “I’m here because I work over 40 hours a week and I don’t get healthcare at work. Obamacare is affordable. I looked around at other options and, without the ACA, I could not afford insurance.”
Renee, a registered nurse who came all the way from Howell for the rally with one of the coolest signs there, believes everyone has a right to healthcare.
“Whether it’s the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid — healthcare is important to all of us and we should all have healthcare,” she told me. “Every industrialized country provides healthcare to its people but us. The time has come to have healthcare for all. Because I’m a nurse, I’m very aware what people’s needs are and what people go through if they don’t have access to healthcare. People end up getting chronically ill or dying because they don’t have access to care. That’s just not right in a country such as ours.”
One of my favorite interviews of the day was with Lauren and Anne, a pediatrician and a family physician who came out to lobby on behalf of their patients, particularly kids with pre-existing conditions including Lauren’s son, and “those who can’t speak for themselves or feel disempowered — people who are fearful and don’t know how to stand up,” Anne told me. “We want our entire community to have the American Dream, and that starts with health.”
The rally was a star-studded event featuring Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Bernie Sanders, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, and the entire Michigan Democratic Congressional delegation: Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, and Congressional Representatives John Conyers, Sander Levin, Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrence and Debbie Dingell. Among the speakers were also Michigan citizens who have benefited from the ACA, some in lifesaving ways.
I spoke with Senator Gary Peters after the rally, and he had this to say about the human cost of ACA repeal.
He said, “At my office, we’re hearing from people who are quite simply afraid. This is about saving lives. You’ve got hundreds of thousands of folks who would immediately lose their healthcare coverage if there’s straight repeal. These are the people who called my office in tears to thank us when the ACA was passed, saying ‘Now I can get insurance. I have a pre-existing condition. I didn’t have the money.’ Every story was compelling and something that touched them and their family in the most direct way. And now they’re afraid of going backward, so it’s a scary time. That’s why we’re here, outside on a cold Sunday morning in Michigan, and we got thousands of people to come out. Rallies are important, but hopefully they’re a catalyst for folks to get out and talk to friends, co-workers and their families, to make phone calls and make their voices heard.”
The elected officials and leaders at the rally were fired up and their message was loud and clear: We are all in this together. They are fighting for us, and they’re not going to back down, but we all have to stand up, too. They need all of us in the fight with them, rallying our friends and neighbors and letting our elected officials know their jobs are on the line if they don’t protect our access to health insurance and healthcare.
This was the first day of rallies across the country — with many more events and actions planned to protect the ACA and other hard-won rights Congressional Republicans and President-elect Trump want to take away. Check out the hashtag #OurFirstStand on social media to see some of what went on in Michigan and across the country.
Follow the Michigan Democratic Party on Facebook to stay updated on the next steps to protect the ACA — and more.