Jerry Waxman reported from Orlando, FL, as part of HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Town Hall Watch.
Orlando, Florida -- "Shame on us!" admonished Monica Russo to the assembled 1100 participants at the Floridians Rally for Health Care Reform: "Shame on us!" She used the phrase several times to emphasize that people were not doing enough to influence their elected representatives to pass meaningful health care reform. It was more like preaching to the choir, and yet her stinging rebuke was a warning that health care reform could fail without the extraordinary efforts of all the assembled and their activism in promoting the legislation to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
The event, sponsored by Health Care Reform for America Now with participation from OFA, SEIU, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, and FCAN was held Saturday afternoon, August 29, at the Orlando Downtown Recreation Complex to a capacity crowd. This was not an open event; a ticket was needed to enter and participate. Outside, there were a few vendors and petitioners for candidates for office and Florida Redistricting, and even some protesters. However, nothing got confrontational or out of hand. Buses had brought people in from Miami, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and other cities throughout the state.
Russo, a member of the AFSCME Health Care Team, also acted as emcee and started the afternoon with a fitting tribute to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, specifically citing his efforts to assure that every American had access to a quality education and quality health care. After a moment of silence, State Senator Dan Gelber led the Pledge of Allegiance and told the crowd that at the moment there are 800,000 children in the state of Florida who are uninsured, and that something needed to be done about it.
A short story was told by Matthew Le Clair regarding his physical condition. At the age of 21, Le Clair had experienced severe back pains but had no insurance and none offered by his employer so he didn't seek treatment until the pain was too unbearable. After a $3000 MRI and minimal treatment he was diagnosed as having three herniated discs. Unable to perform physical tasks, he was fired by his employer due to illness.
The keynote panel included Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, Mary Kay Henry, Executive Vice President of SEIU, and Tony Fransetta, President of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. Grayson explained that the current bill in the House of Representatives stops insurance companies from lifetime capping of claims and also stops them from excluding people with preexisting conditions. Grayson reminded everyone that 18,000 people die each year because they do not seek medical attention due to lack of insurance coverage.
Fransetta, whose organization has over 200,000 members in Florida, railed against the "wimpy Democrats" and went through a checklist of myths that needed to be debunked, including that Medicare benefits will be cut. What he did say is that Medicare will be reformed so that providers will be more accountable to the taxpayers.
Miriam Silvermintz of West Palm Beach explained why she has become an activist. Her son, now twenty, is diabetic and at the moment is covered under her insurance, but shortly he will need his own coverage and will not be able to get it due to his preexisting condition. She held a meeting at her house and recruited several friends to become active. I interviewed her afterward and she intimated that her group must have touched some kind of nerve because she was invited to participate in Gov. Charlie Crist's 2008 State of the State Address, where he mentioned her family by name, although nothing ever came of it.
The stage was now set for Monica Russo:
"Stand up if you've made a call, stand up if you've knocked on doors, stand up if you've written a letter to the editor, stand up if you've organized a house meeting." Each question elicits a response from less than half of the attendees, whereupon she scolds them with "Shame on us!"
Russo then went on to say that senators like Bill Nelson and representatives like Suzanne Kosmas need to realize that they can't just automatically take Democratic voters for granted. The Florida labor unions are beginning to realize this and so is the average Democrat in Florida. If they are going to seek reelection they are going to have to earn those votes, and it's possible that they could lose in the primaries if they don't take action now. It's time to throw down the gauntlet.