Health Care Reform Rally a First for Chicago

05/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

According to the organizers of a rally for health care reform held on April 18 at a local college on Chicago's north side, it was a first for the Chicagoland area. It was an SRO crowd, well over 500 who gave up part of a lovely day weather-wise to be packed inside a large gymnasium-type room. If the passion, enthusiasm and determination displayed by those who attended is reflective of the electorate's mood nationwide, the lobbyists supporting the likes of the insurance industry and drug manufacturers that may oppose any change or who will try to influence those on the Hill to mouth the right words, like Motherhood and apple pie, without passing true reform, will be crushed by such public sentiment. If anything, what I observed harkens back to the movie Network, where the line most remembered line was, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more."

Placards were in abundance, such as "Healthcare, Not Warfare," "Healthcare is Not a Community -- Private Insurance Must Go," "Healthcare Can't Wait," and "Single Payer Healthcare for All." Nametags were cleverly made out of band-aids, as if to suggest that incremental changes the size of a band-aid to fix health care as has been done in the past are no longer acceptable alternatives.

The rally was organized by three groups, Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a national grassroots campaign of 866 organizations in 46 states representing 30 million Americans dedicated to ensuring quality health care afforded by all (this includes 185 legislators on the Hill and President Obama/Vice President Biden), Citizen Action/Illinois, the state's largest public interest organization and a progressive political coalition committed to creating social change in Illinois and elsewhere, and The Illinois Main Street Alliance, a coalition of nearly 400 Illinois small businesses working for a comprehensive health care coalition.

Speakers and participants included the usual variety of community organizers and leaders, in addition to local state representatives, the president of Local No. 1 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and those individuals who had their own stories to tell of financial woes occasioned by unanticipated health care costs. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D. Ill.-9th Dist) was featured. She advocates a public plan, as do many of her colleagues in Congress. An April 2, 2009 letter was read and distributed that was authored by the co-chairs of the 77 Member Congressional Progressive Caucus to Speaker Pelosi and Senate majority Leader Reid, calling for a single-payer approach to health care reform.

If there was any thread throughout the entire rally by speakers and advocates alike, it was to have choice in health care insurance, but one of which must be a public health care option for all citizens. It was certainly clear that the private sector has failed in its task to provide cost-effective, quality health care. In this regard, one must recall that managed care programs came about because the fee-for-service system was a failure; HMOs and PPOs and the like now join these ranks. Also, and as this writer has scribed in the past, a call for health care as a fundamental right/service applied equally to everyone was articulated loud and clear; this is a necessary predicate and springboard for any discussion to change the present system.

Additionally, while the usual statistics were put forth, showing that the current health care delivery system has fallen off a cliff, how millions of Americans continue to suffer because of bills that go unpaid/remain uninsured or underinsured, and how we are 37th on the World Health Organization list of nations providing health care (somewhere with Costa Rica, with France being first on its list), it is hard to imagine that this gathering does not express, as if in microcosm to it, the will of the country for health care change. Heaven help any politician in Washington who thinks (s)he can stand in the way of this movement now. The locomotive has not only left the station, but is barreling down the tracks like the high speed train President Obama only last week indicated he wants to have for this country. And, he is the engineer driving that train; let's hope he keeps it on the tracks long enough to have passed and signed into law a health care reform bill reflecting the desperately needed sea-change for a new era of affordable and accessible health care for all Americans citizens.