By Billy Wharton, Organizer, Coalition Against Privatization
We had a great rally and march in NYC yesterday. About 300 people turned out in front of the office of GHI (a non-profit insurer in NY State) and we then marched to the office of United Health. Speakers included Ralph Nader, actress Vinie Burrows, Dr. Oliver Fein of the Physicians for a National Health Program, Chuck Bell from the Consumers Union and longtime socialist-pacifist activist David McReynolds. Jean Fox from the Private Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition and Billy Wharton from the Coalition Against Privatization shared duties as the MC.
We began the event by reading aloud three healthcare horror stories and holding a moment of silence dedicated to all the victims of private health insurance. The GHI section of the protest was high-energy. There is currently a proposal to "convert" GHI & HIP into a merged for-profit company. Many speakers spoke against this proposal and in favor of H.R. 676. Included here were rank-and-file trade unionists including John Powers from the United Federation of Teachers, Marvin Holland and Marty Goodman from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and Ronald Crenshaw from District Council 37 who, despite their union leaders support of the conversion, found the courage to speak up. Ralph Nader, Dr. Fein and David McReynolds gave strong speeches demanding single-payer as both a human right and as part of the routine services that citizens demand from the government (fire, police and postal).
We then marched to United Health, a company which is housed in a massive glass monstrosity on 34th street. Vinie Burrows began this section of the march with a fine speech which highlighted the significance of Juneteenth and the overall struggle for social justice. Later, the Raging Grannies belted out some tunes including lines like "Oh Medicare, my Medicare, Why don't you pay for Long Term Care?" We closed with a fiery speech by Ajamu Sankofa of the Private Health Insurance Must Go! Coalition and call by the MC (me!) to treat the demonstration as a beginning point for further organizing.
Media coverage was unusual. I suppose that more people in Tokyo and Rome will know about our demonstration than in New York City. Film crews from Asahi news and an Italian TV station filmed and reported on the march. Longer-term reporters from A&E and Bill Moyers Journal also turned up. In addition, several independent media sources and our main trade union newspaper picked up on the story.
To follow up, we distributed leaflets for a meeting on June 26th at 6:30 pm at 339 Lafayette Street (Buzzer #11) to discuss both the GHI/HIP privatization and the struggle for HR 676. Overall, the demonstration was quite invigorating as I felt like we were at the beginning and not the end of something.