Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Single Payer Supporters, Dis-Invited from Rally, Show Up Anyway

Report by Brandon Collins:

Last week I received an e-mail sent by David Swanson, well known activist, inviting folks to attend a rally to support single-payer healthcare, the amendment to allow states to draft their own single-payer systems, and call for medicare to be an immediate public option. He sent this call to board members of my local peace group, asking if anyone of us could speak at the rally. I jumped at the chance. As a socialist I was thrilled to give my perspective especially knowing that there is strong support in my community for single-payer. I diligently began research on my topic- "Profits over People- How private insurers are censoring single-payer and influencing reform to their advantage." I had some correspondence with Andrea Miller, former congressional candidate and strong single-payer advocate who was also to speak with David Swanson and me.

In the midst of becoming extremely grumpy with the issue of quelling support for HR 676, and the insurance capitalists crafting the current "reform" legislation, my phone rang. It was Andrea. She was convinced that AFSCME (the union on tour for "healthcare") wanted her to tailor her message to support the corporate sponsored reform package HR 3200. She let me know there was no way in hell she would do that. She also let the folks at AFSCME know that as well. The issue of single-payer had been discussed by David Swanson with union organizers, and had been cleared. The "sudden" change was puzzling, especially considering the call had been put out to thousands of people that this was a single-payer rally.

I let Andrea know that I understood her completely, and that I too, would not change my message. I quickly e-mailed David for some clarification. I also slyly e-mailed the organizer of the rally- asking when I should arrive, if they needed help, and that I was happy to be able to speak about single-payer!

The phone rang again, it was Sian Lewis from AFSCME telling me that they were all full on speakers, and that I was not needed. I was so taken aback I couldn't find the words to confront her, I again sly said, maybe I'll see you tomorrow anyway. A few moments later I got the news from David, he too had been dis-invited. The story they fed him was that they suddenly had too many speakers (originally they were hard pressed, that's why I got the gig!). David is no person to be yanked around. He squeeezed it out that all mention of single-payer was now forbidden, and any supporters of HR 676 were not welcome.

I was so upset I began to shake. This ugly attempt to destroy all views at a rally for something so important was amplified by all of the research I had just done on how HR 3200 has been influenced by private insurance profits. Andrea was too upset to come to town, she was worried she might attack someone, and felt her time was better spent working on other matters related to healthcare. David Swanson and I diligently went to work notifying everyone we had sent the call to about how we had been duped. We asked that folks show up with single-payer signs and attitudes anyway (or not show up at all). David got to work blogging about the incident. For the record, David Swanson is etremely hard working, and a very vocal and well known activist, dis-inviting him to a rally is like telling Yo-Yo Ma he can't play in your string quartet.

I set about to quickly raising some rabble rousers. Alerted the Charlottesville members of our Socialist Party Central Virginia, some good friends, and members of my local peace group. I grabbed some sign making material, printed out some paphlets comparing the two bills in congress, and continued to boil in my own feelings of betrayal. This all happened in about a twelve hour time span, in the middle of the goings on of regular life, work and sleep.

The morning came and I headed downtown to the rally. The first thing I noticed was a good friend sitting with his single-payer sign. And then I realized, all of the other people arriving early also had signs for single-payer! This was good news, these weren't people I knew, I figured word had gotten out about the betrayal. Nope, they had come prepared to support HR 676. I started talking to folks and told them what had happened, and most agreed it was awful, and that they would still wave their signs and be vocal about single-payer. A woman from one of the local television stations had arrived, I had already informed her about what was going on. She interviewed me. More single-payer folks arrived, and so did more friends, and our local Socialist Party contingent.

The healthcare tour bus arrived, they passed out vague signs about public options. Half of the crowd had signs for HR 676! the others seemed confused. A woman came out dressed like Flava Flav with a t-shirt reading public option (a la Public Enemy) and yelled "what do we want?"
and before any other response could be given I shouted as loud as I could "SINGLE-PAYER". She didn't bother to continue on with the "when do we want it part". More grumblings from the crowd, "we want single-payer" "why can't we talk about single-payer?". So she faced reality, and attempted to reason with the crowd. "I know we don't all agree on things, but we are here to have a rally for healthcare reform and shared responsibility". That didn't go over great, there was another attempt at the calll and response cheer. At one point, a long time friend and former co-worker of mine very loudly pointed out some of the flaws of reform, and the tragedy of waiting for reforms. He pointed out that what AFSCME was supporting would make things worse. He demanded to be heard. She said they were here for their rally, and that they had a permit. My friend said "I have a permit too, I am a citizen". Other single-payer folks raised their voices periodically, but then kind of quieted to hear what the speakers might say.

There were only three speakers.
Uh, I thought they had so many that they couldn't find room for me and David and Andrea? The speakers they had spoke about how insurance companies were greedy, that they needed reform, that HR 3200 made sense by supporting competition etc. The sentiment was genuine, but the policy being supported was written and paid for by private insurance profits to the tune of 1.4 million dollars per day, and is a plan not worthy of supporting. Certainly from a negotiating standpoint, including single-payer in the discussion would be a grand idea. From a moral and practical standpoint- single-payer covers more people, and is cheaper than "reform" and "public option" policy. It could be implemented quickly too. And it doesn't require competition or profiting off of the suffering and deaths of others.

The rest of the rally I spent talking to the media and some old and new friends. I was very happy to have members of the Socialist Party of Central Virginia local be able to show up and wave some signs at a moments notice. I was also very happy to know that I have friends willing to take a stand on something so important. Indeed, even more happy to know that a pile of complete strangers could see through this attempt to dupe people into supporting something they don't support, and that they too, are willing to stand up and say what is right. Only for a brief moment afterwards, I felt a bit of guilt of having divided support for real change in this world. But the guilt went away, because it wasn't me who was divisive, one moment we were included in the conversation, the next we weren't welcome. It is this kind of event that convinces me that radical solutions and tactics are the only way to get real change, look where working with reformists gets you. We still have much work to do on healthcare and single-payer, but hey, with friends like Democrats and AFSCME, who needs enemies?

Brandon Collins is secretary of the Socialist Party of Central Virginia and a board member of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice

You can see local news reports of this rally at:


and read about it at:

David Swanson's story about the incident at: