By GARRETT MCAULIFFE
A vast crowd of some 2,000 people animated the plaza outside city hall on Wednesday, exuberant and determined to support President Obama and reset the nation’s narrative over health care reform.
Weeks of simmering opposition to further government intervention, high deficits and media-looped visions of death panels and free abortions threaten to derail the president’s legislative drive. The rally and others like it around the country was the response from liberal organizations to remind members of Congress of support for the bill as they return to work next week.
San Francisco’s rally, held in the early evening as the sun settled behind city hall, brought citizens together to unite around health care, with the specific goal of sending a strong message to Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein as well as California’s Representatives.
Sen. Feinstein has not fully backed the Health Care Reform plan, according to nbcsandiego.com, due to concerns of higher federal deficits than Obama’s team has accounted for.
Sen. Boxer appears to be on board with the legislation, along with Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
“This is a statement that we want to move the dialogue in a more positive direction,” said Priscilla Rich, attending the rally from Danville. “At the townhall meetings, you see the more deplorable side of the debate.”
“Look at all these smiling faces,” she continued. “This is also democracy.”
The rally was organized by Health Care for America Now, a national grassroots campaign comprising more than a thousand groups and claiming to represent more than 30 million people, and Organizing for America, a group formed to support Obama’s initiatives that is part of the Democratic National Committee.
After a hokey, country-accented rap song promoting health care reform, played on repeat, voices eventually rose above the din of supportive honks to further energize the crowd.
It became immediately clear that those gathered did not want any further political concessions to water down the reform bill as mentions of “a strong public option” drew the loudest applause.
Aaron Peskin, former president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and currently the chairman of the city’s Democratic Party, incited the assembly with San Francisco’s brand of partisan rancor.
“Thank you for coming to a real townhall meeting,” he exclaimed, referring to the others as “Astroturf parading as democracy, paid for by the insurance industry.”
Many speakers mentioned our own city’s efforts at universal health care, as an example for the rest of the country.
“If San Francisco can do it, so can the United States of America,” Peskin declared.
Healthy San Francisco is a program to offer residents health care within the city limits.
Other speakers related stories of their own frustrations and anguish with the health care system as it exists. A large contingent of medical professionals, including a number of students and doctors from UCSF, dressed in lab coats, also stood on the event’s makeshift stage to show their support.
Much of the crowd chatter revolved around the continued push for a single payer system, considered by many to be the larger struggle, regardless of the outcome of the current reform legislation.
“I view this as a longterm social movement, like civil rights,” said Art Persyco, a member of Single Payer Now.
In regards to the legislation currently on the table, Don Bechler, chairman of the group, stated, “They’re trying to reform the insurance companies. We want to get rid of them.”
Three other cities in California — Modesto, Los Angeles and Fresno — are holding rallies this week, in a larger effort dubbed “Let’s Get It Done!”
A handful of people opposing Obama’s proposals for reform skirted the rally.
“If the government gives you everything, why get out of bed in the morning?” said Jessica Bowen, one of the dissidents. “It’s like living in your parent’s house forever.”