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Cambridge-Somerville Group at Boston Health Care Rally

Cambridge-Somerville For Change, an area volunteer group, was one of several organizations that helped bring out a lively Labor Day crowd for the "Health Care Can’t Wait" rally on Boston Common September 7. The event was part of a nation-wide effort to focus attention on health care as President Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress on the issue on September 9.

At tables around the gazebo CSFC volunteers Donna Barry and Tony Mack of Cambridge kept an eye on the numbers of people going by with signs. At the same time they oversaw circulation of a petition for improvements in health care.

“About 1,000 people signed up on line for the rally,” Barry said a few minutes before the event opened at 11 a.m. “It looked a little thin at first, but it’s picking up—there are at least that many here already. Would you like to sign our petition?”

A steady stream of people gathered around to read the document as other volunteers carried copies of it through the crowd, later estimated at between 1700 and 2000 people. The petition will be delivered to the Massachusetts Congressional delegation when lawmakers return to Washington this week to take up the health care battle.

“Basically we’re asking for three things: health care should be available to everybody, the costs should be reduced, and there should be choice,” Barry said.

CSFC began with a volunteer committee that formed to support Barack Obama during the 2008 election campaign, according to Barry (at right in photo). The organization can be reached on line at http://www.cambridgesomervilleforchange.com.

“After the election we decided to go on working with the organization and take advantage of the support we developed during the campaign. We turned our attention to issues like health care, energy use, immigration and education,” she said.

CSFC was one of a long list of sponsors for the rally. Others included Healthcare for America Now, Jobs with Justice, Organizing for America, Healthcare for All, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and Greater Boston Labor Council. Local 615 of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) organized the event.

The crowd included a number of people in white coats representing medical professions. Psychiatrist Daniel J. Debowy (at right in photo) of Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital and Harvard medical student Norris Kamo (left) circulated with a “Doctors for America” sign.

“There’s a role for private insurers, but they should be regulated,” Kamo said. "We could build on what we have now as a step toward a single payer system."

“Public option is the bottom line,” Debowy said. The proposed public option would be a government-sponsored health care plan set up to compete with private insurers.

As speakers gathered in the gazebo, a Dixieland group organized by banjo-player Norman Daoust of Cambridge struck up “The Whole World is Waiting for the Sunrise.” http://www.youtube.com/user/maryholbrow. Trombonist Joe Lentino, clarinet-player Billy Novick, and trumpeter Pat Stout joined Daoust, followed by more musicians down below at ground level.

“The musicians are from all over,” Daoust said. “I got in touch with them through the Musician’s Union, Local 9-535.”

SEIU President Rocio Saenz opened the program, which included both Spanish and English presentations as union members told personal stories about health crises in their lives. Dr. Vivek Murthy, a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, urged reform of the system; he is president of Doctors for America. Attorney General Martha Coakley recalled Senator Edward Kennedy's health-care crusade and asked for support in her bid for the seat left vacant by his death.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (photo, left) discussed health care in city government. Representatives Ed Markey (D-7), John Tierney (D-6), Stephen Lynch (D-9), and Michael Capuano (D-8) spoke briefly. Calls for change were greeted with chants of “Do it for Ted." All but one of the speakers appeared to support the public option; there was also an occasional nod to the possibility of a single-payer system like that in Canada or Britain.

The one speaker who did not call for a public option was Representative Lynch; he has said that he has concerns about the cost. He could barely be heard over the booing and outbursts of "Public Option" chants from the crowd.

The rally ended with a march from the gazebo to Copley Square. Several of the speakers stayed on to mingle with the crowd. It was rumored that some or all of the representatives on the program might challenge Attorney General Coakley for the open Senate seat. Former Congressman Joe Kennedy has announced he will not run.