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Thousands Swarm Capitol To Call For Healthcare Reform

If there was one message that came out of the June 25 healthcare reform rally on Capitol Hill, it was that healthcare reform cannot wait. The demand from the crowd of nearly 10,000 was for affordable, high-quality healthcare with the choice of a public or private option-now!

Every corner of the Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill was filled with union members, healthcare advocates and community activists from across the country, and they heard not only from members of Congress and union leaders but also from nurses, small-business owners, workers and parents who told compelling stories about why we need healthcare reform.

"Healthcare should be a right. I've seen too many patients coming in to the hospital who have waited too long for care because they don't have insurance or they are underinsured," said Charlotte Crowe, a medical surgical nurse at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, N.J.

"We need accessible healthcare with a public option," said Crowe, who is a member of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees/AFT, Local 5186. "Staffing should be a part of healthcare reform too. We need staffing ratios, not just for nurses. Every area of the hospital needs an adequate staffing mix."

Healthcare rally photo by Michael CampbellWhile hundreds of AFT members and staff joined the colorful crowd, even more AFT activists back home were calling their members of Congress-and especially their U.S. senators-to urge them to support comprehensive healthcare reform based on key principles that the AFT has outlined. AFT members made more than 1,100 calls during the day.

Many rally participants in Washington, D.C., also spent the afternoon at town hall meetings and on Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress. The rally and lobby day were sponsored by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition that includes the AFL-CIO.

"I talk to patients every day who failed to have follow-up treatment because they couldn't afford the co-pays," Claudia Storicks, an HPAE member who works at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, N.J., said during a town hall meeting following the rally. "We need a more affordable option for healthcare. Private insurers and our present system have failed to come up with it."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said that, despite determined opposition from the insurance companies that control our healthcare now, we have an opportunity to build on and improve our healthcare system. "Special interests and the health insurance industry will not hijack this process. We must have-and we will have-a strong public option," he said.

In addition to the strong turnout of union members and community organizers, groups including Working America and Democracy for America brought tens of thousands of signatures collected from people across the country who say we've waited long enough for healthcare reform. The results of a survey released earlier in the week by the AFL-CIO and Working America also showed overwhelming support for reform.

Healthcare reform is "a fight that has been fought for decades against powerful interests," said. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "The strong national support for healthcare reform is a sign that now is the time." But, he added, "We can't do this alone. We need to do this together. We need all of you to hold everybody in that building's feet to the fire," said Schumer, pointing to the Capitol building.

Other rally speakers included union presidents Gerald McEntee of AFSCME and Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America, members of the U.S. House and Senate, actress Edie Falco, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. [Photo by Michael Campbell/Video by Matthew Jones]

June 26, 2009