Friday, September 18, 2009

Obama Health Care Rally September 17, 2009

First, let me welcome people new to this blog. Like a good number of cyberspace veterans, I have a personal website. I will probably update it this month as I am getting more involved in Metro Washington Mensa. I'm even running for office. If you want to meet some friends of mine, just come to St. Mark's Episcopal Church some Sunday. I am involved in other things as well, but that is a place that is open year round and welcomes outsiders. Artomatic also welcomes everybody, but it is open only for about six weeks.

I got up around 6:30 AM. I had planned for 6:00, but I didn't set the alarm when I went to bed at 10:30 PM. Wednesday evening at St. Mark's was important and good. My attendance at the Obama rally, while a good idea, was hardly a must.

After having breakfast, I checked a few websites and even made a comment on Rand Simberg's. I then got ready to leave. I left home around 8:30 AM. I found a free parking spot about a block from the College Park Metro station. I then caught the shuttle to Comcast Center. I arrived on campus shortly after 9:00 AM. I ran into Igor Eberstein and chatted a bit about NASA. I wandered around campus trying to find the general admission line. I finally found the Comcast Center entrance with no line outside around 9:45. Some people told me that people began arriving around 4:00 AM and formed a line at 5:00. In the Comcast Center I was settled in a seat by 9:51. There appeared to be lots of empty seats at this time in what appears to be general seating -- see photos.

While waiting for the formal rally to start, I gathered a number of impressions:

  • There appeared to a formal University of Maryland presence with a band and cheerleaders.
  • Staff told me that at least some of the empty seats were reserved for ticket holders.
  • At 10:33 the crowd did the "wave." Some chanted "Yes we can."
  • Some volunteers are now taking empty seats in the section I was told was for ticket holders.
  • SEIU people begin chanting. One man shouts "What do we want?" The crowd responds "Health care!" The man then shouts "When do we want it?" The crowd responds "Now."
  • Around 10:45 I was interviewed by a student working for the student newspaper. I gave her the AIAA spiel, commented that the crowd seems enthusiastic and positive and hinted at the complexity of my own political views.
  • At 10:57 I noted that the seats in the section next to me were now more filled than empty.

At 11:01 the sign says "Cheer and Applause." The rally was apparently beginning in a formal sense. A woman member of the clergy (Episcopalian?) came out and said a prayer. Then there was a pledge of allegiance and the national anthem was sung. The last two were led by students.

At 11:12 the Commerce Secretary Gary Locke gave the first speech. Early on he said it is "time to provide health care for all." He later quoted from the Kennedy letter he wrote shortly before his death. He also made the point that rising health care costs are crushing American business and were making it hard for Americans to sell overseas. He predicted that 10 years from now health care would cost the average American family $25K/year. Rising health care costs would mean fewer workers would be hired and and less pay for those who were hired. He made a significant case for reigning in costs now. He stated that we need health care reform and we need it now. He concluded with the call "President Obama needs your help." I think he concluded his remarks around 11:21.

A lengthy pause then began. I thought to myself that this event was not all that well choreographed -- but I am hardly an expert in such things. I know more about ballet from years of photography than I do know about political rallies.

At 11:44 Rachel Peck strode to the podium and told us her health care story. It was a touching story of being diagnosed with cancer and her extensive treatments. She must continue to be treated for the rest of her life. The story was very touching. She wondered what would happen to her when her parents' policy no longer covered her. She then, rather dramatically, introduced President Obama.

President Obama began his speech by mentioning the elected officials present. Most of the Maryland Congressional delegation was present. Governor O'Malley and Lieutenant Governor Brown were also present, as were a number of other elected officials. Obama stated he ran for president because he wanted a better future for all Americans. He complimented Rachel on her speech. Obama then made a plug for science and technology in our future -- especially mentioning health. He also made mention that the House was taking a major step today that would benefit students by acting on student loan reform.

Obama then got to the topic of health care reform.

Next Obama commented that there were those in Washington who were eager to defend the status quo. He noted that there was some opposition to health care reform.

At this point some protesters in general seating started screaming. I could not make out what they were saying. There was some conflict with other audience members. I thought to myself that this was not an appropriate way to get attention to their views. When you have a very large crowd brought together to support one side in a controversy, you cannot expect much of hearing for opposing views. I think it is better to meet with people you oppose in quieter, smaller settings where real exchanges can take place. Both sides can learn from each other. Eventually someone was escorted out by staff.

Obama said that people gave time to his campaign because they want a better future. He mentioned that Theodore Roosevelt -- a Republican -- was the first President to favor health care reform. He then delivered his famous line "I'm not the first but I will be the last!" I thought to myself that was not likely -- even if he gets his reforms and they do work. Surprises do keep happening to humanity.

Obama said that there was 80% agreement in the proposals now before Congress. He commented favorably on thoughtful criticisms. He said improvement is possible -- partly because of those criticisms. He then went on to say that now is the time for action, now is the time to deliver. He said "You should have the same thing that Congress has." Obama then went on to plug the public option. He compared it to public universities. He said having public universities does prevent private universities but add to the choices people have.

Obama then went on to attack waste and fraud in Medicare. Hmm, I thought, that is a standard line with all kinds of government programs. He also supports looking at malpractice reform. This is a big issue with the medical profession.

Obama then commented "Change is hard." He reviewed briefly the history of things like civil rights, rights for women and social security.

Obama concluded with the story of how "Fired up! Ready to go!" became a campaign slogan. The speech ended at 12:22. As Obama and the crowd left, the band played "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

After the end, I chatted briefly with an African American woman seated behind me. She introduced herself as the pastor of some church. I must apologize to all who are reading this that I did not remember either her name or that of her church. I had stopped taking notes at that time. We both agreed that there also needed to be a focus on healthier living. I shared with her the report of research that compared the health of people in the UK with that of the US who were ethnically similar -- in short, people like my cousin Harry and me. I noted that, in spite of the facts that we spend twice as much on health care and that they drink and smoke more than we do, they are somewhat healthier in middle age and live somewhat longer. I attributed that to an overall healthier lifestyle. I think the woman with whom I chatted agreed with me.

After that, I left the center and took the shuttle back to my car. I was home by about 1:40.

The day was interesting. It was the first time I had seen Obama in person. He had a striking impact on most of the crowd. I expected that, given the fact that it was billed as a rally for supporters of health care reform -- a major issue, particularly on the political left. I wondered to myself how many people would have shown up if the topic had been NASA reform. The turnout would have been far smaller, I think. I will add that my impression of the day was on the positive side as well. The fact that the Commerce secretary noted the negative impact of health care costs on our economic competitiveness and that President Obama spoke in favor of malpractice reform increased my favorable views. Neither needed to mention those things, given the nature of the crowd.

You can find my photos of the event on Flickr.

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