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May 28, 2005

"We've got to do this!"

So here's the long-awaited GBIO action recap. (I'm getting up at 4am tomorrow for a flight, so I won't be revising -- sorry for the typos and syntax.)

I arrived a little later than I wanted to, about 6:40. Temple Israel was already swarming with people -- a very positive vibe, sort of an organized chaos. There were check-in tables, a table for press, a table for the post-action collection for Darfur, you name it, and traffic bubbled merrily into the sanctuary, which, I'm told, 40 years earlier hosted one Martin Luther King Jr. Later one of the speakers remarked on the similar atmosphere last night.

A GBIO "action" is not merely a rally, where people get pepped up and then go home. Something actually happens, a moment of mutual recognition between people in power (in this case the elected representatives who were invited) and those who represented their congregations. And there is also a commitment made by the congregants there: In this case, GBIO committed itself to getting 40,000 of the 65,000+ signatures necessary to put the Health Care Access and Affordability Act on the ballot in 2006.

To give you an idea of the tone of GBIO, the introductory music was by the Temple Salem Praise Team, from a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In his opening remarks, Rabbi Jonah Pesner said, "Someone came up to me and said, 'Rabbi, they're singing about Jesus.' I said, 'Yes, that's because they're Christian.'" (Incidentally, Temple Salem itself is a converted synagogue.)

I'll cut to the chase: One of the most powerful parts of the evening is the roll call. Maybe it sounds dull: a representative from every church gets in line, says something very brief about the reason why their people showed up, and says how many of them are present. It's not dull. The tension actually builds in the room as you hear church after church, group after group tell their story in the most distilled way possible: one sentence each. It really drives home the idea that we are not alone; that it's our friends and neighbors for whom we act; what could be an abstract political stance  becomes a concrete act of solidarity and fellowship.

Six speakers, members of GBIO congregations, were asked to make their cases for expanded health coverage: Peter Brook of Fourth Presbyterian told of going without health insurance in the construction industry, and how accidents have put him in debt. He's too "wealthy" to qualify for MassHealth. D.J. Fleurissant, a small business owner, spoke of his desire to provide health care for his employees. Margarida DePina spoke of her heartbreaking experiences as an immigrant with a daughter who has Down's syndrome and other health issues. And so on. Real people in agonizing situations. There are high stakes here.

Legislative leaders were acknowleged as well. Just so you know, they were: Reps. Jeffrey Sanchez, Deborah Blumer (one of the key sponsors), Ruth Balzer, Gloria Fox, Carl Sciortino, Brian Wallace, Alice Wolf (my rep), and Jim Marzilli; and Senators Jarrett Barrios (we will miss you in the Senate, JB), and Diane Wilkerson. (Richard Moore, the lead Senate sponsor, couldn't be there, but sent a letter of encouragement to all.) Feel free to drop any of these folks a line and tell them how swell they are.

But the climax of the evening was the address by Dr. Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church. He affirmed health care as a necessity, not a luxury, and made no bones about the extraordinary effort that reforming our system was going to take. But like this passage, "we must go through the roof": resist pressure and cynicism. "We've got to do this!"

A call for volunteers to be precinct captains for the signature collection effort seemed to lack a bit of energy and focus, but the post-action count showed that the organization got the commitments it needed. The energy and momentum is there -- people know that it will take a lot to get it done. But they know how much is at stake, and what may happen if they don't get it done.

I'm going to bed -- I'll be away for the weekend, so any imperfections here will just have to stand. Have a beautiful (and dry) long weekend, all.

Posted by Charley on the MTA at 12:06 AM in Massachusetts | Permalink


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You got the spirit of the GBIO event just right. Great description. They wanted to get 200 precinct captains, they got 195 -- and another 205 to participate on precinct teams. That's 400 volunteers out of 1000 participants. Just amazing!
John McDonough

Posted by: John McDonough | May 28, 2005 1:24:08 PM

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