Demonstrators rally in Amherst to support Medicare, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act (WITH VIDEO)

  • About 175 people gathered on the north end of the Amherst Common for a noontime vigil to defend Social Security and health care on Sunday, January 15, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • To celebrate his 65th birthday on Sunday, Drew Milroy of West Springfield joined about 175 people on the north end of the Amherst Common for a noontime vigil to defend Social Security and health care January 15, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Marion Hoffman, left, of Amherst and Alyse Bynum of Pelham talk about the Affordable Care Act during a noontime vigil in Amherst on Sunday. KEVIN GUTTING/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Deb Casagrande, right, Jessica Singleton and Abbey Casagrande, all of Ludlow, take part in a noontime vigil to defend Social Security and health care that drew about 175 people to the north end of the Amherst Common on Sunday. KEVIN GUTTING/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Meg Haight of Hardwick was one of about 175 people who gathered on the north end of the Amherst Common for a noontime vigil to defend Social Security and health care on Sunday, January 15, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

@JackSuntrup
Published: 1/15/2017 7:15:01 PM

AMHERST — Marion Hoffman stood along South Pleasant Street in this liberal town in this liberal state, bracing herself for a Donald Trump presidency just five days away.

She held a mass-produced sign reading “Save Healthcare.” The 72-year-old software engineer who lives in Amherst was one of about 200 people who came to the Town Common Sunday afternoon, waving signs and eliciting honks from passing cars. Their message: Hands off Social Security. Hands off Medicare. And don’t repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“I feel like I’m preaching to the choir here,” Hoffman said of the discussions she’d been having with like-minded liberals, “but it makes me feel like I’m doing something.”

Demonstrators in Amherst, where 82 percent of voters cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton — just 8 percent voted for Donald Trump — said to expect a lot more where this came from.

Just as President Barack Obama stoked fury among Tea Party activists when he and allies pushed the Affordable Care Act to passage in 2010, demonstrators said Sunday to expect a similar resistance to efforts that would dismantle Obama’s signature achievement — or any push to draw back Social Security, Medicare or expanded Medicaid, made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

Dozens of rallies were held Sunday across the country, including one in Warren, Michigan, attended by Sen. Bernie Sanders that drew thousands.

In this college town of 38,000 people, and in the surrounding Pioneer Valley, these demonstrations could intensify as the Trump administration progresses, demonstrators said.

“I think we have to be vigilant,” said Cynthia Brubaker, 74, of Amherst.

At this protest, worries weren’t limited to health care. One woman held a sign denoting her opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Another woman was asking people to sign a petition pushing Amherst to be more of a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

“I think these protests are in an effort to get back to normal,” said Drew Milroy of West Springfield. “We can’t let Trump and his circus become normalized.”

Milroy, who is retired, said Sunday was his 65th birthday, meaning he is now eligible for Medicare benefits.

Patricia Ramsey, 71, a retired University of Massachusetts Amherst professor, said she and her husband rely on their Social Security and Medicare benefits to maintain their standard of living.

“I can’t pretend we’re close to homelessness,” she said. “But it would be pretty difficult, and it’s not like we didn’t work every day of our lives for the last 50 years.”

She said that because of the Affordable Care Act, her two sons, 24 and 28 years old, have gained health coverage through health care exchanges.

“They have jobs but they don’t have benefits,” Ramsey said.

Sanders, the Vermont independent, has pushed hard in recent weeks against attempts to weaken or privatize Social Security or Medicare. In a recent speech on the Senate floor, Sanders displayed a screen grab of a May 7, 2015 tweet by Trump, saying he was the first and only potential GOP candidate for president to “state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

He said Trump should reaffirm his stance.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Trump wouldn’t “meddle” with Social Security or Medicare.

“I don’t think President-elect Trump wants to meddle with Medicare or Social Security,” Priebus said. “He made a promise in the campaign that that was something that he didn’t want to do.”

On Capitol Hill, some congressional Republicans have hinted at changes. In a CNN town hall forum Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has long pushed for a Medicare overhaul, said he talked to Trump about the topic.

“We’ve had a couple of conversations about it,” Ryan said. “Look, we don’t agree on everything. It’s — I think people know that.”

Ryan argued that without substantial reforms, the two programs will become insolvent.

Because of Ryan’s views, and because of Trump’s perceived flimsy policy stances, demonstrators didn’t buy it Sunday there were no plans to “meddle” with Medicare and Social Security.

“So far Trump and his people have said so many contradictory things that you can’t listen to what they say,” Milroy said. “You have to monitor what they attempt to do.”

Not everyone in Amherst Sunday was in solidarity with the demonstrators.

One man in a black Jeep rumbled down Pleasant Street, held up a “rock on” sign, and yelled “Yeah Trump!” as he passed the protesters.


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