Marchers for health care cautiously celebrate, vow to continue fight

By SARAH GARDNER

For the Gazette

Published: 07-31-2017 2:44 AM

NORTHAMPTON — When she started planning a health care reform march two months ago, Debby Pastrich-Klemer thought she would be giving a speech in anger.

But then, the day before the march, the “skinny repeal” bill, a scaled-down version of plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, failed to pass through the Senate, thanks to “no” votes from three Republican senators in the early hours of Friday morning.

So Pastrich-Klemer decided she could be a little more celebratory at the march Saturday afternoon.

“I had a lot of rewriting to do, and maybe some of our banners don’t make sense now,” Pastrich-Klemer said. “But I think everyone here feels a lot better after seeing the results of that vote.”

Pastrich-Klemer, a member of Indivisible Northampton, organized the march along with Rachel Maiore and Lindsay Sabadosa to make their voices heard in support of continued debate on health care reform.

Several hundred people marched with them from Childs Park to Pulaski Park and made it clear that they did not support recent GOP efforts to scale back health care policies from the Obama administration.

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“I’m cautiously optimistic after Thursday night in the Senate,” said Baxter Chandler of Easthampton. “The ACA is by no means a perfect solution, but the Trump administration’s attempts to completely dismantle it are just cruel, and that cruelty shouldn’t go unnoticed.”

Many people carried signs reading “health care, not wealth care,” as they followed a police escort down the middle of Prospect Street.

Some women wore red robes and white hats in emulation of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s dystopian book, recently adapted as a TV show, where the lives of women become rigidly controlled by the government.

But amid the symbols of protest was also a fake coffin emblazoned with the word “TRUMPCARE,” meant to celebrate the collapse of the repeal efforts.

“I was so excited when I saw that Senate vote, and so proud that enough people made the right choice,” said Carmen Rosado, who is a client of the Stavros Center for Independent Living. “Cutting Medicaid and Medicare would affect a lot of people with disabilities like me.”

Many of the marchers were also advocating for a single-payer, government-sponsored health insurance system in Massachusetts, an option on the table in multiple bills currently in the state Legislature.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, spoke about such bills when the march arrived at Pulaski Park.

“It is right to keep fighting for health care for everyone in our state and our country,” McGovern said. “We were supposed to lose that vote on Thursday night, and I want to thank all of you, because it’s thanks to people like you that we won instead.”

While the march was more joyful than many protest marches are, Rachel Maiore, another organizer, said she hoped those who attended the march would continue to pay attention to developments in the health care debate.

“People often wonder why we have marches like this, and they’re really to keep the pressure on our government as a community,” Maiore said. “Let’s make sure the decisions that get made are what’s really best for the American people.”

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