More than 200 protesters marched for health care reform and more employment opportunities in downtown San Luis Obispo Wednesday afternoon. Crowd members waved signs labeled sentiments like “Republicans for Health Care Now,” and “Health Care, not War” as part of a nationwide demonstration held by Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and sponsored by People United for Healthcare and Jobs.
The demonstration began with a speech in Mission Plaza by Tom Comar, president of the Central Coast Nurse Practitioners & Physicians Assistants and spokesperson for People United for Health Care and Jobs. Comar said the demonstration was organized because a lot of people are frustrated with the slow pace of health care reform.
“There are obstructionists in the Congress, that are Republican and Democrat, that basically run their campaigns on the money from the health care industry,” Comar said. “We’re here to pressure them and let them know that the majority of Americans want health care reform now.”
Chris Harmon, who volunteers with the local chapter of Health Care for All, said the protest intended to support the efforts to get a single pair health care system enacted in America.
“Corporations are too heavily involved in politics. Politicians are too afraid of losing their corporate sponsorships, so to speak, to stand up against the corporations,” Harmon said. “I want the insurance corporations gone.”
Around 4:30 p.m. the crowd made its way up Monterey Street to stop at Santa Rosa. Honks and cheers were heard over the crowd’s chants of “What do we want?” “Health care!” or “Jobs!”, “When do we want it?” “Now!”
A group of five women from “Code Pink” stood out from the rest of the crowd with signs reading, “Health care, not Warfare.” Diane Sousa said they wanted to bring attention to the military spending in the federal budget compared to health care spending.
“Five percent is spent on health care, while most of our federal budget goes to military spending,” Sousa said. “I hope to see health care passed for everyone.”
While some of the crowd members protested spending, others wanted to bring attention to the effect of health care on jobs. San Luis Obispo City Councilmember John Ashbaugh said with the current state of the economy, jobs are at a higher risk than ever.
“The emphasis of the jobs-part of this rally is not to create health care jobs, but rather to recognize the stronghold that these insurance companies have over people who are lucky enough to have jobs. People cannot dare risk to leave their jobs if they have health care benefits,” Ashbaugh said.
Many workers who lose their jobs also lose their health insurance because a majority of the time, health care is provided by employers. Comar said 8.4 million workers have lost jobs in the recession.
“44,230 Americans lost health care coverage per week because of unemployment and rising premiums,” he said.
Another issue in both the national debate and yesterday’s protest was that many Americans never had health care coverage, including local resident Laurie Fenwick.
“I’m here because I’m one of the 47 million Americans that can’t afford health insurance,” she said. “I hope that it becomes affordable for Americans in their 40’s like me, just like it is for every single person in every other industrialized country.”
Fenwick said she noticed that the majority of the people protesting were middle-aged or older; she said students should care too.
“Students at Cal Poly need to be involved because they might be covered under their parents for now, but it’s very possible that once they are not covered by their parents’ insurance, they will be out on their own like the rest of us. I don’t know if they realize how expensive it is,” Fenwick said.