Monday, January 16, 2017

What I Saw At The Rally

Yesterday there were several rallies held across the country to call for the preservation of the Affordable Care Act. The rally in Warren, Michigan, featuring Bernie Sanders got the most attention, but plenty of folks, like yours truly, attended other less grandiose rallies. Mine was held at the main ballroom of the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark.

The east side of downtown Newark was quiet as always on a Sunday morning, but when we tentatively stepped through the doors of the building, I was immediately hit with a wall of body heat and a cacophony of voices. The inside of the building was ALIVE. There were people circulating petitions and assembling lists of attendees and generally a flurry of activity. I knew right away that this is something that I had been missing in my life, having last engaged in protest in a major way back in my grad school days.

And yes, the rally started half an hour late, and we had to corral our impatient daughters and eventually had to leave early to get them some lunch. But despite that, I really felt something good deep inside of me. It just felt good to occupy a space with people as concerned as I am about the future, and united in the desire to stop the Trump administration and its Congressional flunkies. I think it helped that this rally was organized primarily by unions. In my experience, union-organized events bring in a more diverse group of people, both in terms of class and race. The moral posturing and intellectual bullshit so prevalent in so many activist circles isn't here. Union people get to the point. Perhaps this is just my own social class prejudices showing, but when I am surrounded by people wearing SEIU shirts and Teamsters jackets I feel much more comfortable than at any protest that involves a drum circle or human microphone.

This event was also interesting in that it showed Democrats that their base is not so restive anymore. Senator Robert Menendez was one of the speakers, and there were several people there holding signs criticizing him for his vote against a Sanders-supported law that would open up importation of cheaper Canadian drugs. There was also plenty of booing when he came to speak. Those there to criticize him eventually relented, and he ended up giving a very fiery speech on the need to preserve the Affordable Care Act. Many speakers, including my former Representative, Albio Sires, openly stated, to the crowd's approval, that health care is a right. I fervently hope that out of the disaster that awaits us that bold statements like that will be Democratic Party's official position, and that those words be made into a reality.

That is something that people will fight for. I think what I saw yesterday was a sleeping giant awaking. A lot of the energy in the room had been directed last year towards the election, now it was freed of support for any one person. This is something that makes me very happy, partly because it should make the leadership of the Democratic party a little scared. At this rally I saw people who are enthusiastic about fighting back, and ready to put themselves out there. At one point I almost started crying, because it was the first time since November 9 that I have felt even a shred of hope for the future. If you are dreading the coming Trumpist nightmare, I beg you to get involved, if not for the good of the country, then at least for the health of your soul.

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