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Extraordinary Baltimore HealthCare Now! Town Hall Shows Growing Single Payer Coalition

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Extraordinary Baltimore HealthCare Now! Town Hall

Shows Growing Single Payer Coalition

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By Diane Wittner

June 1, 2009

On Saturday, May 30th, Healthcare-Now of Maryland, Maryland Physicians for a National Health Program (Md. PNHP), and partner groups* with the Maryland Coalition for Health Security sponsored an extraordinary Baltimore Town Hall Meeting on Single Payer.

It was an unusual Town Hall because the ninety seven people present - at 9:30 a.m. on a beautiful Saturday morning - exemplified the growing and increasingly diverse number of Americans who are in favor of Single Payer.  The event was part of a National Day of Action organized by HealthCare-Now, and was one of fifty Single Payer actions around the country.

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Conspicuous by their absence were two local Congress members, Rep. John Sarbanes (D) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D).

Marylanders in attendance were disappointed in these two public servants for two reasons; Rep. Cummings is a co-sponsor of H.R. 676 (Rep. John Conyers' Single Payer bill), and this popular citizens' gathering took place in Rep.  Sarbanes' Congressional District.

Funded with a grant from The Presbyterian Church USA and moderated by Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-chair of Md. PNHP, the Town Hall attracted an audience from: Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice, B'more Housing for All, Health Care for the Homeless, United Workers, Progressive Democrats of America, as well as worried health care providers, parents, college students, farmers, lawyers, retirees, teachers, and folks seeking employment.  Three members of the now-famous Baucus 8 were also present: Dr Margaret Flowers, Adam Schneider, and Kevin Zeese.

Outstanding speakers spoke from the heart about their personal experiences, while debunking harmful myths and deliberate misleading talking points about Single Payer from corporate health apologists. 

Speakers - in order of appearance - included: Larry and Donna Smith (featured in SICKO, California Nurses Assn. Progressive Democrats of America), Adam Schneider (Health Care for the Homeless), Brigitte Marti (international public health expert, co-chair of Md. PNHP), Earnest Lindsay (United Workers), Sheldon Laskin, (Tax Attorney) and Hal Sanders (former hospital administrator).  

Mr. Laskin pointed out that private health insurance came about after World War II largely because newly Democratic southern politicians opposed racial integration of health services in the south.

Brigitte Marti focused on the daily human rights violations and low standard of living indicators that the U.S. government currently promotes under our destructive corporate system.  In contrast, Ms. Marti explained, other industrialized nations have proven that a government-sponsored health care system - everyone in, nobody out, cradle to the grave - is a necessary linchpin in creating healthy societies.

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Dr. Flowers presented a power point slide show in which she cited critical distinctions between Single Payer and the newly-formed Health Care for America Now, which has health insurance sponsorship to the tune of many millions of dollars, and is falsely touted as the progressive alternative to the status-quo.

Ernest Lindsay spoke about United Workers' training of leaders from the ranks of the poor, and the group's successful struggle for a living wage for Camden Yards workers - from less than $5 an hour to over $11 an hour. But like Donna Smith in her earlier testimony, Mr. Lindsay stated that workers in the U.S. must sometimes make impossible choices from competing necessities: health and medicine costs, a place to live, food, or transportation. And job loss, and loss of health insurance, can occur concurrently when a worker grows ill, although health care needs have grown. He highlighted United Workers' recent Human Rights Fair and Solidarity March to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, an area recently declared a "Human Rights Zone" by United Workers. 

Mr. Lindsay stated, "We won our living wage campaign in Camden Yards. United Workers...fights for dignity and human rights for all.  We're doing [these human rights campaigns] not just for one person, but for the entire race. We are all humans, and by working together we can form a stronger chain and let the people in power know that we are not disposable, we are all part of God's world."

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Diane Wittner is an art instructor and director of Chesapeake Citizens. She is former coproducer of the Backbone Campaign's progressive parallel government interview series "Conversations with the Cabinet (

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