News & Events

Rally demands a sweeping change in health system

By Meghan E. Irons, Globe Staff  |  September 8, 2009

More than 1,000 advocates for a new national health care system rallied on Boston Common yesterday, shouting slogans and holding aloft banners demanding “reform now’’ in a show of force supporting President Obama’s push to overhaul health care.

In a refrain that echoed across the grassy lawn, the crowd chanted: “What do we want? Health care reform! When do you want it? Now!’’ Placards read “Public Option = Government for the People’’ and “Cape Cod will not let Ted’s dream die.’’

Participants in the Labor Day rally, which was staged by Obama’s grass-roots political organization, Organizing for America, said they wanted to push back against vocal opposition to the president’s plan.

“The Republicans are very organized and we want to prove that the Democrats are also organized,’’ said Barbara Blume, 64, of Centerville. “I want to tell them that they are not in step with the American people. The American people support health care reform and we support President Obama.’’

A parade of politicians, labor leaders, and workers addressed the crowd yesterday at Parkman Bandstand on the Common, including Attorney General Martha Coakley, who formally launched her campaign last week to fill the US Senate seat vacated by the death of Edward M. Kennedy.

“This is a frontier that cannot wait,’’ Coakley said, vowing to pick up where Kennedy left off. “We need health care for everyone.’’

The crowd’s loudest roar came when the Democrat threw her support behind a public, or government-run, insurance option, which she said “will give us the competition and the choice we need to make sure we have good coverage for everyone.’’

The rally crowd was not so kind to US Representative Stephen Lynch, a South Boston Democrat who is strongly considering a run for Kennedy’s seat. Boos drowned out Lynch’s speech, though he said he is 100 percent in favor of reform.

“He’s in favor of health care reform but not in favor of the public option, and that’s the difference between the sheep and the wolves,’’ said Bill Wasserman, 82, of Ipswich.

Lynch has expressed skepticism about the hefty price tag of the Democrats’ proposed health care overhaul, and labor unions have viewed this as a sign of opposition to a public option.

US Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville, another Democrat considering a run for Senate, may have launched an early salvo at Lynch when he said that health care reform “will be a major test to see who actually walks the walk and who actually talks it.’’

Other speakers included US Representatives Edward Markey of Malden and John Tierney of Salem – both of whom are also mulling Senate runs – and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston.

A moment of silence was held in memory of Kennedy.

Other groups at the rally included Doctors for America, Service Employees International Union, and the group Health Care for America Now.

Organizing for America said it plans to present 30,000 declarations of support for Obama’s proposals from Massachusetts residents to the Bay State congressional delegation.

Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at