Nearly 40 people gathered in Richland's John Dam Plaza on Wednesday to show their support for heath care reform by quietly holding signs, marching and telling stories about family and friends who have struggled with the current system.
The event was one of a nationwide series prompted by progressive website MoveOn.org and Organizing For America, the political activist group that sprang from the Obama presidential campaign.
The local event was organized by Mid-Columbia Community for Change, and Chuck and Ann Eaton in particular.
Chuck Eaton said the idea was to have a peaceful event to support reform and to memorialize the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and his years of work for health care reform.
Several participants held up signs reading "The dream shall never die," a quote from Kennedy's 1980 concession speech when he lost the Democratic presidential nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
Other signs said:
- "Insurance profits are bad for my health"
- "Health care is a right - a moral issue"
- "Public option = citizen owned not-for-profit insurance"
- "Unaffordable health care can be a death sentence"
But among the many signs proclaiming the need for reform was one lone dissenting message held aloft by Carl Wheeler of Richland.
Wheeler showed up to silently protest the reform proposals being discussed in Congress with a sign reading, "Kill the Congressional health plan before it kills you."
Wheeler said he believes reform is necessary, but that the Democrats' plan, which includes a public option for health insurance, will ruin health care in America.
"It's got to be scrapped," he said. "It's too unwieldy. ... It needs to be written in plain language people can understand."
But the disagreement was cordial, even when reform supporters surrounded Wheeler with their own signs while marching on George Washington Way. At one point, Ann Eaton walked over and handed Wheeler a bottle of water after he'd spent nearly 30 minutes in the blazing afternoon sun.
He thanked her politely.
Reform supporters spent the last several minutes standing in a shaded spot in the center of the plaza, lighting candles and sharing stories about people who have struggled to get health care.
Some of the stories came from MoveOn.org, and told of people who died because insurance companies denied claims or paid only for limited care.
Other stories were more local and more personal. Donna Cary told the story of a daughter's friend who was hospitalized with a blood clot at age 18. The young man was released and given prescriptions for medication, but didn't buy them because he didn't have insurance.
"At 19, he died of a blood clot," she said. "There are too many stories like that."
Scott Woodward talked about a friend who was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that can cause extreme fatigue, joint pain, swelling and headaches, among other symptoms.
Woodward said his friend had a good job with health insurance, but the job was stressful and aggravated her disease. But she couldn't get private insurance because of her condition, so she had to keep working to keep her coverage even though it made her sick.
"The dilemma is, 'Do you quit your job?' " he said. "What do you do? You work yourself to death."