PITTSFIELD – As many as 300 people rallied in Pittsfield’s Park Square the afternoon of Feb. 25 in support of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which have recently been nationally threatened by Republican efforts.
“This just shows that people want their voices to be heard,” said Casey Pease, the event organizer.
President Donald Trump initiated a repeal of the ACA during his first day in office when he signed an executive order to “take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the [Affordable Care] Act.”
Repealing the ACA, legislation put in place by former President Barack Obama in 2013, will soon be the subject of debate in Congress.
A leaked draft of the Obamacare repeal recently obtained by Politico revealed changes that would allow insurers to increase costs up to five times for elderly recipients, repeal the tax on pharmaceutical manufacturers and overhaul Medicaid completely by 2020.
According to the drafted repeal, decisions on mandatory regulations and benefits would be turned over to state governments.
“It is important that we are gathered here, that we are raising our voices, and more important that we are reaching out to our elected officials and letting them know, you cannot get away with this,” Pease told ralliers.
Pease said the next step will be to reach out to attendees and give them specific actions to take, like contacting elected officials and supporting particular legislation.
“Having the structure to keep the enthusiasm going,” Pease said, will be part of that subsequent effort.
Present at the rally was Massachusetts State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who told gatherers that “we are lucky to live in Massachusetts,” a state that has its own health care system, but “we are still kind of screwed.”
That sentiment was shared among ralliers.
“I think it’s going to be a disaster if they remove it,” said Toni Buckley, of Pittsfield.
A Syrian-German immigrant who recently married a man from Pittsfield, Buckley also sported pro-immigration pins on her jacket.
Lenox resident Eric Federer said he starts Medicare next week when he turns 65.
“We don’t want 20 million people to lose healthcare. We want there to be a smooth transition,” he said.
Federer said the work done by President Trump so far has been mostly “subtractive,” erasing efforts of former President Obama, rather than in favor of the people.
Local author and Richmond resident Susyn Reeve attended the Jan. 21 Women’s March in New York City.
“I’m extremely disappointed in what the Republicans are doing to try and take away something, and it seems like the only reason they want to take it away is because it was instituted during Obama’s presidency,” she said.
Reeve is co-organizing an event to be held in Great Barrington March 8 as part of the “A Day Without a Woman” strike, initiated by Women’s March organizers, where participants will be able to engage in an international meditation and watch a livestream of the event.
“I find this so energizing, to keep making calls to people in Congress and just to be around like-minded people,” Reeve said.
Marietta Rapetti Cawse, member of the Human Rights Commission, was one of the people collecting contact information from ralliers.
“I’m glad to be on the Human Rights Commission at this time,” Rapetti Cawse said. “It’s more important - it’s always important - but today that verification, that affirmation is more important than ever.”
While local registered nurse and representative from the Massachusetts Nurses Association Mark Brodeur was present at the rally, there was no sign of the Berkshire Health Systems resident and CEO, David Phelps, or any other local healthcare executives.
Pittsfield Mayor Tyer was also in attendance. She announced her support of Pease’s efforts, the Our 413 Revolution and the Four Freedoms movements in the days leading up to the rally.
“This is a chance for us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of some upsetting events that seem to unfold daily on the national level,” Tyer told the Courier. “I believe we can make a difference right where our feet are.”
State Rep. Paul Mark and State Sens. Adam Hinds and Richard Neal had also backed the event.
This article first appeared in The Berkshire Courier.