Pittsfield — Berkshire County residents are known for their activism. And lately Park Square in Pittsfield has been ground zero for all manner of resistance to the Trump administration’s policies.
Yesterday the cause was quite simple: opposition to the effort of the president and the Republican leadership to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law that covered tens of millions of Americans who were previously without health insurance.
“This one is more important,” former state Rep. Sherwood Guernsey, referring to the litany of complaints progressives have against Trump, told the Edge. “This will affect millions of people. There are so many people who don’t understand what it’s like not to have healthcare. The pressure against this should be intense.”
Guernsey and the other speakers were using a bullhorn in order to be heard over the din of late-afternoon city noises often punctuated by honks of approval in response to the signs carried by the approximately 100 people at the rally.
With the exception of state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who was tending to business elsewhere, Berkshire County’s entire state legislative delegation was at the protest rally, which was co-sponsored by the Four Freedoms Coalition, a nonpartisan coalition of more than 140 local organizations, and the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP. Pignatelli later told the Edge he had a previous engagement and that his absence should in no way be interpreted as a lack of support for the cause, which he embraces without reservation
And there was a surprise visit by gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, a former cabinet member in the administration of former Gov. Deval Patrick. Guernsey introduced Gonzalez, who is running for the Democratic nomination to unseat Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in 2018.
And there was also Jessica and Alexis Shandor, who related a personal story about their own healthcare. See video of Gonzalez’s message and the Shandors’ story below:
Gonzalez, who served as Patrick’s secretary of administration and finance from 2009 to 2013, said he later served as chairman of the board of the Massachusetts Health Connector “that made us the first state in the nation to provide near-universal health insurance to the people of Massachusetts.”
“I know, as you do, that President Trump and the Republicans in Congress are trying to take us backwards,” said Gonzalez, who advocated for a single-payer system. “Make no mistake: If this passes, we will lose billions of dollars in federal funding, hundreds of thousands of people in Massachusetts will lose coverage [and] they will have less access to the health services they need, be less healthy and we will have communities that are less strong … We need to fight this cruel attempt to take us backwards.”
In her remarks, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, alluded to the zombie theme of the event. Attendees were encouraged to wear black, dress as zombies and bring headstone-shaped signs to emphasize the danger the proposed healthcare bill embodies.
“They’re trying to bring something back from the dead that will kill a lot of people,” Farley-Bouvier said of the latest GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare.
Farley-Bouvier said she recently received a birthday phone call from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told her that she and others are “fighting for healthcare because it’s a basic human right” and “You should know that your representatives in Washington are fighting for you.”
“I scratch my head and my new beard,” added state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield,, whose speech was marked by technical difficulties with the bullhorn. “They want to remove things that are covered: pre-existing conditions and prescription drugs?”
“It seems like every week there’s some outrage we need to fight against,” added state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. “It’s time to be on the offensive … We need universal healthcare. It allows entrepreneurship and it’s just good, common sense.”
In brief interviews with an Edge reporter, several demonstrators echoed the sentiments of their elected representatives.
“Health comes first,” said Marietta Rapetti Cawse of Pittsfield. “It’s important for us to be generous. We need to have good healthcare so our families can learn and be well.”
Al Blake of Becket spoke of the “injustice of the healthcare bill.” Laura Rosenthal of Pittsfield said that, even though “the ACA is not perfect,” she wanted “to get rid of this crazy repeal” and later enact “Medicare for all.”
Jennifer Holey was partially dressed as a zombie and carrying a sign that said, among other things, “Trump Care Is Death Care” and “Kill The Bill.” Holey is involved with 5calls.org, an organization that encourages voters to call government officials to get action on the issues they care about.
Kristen Winsett and her mother, Sharon, both of Pittsfield, took the prize for looking most like zombies. Dressed in black, both had fake bloody teeth, hair dyed black and red liquid smeared over their faces. Their signs were in the shape of headstones and announced they were dying of “pre-existing conditions” and of heatstroke protesting for “affordable healthcare.”
“I’ve had a brain tumor since I was 12,” Sharon explained. “And my mother has thyroid cancer.”
Guernsey said Congress is starting to feel the heat: “They know people are angry. This was foisted on us with no hearing and no CBO score.”
Later that evening, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced that she could not in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill, as the repeal effort was known, bringing to three the number of GOP senators who have announced they would vote against it, effectively killing the current bill. See video below:
The Hoping Machine singers from the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington rounded out the event by singing several songs, including the Pete Seeger song “If I Had A Hammer.” See video below: