In San Francisco Bay Area, over 300,000 participate in Women’s Marches

January 25, 2017 9:15 AM CST By Marilyn Bechtel

OAKLAND, Calif. – One of California’s largest Women’s Marches took place here on Jan. 21, drawing a crowd estimated by mainstream media at 100,000. Like other marches around the country, this one was joined by participants from a broad range of movements, from Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights to climate, faith communities, LGBTQ rights, a woman’s right to choose, the Fight for $15, upholding the Affordable Care Act, Social Security and Medicare, and much more.

As starting time approached, marchers in an upbeat, fight-back mood jammed the streets for many blocks around. The iconic pink “pussy hats” abounded – many crafted by the women wearing them. Some men sported the hats as well.

Among participants were the young and old and everyone in between, marchers with disabilities, people of all colors, among them many men.

Many had encountered long delays on their way, with trains and buses crammed to capacity despite transit systems adding extra runs to their schedules. And after the rally people in pink hats could be seen throughout the downtown business district and around nearby rapid transit stations.

Oakland’s numbers were even more outstanding considering that the demonstration was one among several in other Bay Area communities, among them San Jose at 30,000, San Francisco with 150,000, Santa Cruz at 15,000, Walnut Creek with 10,000, Berkeley at 1,000, and Albany at 500. Of course, no march in the Bay Area topped the 750,000 turnout in Los Angeles,  the country’s largest outside of Washington DC. The Sacramento Bee estimated afterwards that even conservative estimates showed almost one in 45 California residents participated.

Marilyn Bechtel/PW
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

After processing up the side of Lake Merritt, marchers wound down Grand Avenue before heading to the center of the city, where as many as possible crowded into the plaza and amphitheater in front of City Hall. Observers said the march stretched for as many as 40 blocks.

Once at the plaza, protesters cheered and applauded as speaker after speaker from across the spectrum of movements called on them to carry forward a broad, united, persistent and courageous movement for positive change, fighting back against racism, misogyny, attacks on immigrants and militarism, and at the same time upholding vital human services, climate protection and the rights and needs of ordinary people.

Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, told the crowd, “As the only big city mayor in California who is a woman, I have a strong personal feeling about this new reality … I stand here today with my mother and my daughter, to show my gratitude for the past generations who have fought for my rights, and my hope for the future.”

Marilyn Bechtel/PW
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

Schaaf declared, “We will fight for women’s rights in a way that advances all rights.” Noting that Oakland, like many California communities, is a sanctuary city, she pledged “to do everything in my power to protect our planet, our people and our values.” She then asked rally participants to join hands and raise them above their heads, signifying unity “as a single fabric of this entire nation today.”

Among speakers was Elaine Brown, who headed the Black Panther Party for several years in the 1970s, and is active in community movements here, including prison rights and projects to help formerly incarcerated people re-enter their communities.

“I’m going to say, Power to the People – it’s time to get on up and recognize who Trump is,” Brown told the crowd, “and that he is not new. We have been asleep.”

Marilyn Bechtel/PW
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

Drawing parallels between the new president and Adolph Hitler, Brown called on people “who hold progressive, humane and even revolutionary views” to carry forward struggles for Latino, black, gay and women’s rights, and to “launch a fight for the survival of ordinary people whose industrial jobs are dying every day with the rise of technology.”

West Oakland activist Iris Corina called on the crowd to join her in singing the civil rights anthem, We Shall Overcome, and declared, “Don’t let this march be a game. Go back into your communities and raise awareness and encourage hope … If you want to find out how to make changes, how to hold politicians’ feet to the fire that’s stoked here today, you’ve got to get involved with your community.”

Environmental activist Tom Steyer and area state Senator Nancy Skinner also urged participants to help build a powerful, ongoing, unified people’s movement.

The largest Bay Area march was held later in the day in San Francisco, and even a cold rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd of more than 150,000. In her speech, SF Supervisor Jane Kim pointed out that the other five women supervisors were also present, while folk singer/activist Joan Baez inspired the crowd as they began to surge down Market Street toward Justin Herman Plaza. Observers reported that it took marchers two hours to pass by a key downtown intersection.

Marilyn Bechtel/PW
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

In an Inauguration Day letter to Californians, state Assembly Democrats pledged they would “continue to honor our commitments to the people of California. The California contract is a promise to ourselves and to one another that we will build a sustainable econ9my, environment and society that doesn’t just protect the wealthy or the powerful, but instead will be benefit every Californian and benefit from every Californian.”

Their letter specifically listed goals in transportation, affordable housing, education funding, good jobs with the right to organize, clean air, justice that protects all without abuses, affordable health care accessible to all, protection of retirement security, government transparency, and a welcome to all residents including immigrants and refugees.

Via People’s World

Californians act to uphold Obamacare

January 17, 2017 9:21 AM CST By Marilyn Bechtel

OAKLAND, Calif. – While in Washington D.C., Republicans were starting to tear down the Affordable Care Act, here in California the emphasis is on how to keep and improve the program.

California has been a leader in implementing all aspects of the health care law, including the ACA’s provision for expanding Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program). Over 3.6 million Californians are newly covered under the expansion, bringing the total covered by Medi-Cal to 14.3 million, or more than one-third of Californians. Sixty percent of the state’s children are now covered by Medi-Cal.

An additional 1.4 million people have been able to get coverage through the state’s exchange, Covered California. Most get financial help so they can afford it.

The budget proposals Gov. Jerry Brown delivered to the state legislature Jan. 10 reflected his concerns over the uncertainties ahead, as well as his customary caution. Brown called for “tempering spending growth” and increasing the state’s reserve fund, and urged dropping some spending proposals introduced but not acted on last year.

At the same time, he called for increasing the number of Californians covered “under the optimal expansion provisions of the Affordable Care Act” to 4.1 million, which he said would raise the state General Fund’s share of the cost from the present $888 million to nearly $1.6 billion.

Just days later, Brown warned the new Republican-led Congress that ending the ACA “without passing a suitable alternative” would not only harm millions of Californians, but would also “destabilize the commercial market for small business owners and individuals,” potentially causing many to be priced out of the market.

The governor was responding to a request for comment from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents a California district. Brown said the ACA had helped to cut the ranks of uninsured Californians from 17.2 percent in 2013 to 7.4 percent now, the lowest level ever.

While the state is ready to work with Congress on “decent and real solutions,” Brown warned that shifting billions in costs to the states would be “a very cynical way to prop up the federal budget.”

Anthony Wright, executive director of the nearly 60-organization Health Access California coalition, noted that Brown’s budget proposals continue support for Medi-Cal, but warned that Californians should be concerned with Congress’ rush to repeal coverage without any replacement in place, not just for those newly covered but “for the health system and the state as a whole.”

On Jan. 5, some 85 health-related, labor, immigrant rights, religious, environmental and other organizations sent a letter initiated by Health Access to members of California’s Congressional delegation. “Our organizations are very concerned about proposals that would throw California’s health system into chaos, removing the guarantees provided to us by Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act,” they said. “We urge you to invest in and improve our health system, and not pursue efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cap the Medicaid program through a block grant or per capita cap, and privatize Medicare.”

The organizations pointed out gains under the ACA, including cutting the uninsured rate, free preventive services, a ban on denying or charging higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions, and elimination of lifetime caps. They also noted that the federal ACA funding flowing to California’s health care providers creates jobs and boosts local economies.

“The health and lives of millions of Californians are at stake,” the letter said. “We ask you to uphold the significant gains that have been made and ensure that any action taken by Congress safeguards the coverage, benefits, consumer and financial protections that the people of California currently enjoy.”

Early in January, state Senate President Kevin de Leόn, D-Los Angeles, and Health Committee chair Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, called on Rep. McCarthy to “contemplate and assess the real impact” repeal of the ACA “would have on the real lives of our most vulnerable constituents … Rather than repeal the ACA, we suggest focusing on measures that increase coverage, while improving affordability and market stability.”

They urged instead that changes focus on cutting what people must pay, making sure benefits are “at least as comprehensive” as now, not shifting or increasing costs to states, and requiring all plans to meet state regulatory requirements.

It is ironic that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is among those leading the charge to repeal the ACA. McCarthy’s district covers most of Tulare and Kern Counties in the heavily-rural Central Valley. Tulare County has the highest percentage of residents on Medi-Cal – 55 percent – of any California county, with Kern County in the top 10 at 45 percent. In fact, most of the rural counties with the highest rates of Medi-Cal participation are represented in Congress by Republicans.

Pro-ACA demonstrators have repeatedly targeted McCarthy’s Bakersfield office, including a rally Jan. 12, with SEIU participants displaying a giant bill showing the cost if the ACA is repealed and not replaced.

On Jan. 15, thousands rallied across the country to save the ACA, launching a series of actions initiated by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and leading Congressional Democrats. Among California actions were demonstrations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.

A Los Angeles rally, held at noon in front of the LA County/University of Southern California Medical Center, featured new U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, as well as LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis – a former Labor Secretary under President Obama – and patients and physicians. Solis cited “a remarkable 46 percent reduction” in LA County’s uninsured population. With many people now fearing they will lose their coverage, she said, it’s vital to make sure that doesn’t happen.

In San Francisco, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and folk singer and activist Joan Baez were joined by other area members of Congress and by the city’s mayor, Ed Lee at a rally in Civic Center Plaza. Lee told the crowd, “A repeal vote will start us down the path toward the road to chaos. It means turning our backs on the most vulnerable.”

Via People’s World