About three dozen residents from both the North and South forks gathered on Montauk Highway near Stony Brook Southampton Sunday afternoon to raise concerns about the expected repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The rally was part of a national day of action on affordable health care called by Democratic congressional leaders in honor of the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have been 88 years old on Sunday.
The event was organized by numerous progressive East End organizations, under the loose umbrella of a group called East End Resistors organized by Joyce Roper of East Quogue.
“We’re basically organizing each other,” said Ms. Roper as the group elicited honks from passing motorists. “It’s a networking group for all organizations on the East End, and a source for getting involved…. There are so many people on the East End, from all over, who share our views. We need to come together.”
Canio’s Books co-owner Kathryn Szoka also urged attendees to join the Progressive East End Reformers, a group that grew out of Bernie East End Supporters, who worked for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
The rally was followed by a writing workshop and author talk on literary political action at the college.
Ms. Szoka said PEER, along with its parent group, New York Progressive Action Network, is working at the state level for a universal health care bill.
“We’re fired up and ready to go,” she told the crowd, echoing a campaign rallying cry from President Barack Obama’s first campaign.
The crowd included many progressive activists and health care professionals from throughout the East End.
Angela DeVito of Jamesport, a public health expert who studied toxicology in industrial settings and ran for Riverhead Town Supervisor in 2013, said that “if you don’t have a nation that has good health, you’ve lost your nation. You’ve lost its people. Without health, we can’t be a nation that acts. It should be a fundamental right that’s not left to a laissez-faire corporate system. No one’s health care should be for sale.”
Ms. DeVito added that East End Congressman Lee Zeldin has had two years to assess the situation and find a better alternative to the Affordable Care Act, but hasn’t done anything to help fix health care problems in this country.
She added that she is particularly concerned about the health of young Americans.
“The whole future of their mental and physical well-being is influenced by the status of their health when they are young,” she said.
Julie Ludmer-Duberman of Shinnecock Hills stood resolutely, apart from the group with a friend who asked not to be named who held high a sign that said “No Repeal Without Plan!”
“I’ve lived a long time, and at the beginning of my life, we were threatened by fascism. But we had a good president during those times,” she said.
Of President-Elect Donald Trump, she said “he’s not so dangerous alone, because he lacks conviction of any kind, but he has appointed people to head agencies who want to dismantle those agencies.”
Darby Moore of Cutchogue, a creative arts therapist in the behavioral health department at Eastern Long Island Hospital, said she wished America had a leader with vision akin to that of Franklin Roosevelt.
“It’s providing health care for people who wouldn’t otherwise afford it,” she said of the Affordable Care Act. “You can’t repeal it without replacing it with something better. It would do irreparable damage.”
Ms. Moore said her partner in her dramatic therapy practice has health care for her entire family through the ACA’s health care exchange, and they would suffer if it was repealed.
She said she believes the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, which broadly expanded corporate political contributions, is the Trojan Horse that has created the current toxic political climate.
“This group is all middle class, white liberals, which is all well and good and they’re caring people, but why are we not reaching more people?” she added.
Debbie Siegel of Southampton said she and her husband pay out of pocket for their health care, but since the Affordable Care Act they’ve received a rebate from their insurance company for the portion of their premiums that aren’t spent on health care.
“It affects everyone in this country,” she said.
Jim Shaw of Greenport, who is self-employed as an electrician, said he was paying $700 per month for insurance, despite the fact that he was young and healthy, when he decided to take a risk and drop his insurance. He then signed up for health insurance through New York’s ACA exchange when the program went online in 2014 and ended up paying $356 per month.
“I signed on through the website and had no problem,” he said. “I was happy to have insurance. My experience was all positive. The premium has gone up every year, maybe $20, but that’s still half of what I was paying.”
Mr. Shaw is now married and is covered through his husband’s health care plan.
“But I’ll still fight for other peoples’ rights,” he said. “I think we need to speak out.”