People for, against health care reform hit the streets

PORTSMOUTH – It was your classic case of “If everyone talks, who listens?” at Portsmouth High School.

For those outside President Obama’s Portsmouth town hall-style meeting, it was an ongoing battle to scream the loudest and the longest about health-care reform. There was little room for listening.

“We want, we want health care,” one group yelled, lined up on Andrew Jarvis Drive, the high school’s entrance road.

“We want, we want welfare,” another shouted back mockingly from the opposite side of the road.

Police officers paced the street between the opposing groups, each stationed in their own “free speech zones.”

On the right side of the road, homemade signs blazed messages like “Trash This Clunker,” featuring Obama as “the Joker.” Another demanded “Stop Trashing Our Constitution.” Others exclaimed, “Obamacare – it’s to die for!” and “Stop! You’re starting to scare George Orwell!”

On the left side, where buses dropped off advocates from a nearby rally at Lafayette Park, professionally made signs boasting, “Reform Now – Insure People, Not Profits,” and “In America No one Should Have To Go Without Healthcare.” There were homemade messages, too, like “Thank you President Obama for keeping your health-care promise.”

Sixty-five-year-old Exeter resident Barbara Taylor was stationed on the right side of the street She said she showed up at 7 a.m. because health-care reform is a personal issue keeping her awake at night. Her drenched sign, with runny, red, letters read “Hands off our healthcare.” It might as well resemble blood, she said.

Across the street, 72-year-old John Mendolusky, of Amherst, president of the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans, said anything short of complete reform would be a disastrous waste of time.

“This nation cannot continue to provide health-care services in the manner in which they’re being delivered,” Mendolusky said. “It won’t be long before 50 percent of what people earn will be spent on health care. There won’t be any money to buy anything. That means the economy shuts down.”

A group of 20-30 people from Planned Parenthood, in identifiable pink T-shirts, also rallied to support health care that will better protect women’s reproductive choice.

“Reforming health care can’t make it any worse off than it is right now,” said Kary Jencks, Planned Parenthood public affairs director for New Hampshire. “Our community health-care providers provide 97 percent of preventative health-care services for women. They rely on us for their services.”

“I fell in my kitchen, shattered my femur and had to have it replaced in 2001,” said Taylor, who was covered by Cigna at the time, under her husband’s health plan. “I’ve been told it needs to be redone in 10 years. What happens when I need a new one? The government is saying things like hip replacements are expendable and wasteful when you’re too old!”

She was surrounded by groups of people representing the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition, who sported “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirts. Throughout the day, members from New Hampshire 912 Project turned up speakers with “The Star Spangled Banner” and patriotic tunes by Lee Greenwood.

In between songs, protestors declared “My body, my choice!” “No-ba-ma!” and “Read the Bill!”

Upon questioning though, many attendees on both sides of the street admitted they had yet to tackle the 1,200 pages of H.R. 3200.

The left-hand side of the sidewalk spouted chants and songs filled with similar sentiments. “We want you to have health care, too!” and “Tomorrow is too late; people die while we wait” dominated their rhymes.

The “Leftist Marching Band” out of Portsmouth also controlled volume levels for a while with their troupe of singing, playing, baton-twirling performers.

But many members of both crowds, who endured a spat of torrential rain followed by blazing heat, said they showed up for reasons beyond health care.

Dave Rynne, of Portsmouth, donning a 1700s-style suit draped with a replica of Betsy Ross’ flag, tried to convince anyone that would listen that health-care reform camouflages a greater issue.

“I think it’s all Obama propaganda,” Rynne said. “His goal is socialism first, communism second.”

Others, like the LaRouche PAC drew Hitler-style mustaches on Obama posters inscribed with “Who’s the fascist of them all?” and handed out pamphlets that read “Act now to stop Obama’s Nazi Health Plan!”

Organizations like Greenpeace and Oxfam America showed up to make the public aware of correlations between climate change, global warming and health care.

Whatever the message, no one in the crowd got a chance to make a statement directly to President Obama. He arrived at Portsmouth High School from a location in the back, away from the crowds.

Which, of course, generated a fresh chant from protestors.

“Back door Obama! Back door Obama!”