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Health reform supporters dominate Supreme Court steps

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People participate in a protest on the second day of oral arguments for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. Emily Seay wasn’t sure what to expect when she decided to travel from Rockville, Md. up to the Supreme Court Tuesday morning, to rally in support of the Affordable Care Act. Seay, 39, is a nurse who attended a number of town halls in the summer of 2009, hosted by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) when Congress was debating the health overhaul. She remembers opponents of the law dominating those meetings.

“It felt very intimidating,” Seay remembers. “There was definitely a sense that there were more of them than there were of us.”

When Seay arrived at the rally Tuesday morning though, she found something very different: Health reform supporters vastly outnumbered opponents of the law, overwhelming the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court.

“It’s incredibly thrilling,” says Seay, who marched while carrying a pink “Protect Women’s Health” sign. “I was a little nervous this would be like the town halls again, but it’s very different.”

For two days, the Supreme Court has been holding oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. And just outside the court, supporters of the health reform law have consistently shown up in greater numbers than those who oppose it.

The disparity doesn’t necessarily suggest that the health overhaul is becoming more popular: Tracking polls have shown public opinion to be deadlocked pretty much since the Affordable Care Act passed in March 2010. But it does suggest that Democrats can rally their base around President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment in ways they previously had struggled to do.

“It’s good to have a strong presence here to show that there are a lot of people who do like this law and support it,” says Eddie Vale, communications director for pro-reform group Protect Your Care. He’s been the point-man for coordinating much of the Supreme Court protests, arriving on site each morning around 5. “This shows it’s not true that Americans don’t like the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Protect Your Care began planning the protests about two months ago, working with Center for American Progress, Health Care for America Now, Families USA, SEIU and AFSCME. Those five groups then reached out to other, smaller organizations that support the health reform law. About 100 or so were involved in bringing members out to the Supreme Court this week.

Vale says he, and other organizers, wanted to ensure that the supporters didn’t encounter “another boring rally.”

Sarah Kliff

The Washington Post

Health reform supporters brought an inflatable ‘insurance monster’ to their Supreme Court rally.

“We didn’t want to have people listen to 80 straight speakers,” he says. So the groups brought in entertainment: A brass band played on the Supreme Court sidewalk Monday. Tuesday afternoon an inflatable “insurance monster” showed up. The monster, clad in a suit and with money flowing out of its pockets, would literally eat nearby consumers.

“We really want to rally around this, and be vocal,” says Maria Perez, deputy director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which bused in 20 supporters from New York. “So when they told us about this, it was like, why wouldn’t we show up?”

When oral arguments got underway at 10 a.m., at least a few hundred supporters of the health reform law had gathered outside the Supreme Court, chanting “We love Obamacare” and “Hey, hey, health reform is here to stay.”

Right nearby, the Tea Party Patriots gathered for a rally in opposition to the health reform law. But their speakers were difficult to hear, as the microphone kept cutting out, and health reform supporters attempted to shout over their opponents.

I asked Jenny Beth Martin, co-director of the Tea Party Patriots, why she thought there were more supporters of the law present than opponents. She thinks it has to do with scheduling: Just last weekend, her group drew about 5,000 supporters to a rally on Capitol Hill.

“Our supporters can’t keep coming back to D.C. over and over on their own dime to tell the ruling elite the same thing over and over again,” says Martin. “The most recent polling from CBS News says that only one in four Americans want to keep the law. Seventy-five percent don’t want to be a part of it.”

As for Seay, she’s happy to be a part of the majority outside the Supreme Court — especially after being in the minority the last time around.

“It’s fun, we’re dancing and just trying to stay warm,” says Seay, pointing to her red winter hat, which she got after volunteering at President Obama’s inauguration. “It’s definitely a much more enjoyable experience.”

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