At Vigils, Support Shown for Health-Care Bill

By Yamiche Alcindor And Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 2, 2009; 9:28 PM

Amid ongoing debate over health-care reform, thousands gathered Wednesday night at events held across the nation, including at least four in the Washington area, to urge Congress and the Obama Administration to approve a bill soon.

"These vigils are to remind decision makers that the debate around health-care is not about politics but about people who are being crushed under the current health-care system," said Nita Chaudhary, the national campaigns and organizing director of, a liberal group that helped organize the "We Can't Afford to Wait" vigils.

Outside the U.S. Capitol, D.C. resident Iris Green spoke about her son, an assistant at a small business. The son, whose name Green didn't give, was born with a heart defect and does not have health insurance.

"My worries are that something will happen that could have been prevented in an earlier stage. I'm very concerned with where he's going to go for healthcare," Green told a crowd of at least 150 people, some of whom held signs reading "Public option now!"

"The worst part is that there are millions of other people like him who are uninsured," Green said.

At the Government Center in Fairfax, about 300 people gathered at a forum put on by the Virginia Organizing Project, a Charlottesville-based nonprofit, and Health Care for America Now!, a coalition of groups advocating reform.

Wendell Potter, who said he left his job as a public relations executive at health-service company Cigna to campaign for health reform, told personal stories about what he called the failure of the nation's health care system, and implored the audience to speak out as Congress considers health care proposals in the coming weeks.

"We must tell ourselves, and tell our friends who are worried needlessly about a government takeover of our health care system, that what we all must be concerned about is the Wall Street takeover that has occurred while we were not paying attention," Potter said.

Some attendees said the events offered an opportunity to push President Obama to stick by his health reform promises.

"I'm out here to encourage him to get back on track," said Karrina Brown, a 49-year-old real estate agent from Springfield. She said she is pressing for health care reform because of her own experience with private insurance, which did not cover her second bout with breast cancer because it was a pre-existing condition.

"The other team has been so vocal," Brown said. "He needs to hear that more people want what he wanted."

Patrick Robinson of McLean volunteered to help organize local events, which also were scheduled in Silver Spring and Gaithersburg. Robinson, 22, who recently graduated from college in Hoboken, N.J., said he does not have health insurance and hopes the vigils will call attention to others in the same situation.

"People need to be reminded that there is a human face to the problems we are facing," he said.

Chaudhary said the vigils will be followed by other grassroots efforts by MoveOn and other groups.

"Our members are going to keep organizing until we have passed a strong health-care reform bill with a robust public option," she said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company