The Star-Ledger

Highland Park, Montclair Rallies Held For Health Care Reform

The Star-Ledger — Wednesday, February 17, 2010

By Ryan Hutchins / For The Star-Ledger

HIGHLAND PARK — Dozens of New Jersey residents rallied in Highland Park and Montclair today, holding signs and shouting for health care reform as passing drivers honked their horns in support.

The two rallies, part of a national day of action for health care reform, were also held in conjunction with "water cooler" gathering at 15 workplaces throughout the state, according to Citizen Action, an advocacy group.

"The message today is that we want Congress to move forward and pass health care reform," said Eve Weissman, who coordinates Citizen Action's health care campaign.

She was among about two-dozen people gathered on Main Street in Highland Park. The group held signs — one said "Honk 4 Health Care" — and were led in chants by bullhorn-holding organizers. Weissman said later in the day that about 20 people had gathered at the Montclair rally.

Those in Highland Park, a small Middlesex County borough where Citizen Action has an office, were met by mostly supportive drivers — including a sanitation worker — who obliged the calls for honks. Just one man issued a negative response, slowing his car, extending his arm and turning his thumb to the ground.

Some of the activists said they were frustrated with legislators for not taking swifter action. "We have to do something about this Congress," said Lola Kamp, a borough resident. "You have to stop the log jam."

One woman said the attitudes of Americans — specifically a lack of empathy — was one reason it had been so difficult to pass reforms.

"I think the problem is that too many people have got the I've-got-mine, I-don't-care-if-you-have-yours attitude," said Maureen Tagliaferro, of Middlesex.

Also in Highland Park was Ethan Ellis, former executive director of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities. The 76-year-old, a Piscataway resident who has cerebral palsy, said reform is important to those with disabilities.

"This bill would let 12 million people with disabilities go to work who can't now," Ellis said, referring to an estimate of how many disabled persons receiving Medicare or Medicaid.

Right now, he said, it is difficult for a person with a pre-existing condition to get health insurance, so they often pursue disability benefits and give up working.

Ellis calls passing reforms vital to those he advocates for. "This is the most important thing to happen for people with disabilities in the last decade."

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