Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Local residents rally on Lift Bridge in solidarity with national day of action, "Our First Stand: Save Health Care"

By Michele Bourdieu

More than 150 local supporters walk across the Portage Lift Bridge on Sunday, Jan. 15, in solidarity with a national day of action to Save Health Care. Click on photos for larger view. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated)

HOUGHTON -- The sun finally appeared with some warmer weather -- about 30 degrees F -- on Sunday, Jan. 15, well timed for the crowd of more than 150 local residents concerned about health care who marched across the Portage Lift Bridge with a variety of signs expressing support for Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood. The Houghton event, organized by the Houghton County Democratic Party, was one of many rallies around the country participating in a day of action, "Our First Stand: Save Health Care," called for by Democratic Congressional leaders led by Bernie Sanders.

Health care supporters walk across the Portage Lift Bridge on Sunday, Jan. 15, many displaying signs to express their concerns about potential Republican threats to privatize, eliminate or de-fund Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Planned Parenthood. Click on YouTube icon for larger picture. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Valorie Troesch of Houghton, one of the organizers of the Houghton event and an active member of the Houghton County Democratic Party, said she was really pleased with the large turnout.

"It shows how much people in the community care about health care issues," Troesch said. "It's not just the Affordable Care Act. It's Medicare, Medicaid and Planned Parenthood."

Troesch noted 99 percent of Planned Parenthood's funding goes to pay for health care for poor women.

Valorie Troesch, one of the organizers of Houghton's day of action to Save Health Care, displays a sign reminding concerned citizens to call newly elected First District U.S. Congressman Jack Bergman (R) and Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to let them know Medicare should not be privatized or de-funded.

"The big point I want to make is our job isn't done with this rally," Troesch added. "It's just beginning. The most important thing people need to do is to contact their representative in Congress, in particular Bergman and Ryan. People have to inundate their offices with phone calls."*

Troesch said it's important to make these calls to Congressmen, who think about their chances of re-election, to communicate the message that large numbers of people want to save public health care.

Janeen Stephenson of Houghton said she would like to participate in a march like this every weekend.

Janeen Stephenson, left, and Keren Tischler pause for a photo on the Portage Lift Bridge during Sunday's Save Health Care rally.

"I don't want to see the Affordable Care Act gutted," Stephenson said. "I'd like to see our country invest more resources in health care for all."

Stephenson said she believes we all have a responsibility to act on this issue.

"My heart is broken because people will die if they start gutting this," Stephenson added.

Hilary Virtanen, Finlandia University professor of Finnish Studies, said she was concerned about Congress taking away or de-funding existing health care programs without letting the public know the plan for what they'll do next to replace them.

Hilary Virtanen, Finlandia University professor of Finnish Studies, right, and Keith Troesch, husband of organizer Valorie Troesch of Houghton, display their signs near the Lift Bridge during the Save Health Care rally.

A large banner announced the concerns of Moyle construction employees, who recently went on strike in 2016 to convince the company to offer health care. The company then offered individual health care plans, but the present policy is not for families.

A group of employees and former employees of Moyle Construction Co. display a large banner expressing their need for family health care.

"We're hoping for family health care in the future," said Troy Haapala, a former Moyle construction employee.

Bill Wanhala, a Moyle employee who participated in the strike, said he was called back to work for two weeks and then laid off.

Also helping carry the banner was visitor Clark Palmer of Bemidji, Minn., who was supporting the Moyle employees.

Among the younger participants in the rally were Daphne Maki and Mya Johnson, juniors at Houghton High School. Wearing pink hats, they said they learned about the event from Daphne's Mom, Katie Maki of Houghton. They also hope to accompany her to the Women's March in Washington, DC, on Jan. 21.

Daphne Maki, left, and Mya Johnson, Houghton High School juniors, said they learned about the Save Health Care rally from Daphne's Mom, Katie Maki, of Houghton. Both are hoping to accompany Katie to the Women's March in Washington, DC, on Jan. 21, 2017.

Katie Maki told Keweenaw Now she marched in the bridge rally on Sunday because she believes health care is a human right.

"We should all have access to great care no matter our finances nor pre-existing conditions," Katie said. "The Republicans have not come up with any replacement for the ACA. The ACA needs improvements and is not perfect, but going backwards only hurts everyone."

Katie Maki took this photo of Daphne, right, and Mya, who carries a sign with statistics on how much health care Planned Parenthood provides each year. (Photo © and courtesy Katie Maki)

David Hall and his wife, Dana Van Kooy, of Houghton said they were very impressed with the great turnout at the bridge march on Sunday.

"It is obviously important to a lot of people in this area that we need to preserve the Affordable Health Care Act," Hall said. "We cannot return to the time when millions of Americans were uninsurable due to preexisting conditions and when women paid higher premiums, just because of their gender. The Affordable Care Act has allowed millions of us to have health insurance, regardless of income, and has saved families from bankruptcy due to high health care costs. Our freshman Congressman Jack Bergman seems to be out of touch with the needs of our community. He has voted to kill affordable health insurance, and we need to let him know we are displeased. Access to affordable health insurance and health care is a human right. Health insurance should be universal. A healthy community is a vibrant community."

More photos ...
Displaying their signs on the bridge are, from left, Miguel Levy and Anita Levy of Chassell and Lois Jambekar of Houghton.

From left, Michigan Tech Professor Sarah Green, Jill Burkland of Houghton and Becky Darling of Chassell soak up the sunshine while walking across the Lift Bridge for Health Care.

Libby Meyer, Michigan Tech music professor, holds a sign that acknowledges Bernie Sanders as the leader of Sunday's Save Health Care rallies across the country. Behind her is her husband, Evan McDonald, Keweenaw Land Trust executive director.

Rally participants display "Honk 4 Health Care" signs inviting passing motorists to sound their horns in support, which many did. (Photo © and courtesy Katie Maki)

More participants with their signs line the length of the Lift Bridge. (Photo © and courtesy Katie Maki)

Joan Chadde, director of Michigan Tech's Center for Science and Environmental Outreach, waves while crossing the bridge with the crowd of health care supporters.

After walking across the bridge from Houghton to Hancock, the marchers stood peacefully along the bridge displaying their signs and then returned to Houghton. 

For background on the Jan. 15 day of action to Save Health Care, click here.

*Editor's Note: Call House Speaker Paul Ryan at  (202) 225-3031. Call U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman at (202) 225-4735.

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