On July 24, a crowd gathered across the street from Westlake Center with the intention of marching from there to Seattle Center. Some carried signs, others carried clipboards, and some didn’t carry anything at all. But they all had one thing in common: the goal of marching for Medicare for All.
Seattle wasn’t the only place where protestors marched. Around 30 other marches happened all over the country, all of which had the goal of demanding universal healthcare. The march was endorsed by groups such as the Washington Green Party, the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America and Sunrise Seattle. Democratic Representative Pramila Jaypal (WA-7) was unable to make it to the march in person but sent a recorded speech that was played before the protestors marched to Seattle Center. A full list of groups that endorsed the March can be found here. Overall, the mood of the protest was high-spirited; musicians played in-between speakers, and there was an ASL interpreter interpreting for each speaker.
A majority of those attending as supporters had signs with phrases such as “Healthcare is a human right,” and many of those without signs at the beginning of the protest waved lawn signs promoting national single-payer health security, which is colloquially known as Medicare for All. Judging by the handmade protest signs, it is safe to assume that everyone at the protest had experienced an incident themselves or had someone they knew go through something that would have been prevented by having Medicare for All. Take Dr. Chris Covert-Bowlds for example, a local physician and board member of Health Care for All-Washington. When asked what brought him to the march, he replied that he “signed two death certificates for people who died purely from [a] lack of healthcare.” He went on to say that if the United States had Medicare for All, it would improve his life as a doctor so that he would be able to treat patients and stop seeing them suffer, regardless of what their health insurance covered. He also brought up that relatives losing health coverage often led to family members not being able to get medical care. When asked about when he first began to see Medicare for All as the only solution, he expressed, “I was seeing all these low-income people really suffering, so that was back in ‘91 and ‘94.” He concluded his interview by stating that “now was a better time than ever [and] we could get it done,” which was an indicator of the mood of the march.
However, some parts of the protest weren’t as hopeful and optimistic. For all that had happened, many people had died as a result of not having access to healthcare, and that would be made crystal clear with the memory of Kaloni Bolton, a 12-year-old Black girl. Before the march began, she was remembered, along with the stark disparities that led to her death. On December 29, Kaloni was having an asthma attack, so her parents first went to the urgent care at Renton Landing. When they arrived, she was turned away and directed to the North Benson Urgent Care clinic, where she still wasn’t seen by a doctor despite having difficulty breathing. She was later given an oxygen tank (which was allegedly empty and rusty), rather than a nebulizer with Albuterol, which was a treatment that she would have responded to. Despite having the oxygen tank, she lost consciousness and had no pulse, which prompted doctors to administer CPR and transfer her to Seattle Childrens’ Hospital, but at that point, it was too late. Kaloni had to be taken off of life support two days later. Protestors shouted her name, along with “Black Lives Matter,” to remember her. The speaker then used that as a stark reminder of the substandard healthcare and rampant mistreatment of minorities, primarily Black and Indigenous women, whose complaints are disproportionately ignored, leading to tragedies such as in Kolani Bolton’s case.
After all of the speeches had been heard, protesters began the march to Seattle Center. There were cars and vans in front of and behind the protestors, which helped keep them safe from oncoming traffic as they marched. On the way, protestors sang songs decrying health insurance and chanting that healthcare was a human right. During the middle of the route, the march stopped twice to allow for more speeches, music, and for organizers to pass out water, Gatorade, and snacks while allowing for marchers to recharge. Overall, the protest was peaceful even without the Seattle Police Department being there. Groups of people on bicycles redirected traffic and likely served to prevent cars from driving into protestors, and their tactics worked. After reaching Seattle Center, groups of people spread out to listen to more people speak, with notable speakers being candidates for Seattle City Council Nikkita Oliver and Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant. During that time, volunteers made rounds through the crowd collecting signatures to get universal healthcare on the ballot, along with other petitions such as one for rent control. After all of the speakers finished, many protestors returned to Westlake for a march and vigil for Kaloni Bolton, which continued later into the day.