If you weren’t there, where were you?
If you were, you were one of the hundreds of local residents who rallied buoyantly yesterday in front of Republican Congressman John J. Faso’s Kinderhook office, marched several blocks to his home, and, surprisingly, after about 20 minutes of chanting and singing were joined by Faso himself who promised not to support the defunding of Planned Parenthood, stated his opposition to President Trump’s immigration ban, and said he favored fixing and repairing Obamacare as opposed to ripping up the law.
Faso’s appearance on the sidewalk outside his home, first shaking hands with the marchers, and then speaking to crowd through a bullhorn, pleased the rally’s organizers.
“I was surprised that he actually came out to speak with us,” said Pam Kline, one of the founders of the demonstration’s organizer, the local activist group Indivisible CD19. “Up until today he has been fairly unresponsive and unwilling to answer any requests for meetings. In fact, his office flatly refused to even give us his schedule. In the past, it was something that his predecessor, Congressman Gibson, always did.”
Kline, the founder of Traditions Linens in Claverack, said she was “cautiously optimistic” about Faso’s comments. “I was heartened to hear him say he was more interested in repairing the Affordable Care Act than repealing it,” said Kline in an email a few hours after the rally. “I think Congressman Faso now fully understands that his constituents in District 19 have no intention of accepting his support of a Trump agenda. If he is willing to represent us then we are willing to support him. If he is more interested in supporting Trump’s destructive policies, then he has no future in District 19.”
The rally attracted perhaps as many as 1,500 local residents, estimated Gianni Ortiz, the demonstration’s other organizer. (Others guessed the number was closer to 1,000 or a bit less) Beginning at about 2 pm, the lively crowd filled the wide parking lot in front of Faso’s closed Kinderhook office and spilled onto the surrounding square. Many demonstrators waved homemade signs including: “Don’t Make Us Sick”; “Patients Over Politics”; and “Repealing ACA Will Make America Sick Again.” The protestors, young and old, some parents with youngsters on their shoulders, chanted and sang, accompanied by the brass band, Tin Horn Uprising, under a gray sky and, at times, buffeted by a bracing wind.
Ortiz, speaking into microphones and loudspeakers set up by Cameron Melville, the “mayor” of Hudson’s Club Helsinki, noted that the rally had brought together a number of local activist groups that have sprung up in recent weeks as well as several existing groups. “I am a nasty woman in a pink pussy hat,” she hollered as she introduced herself. Other groups represented at the rally included, among others: Indivisible NY (ICNY), Blue Dot Indivisible, Hudson Valley Strong, and Citizen Action.
Ortiz told the crowd that the rally was organized to get Faso to appear in person to speak with his constituents. “He has refused to schedule town meetings,” she said. Faso’s web site states that the congressman will be scheduling Teletown Halls. “What the hell is that?” Ortiz shouted.
Among the speakers was Dr. Anna Marie Assevero of Hudson. Speaking from her own experience as a family practitioner, Dr. Assevero said that while Obamacare isn’t perfect, “it’s what we have and it’s helped a hell of a lot of people.”
After about 45 minutes, the rally, accompanied by the band and singing “which side are you on, John Faso?” trooped east on Kinderhook’s Hudson Street toward Faso’s home. The organizers and the crowd assumed Faso wasn’t home. But after about 40 minutes of chanting on the street outside the congressman’s home, Faso showed, dressed nattily in a sports jacket and slacks. Faso’s wife came out of the house soon after the marchers arrived and apparently told one of the protestors that the congressman would be home soon,
Smiling and shaking hands, he walked slowly down the line of demonstrators amidst continuing chants, taking time to speak with several of the protestors.
After about five minutes he was given a bullhorn and, though often interrupted by shouts and questions, he calmly spoke.
Faso said he was adamant in his opposition to defunding Planned Parenthood. His position had previously been unclear. He also said, “I don’t support a Muslim ban.” Executive orders from Trump late on Friday ordered immigration officials to block people from seven Mideast countries from entering the US. At the time of Faso’s comments, protests against the orders were gathering at JFK airport. Later in the evening, a federal judge in Brooklyn issued a stay of the president’s order.
Most notably, Faso didn’t use the words “repeal and replace“ to describe his position on ACA, also known as Obamacare. Instead, he said he’s for retaining aspects of the law such as assuring that those with pre-existing health conditions get coverage and allowing children up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans. Faso didn’t comment on a critical point that Republicans have yet to address: the fate of millions covered by the law’s expansion of Medicaid, a major component threatened by Republicans’ call to set aside the existing law.
It was clear that Faso, three weeks into his new job, was trying to communicate to residents that he is listening to the phone calls flooding his office. How much he is able to the meet these protestors demands is far from clear.
(To see a video of Faso’s appearance log onto Victor Mendolia’s post on the Hudson Community Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/groups/412248882120068/search/?query=faso)