Two hundred Synod-goers marched from DeVos Place to City Hall Monday afternoon and gathered in the shadow of Grand Rapids’ signature Calder stabile to demonstrate their commitment to universal health care.
Chanting "Health care now!" they wound their way through downtown streets on a path cleared by city police. Leading the15-minute walk was Mayor George Heartwell, a UCC pastor, and the demonstration organizers, Bert Perry of the Florida Conference and Peter Wells, an Associate Conference Minister from Massachusetts.
At the Calder, marchers were joined by Paul Mayhew, a Baptist minister and Kent County Commissioner who is also a mental-health activist.
"We've got a president who's committed to health care for all, but we have to keep him on task," Mayhew said. "We've got to get on the telephone to our Congressmen and the White House so everyone knows where we stand."
Perry introduced Barbara Baylor, the UCC minister of health care justice, who told the group "the UCC still speaks prophetically for health care for all. . . . Remember that two people die every hour every day due to the lack of health care."
Recalling the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho, Baylor led the marchers in a chant, repeated six times, "All the walls of health-care injustice came down!"
The entire event was staged in about 36 hours. Perry and Wells were chatting on Saturday, and "we couldn't believe that the UCC was meeting in the middle of a city and we weren't out in the streets making a public statement," Perry said.
She added that they immediately identified the issue they wanted to take to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. "Quality health care should be available to all, and that's the issue on everyone's mind right now."
Perry and Wells recognized that they needed to enlist some local help and they knew just whom to call.
"When the mayor welcomed us to the city, he gave out his cell phone number and said to call him if we needed anything. So I called him," said Perry.
And he answered. "We called the mayor on Saturday," Wells said, "met with him on Sunday and marched with him today."