Durham County

Anti-‘Trumpcare’ protest slows traffic on Interstate 40

A gray-bearded man traveling west in a Honda hatchback stuck his arm out the sunroof and clenched his fingers in a power fist, his horn blast a clear sign of approval.

Minutes later, another man traveling east in a gray Cadillac coupe clutched the wheel with one hand, leaned partly out the window and lifted his middle finger skyward. “BEEEP!”

For the most part, though, it was hard to tell whether the honks were pro or con Tuesday night, as about 50 people held anti-“Trumpcare” signs on the American Tobacco Trail pedestrian bridge over Interstate 40.

Drivers slowed down to read the letters the demonstrators held side by side spelling out “HEALTHCARE4ALL.”

Cars, trucks, motorcycles and city buses backed up as far as the eye could see.

A group called Protecting Progress in Durham organized the overpass protest, one of 11 scheduled this week by Indivisible grassroots groups around North Carolina to protest the GOP health-care plan.

The founder of Protecting Progress, Kelly Garvy, was angered into energy when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election last fall. Invigorated, she invited people to join her at Fullsteam Brewery in December, where she came up with Protecting Progress’s name.

“We’re really focused on urging media and finding creative ways to get news organizations to come to and to bring attention to issues we want to bring to light,” Garvy said.

“The most recent Senate health care bill died and Plan C was dead on arrival. But we don’t trust Mitch McConnell as far as we can throw him,” Garvy said. “We’re against the zombie version of the bill that could come about, in however many weeks.”

She added, “Trump said he’s going to let Obamacare fail and make sure it’s terrible, and we want to shine a light on that issue as well.”

From below the protesters’ perch, the honks Tuesday night were near ceaseless.

“I’ve lived through Republican presidents, and none of them generated the level of concern that I have now,” said Alex Rosen, a member of Protecting Progress. “None of them caused me to go out and hold a sign and protest.”

Dr. Cathi Sander said she never wears her white coat to work in Chapel Hill where she practices family medicine.

But, she wore it to the protest.

“I’m here because my patients can’t afford me not to be,” she said. “At least Obamacare was based on something: the Massachusetts plan.”

Sander said the two branches of medical practitioners – specialty care and primary care – are like Democrats and Republicans in their rarity of accord.

“We’re in agreement over Trumpcare. It’s not based on anything,” Sander said. “Many of my patients would lose all of their coverage.”

Brian Mack said he makes “well into the six figures” annually and would gladly pay more taxes to protect the Affordable Care Act.

Nine years ago, Mack’s brother suffered a traumatic brain injury, he said. His brother had just swum a mile at a pool and was changing in a locker room when he suffered a heart attack.

“There was one other guy in the locker room,” Mack said. “He was out the door and called back, saying ‘Goodbye.’ When he didn’t hear a response, he turned around. ... My brother had just collapsed.”

Mack said the man took a cabinet defibrillator off the wall and shocked his brother’s heart back into beating.

Mack’s brother’s heart stopped again in the ambulance on the way to a hospital in Rochester, New York, he said.

When the heart didn’t pump blood, the brain didn’t receive needed oxygen, Mack said, ultimately causing traumatic brain injury.

“This is a guy who’s had one to three jobs at time since the age of 13,” Mack said. “He needs his health care. He needs his services. Take away that safety net, it puts his family, his four children, my family, my two sisters’ families at risk.

“It’s unconscionable.”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks