As part of a multi-city event, activists from all over San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties rallied in support of legislation for a single-payer healthcare system in California. This demonstration was coordinated by those affiliated with the California Nurses Association and Single Payer San Joaquin and was meant to bring awareness to the disparities of access and costs to healthcare for residents up and down the state.

Instead of picketing in front of a building or marching down a major street, however, participants took part in the growing trend of "caravan protesting," which became popularized last year in wake of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing guidelines. In total, over 30 cars attended the rally, which drove its main route along the streets of Tracy, Stockton, Lathrop and Manteca.

“I have witnessed first hand in this pandemic how broken our healthcare system has become,” said emergency room nurse and lead caravan organizer Dotty Nygard. “Hospitals prioritize profit over patients’ care and workers’ safety. We have witnessed millions of workers lose not only their jobs, but their healthcare as well, while medical bankruptcies have become more common. This cannot continue. It is time for our country to have a single-payer system that puts patient care first — not corporate profit."

Nygard, with the help of former city council candidate William Muetzenberg, led community members from Tracy to their first destination in Stockton, where they would meet up with other groups for the caravan rally. From there, a line of cars decorated with "Healthcare for All" signs drove along a pre-coordinated route from CVS Pharmacy on March Lane.

"I felt like this was a great opportunity to really help build that outreach here in San JoaquinCounty. I think it is really vital, so that people know about the importance of single payer healthcare, and how it can help benefit the access of care costs and the cost concerns that people may have," said Muetzenberg. "I believe that the Congressional Budget Office actually released a report saying that it would actually save money in the long run. And I think that's really important, in my opinion, making sure that we have a system in place that is financially dependable, but also provides a level of quality of service that, you know, patients who use the system are going to rely upon."

The route traveled through the streets of Stockton, past landmarks like San JoaquinDeltaCollege and the Miracle Mile district. Along the way, the group stayed connected on a conference call line to ensure that nobody was lost from the pack, occasionally playing thematic tunes like "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone, "Good Day" by the Nappy Roots and "This Land is Your Land" by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.

Cars honked their horns in solidarity while pedestrians would cheer from sidewalks. For brief instances, some would even join the caravan line, though, whether it was intentional or not was never confirmed.

"I think we picked up a few people between us. I don't think they realize they are part of a political movement," said one of the voices on the conference call line.

Another voice said, "This looks so cool from the rearview mirror."

The group broke apart once they reached their ending destination at the Stockton airport, where participants lined up there cars and briefly stepped out to wave their signs and snap photos. From there, Nygard and Muetzenberg continued to lead a smaller group through Lathrop and Manteca and eventually back home to Tracy.   

"I think, you know, wherever people stand, I think it's really important to highlight that there are a lot of issues that exist in our system, and that we need to be vocal about the changes we want to see and make sure that we — even if you support a single payer healthcare system, for example — that you want it to be a success and what it's aiming to accomplish," said Muetzenberg. "And I think that's something that I think a lot of people in San JoaquinCounty need to recognize, is that we want to see our government succeed in what it's trying to do for our residents, and we want to make sure that the residents needs come first."

•  Contact Brianna Guillory at bguillory@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4229

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