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Sign-waving, flag-waving crowds turn out for Supreme Court decision

WASHINGTON – Phoenix resident George Pauk stood on the
steps of the Supreme Court in a surgical mask with the
words “Silenced Majority” scrawled on it Thursday, but he
was tired of being silent.

“Health care companies keep taking a huge share of
profits, and they are going to ruin the system
eventually,” said Pauk, who joined hundreds of chanting,
sign-waving protesters waiting for the court’s decision on
the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The crowd ranged from an infant – shielded from the
relentless Washington sun by a “Love it! Improve it!
Medicare for all!” sign – to two elderly men who struggled
to hold signs while using their canes to weave through the
sweaty, jostling mass that spilled across the street from
the sidewalk in front of the court.

Belly dancers shimmied down the sidewalk, three protesters
stood silently facing the Supreme Court with duct tape
over their mouths and one person stood dressed as the Grim
Reaper, his black robe a stark contrast to the neon
posters around him.

And there were students like Arizona State University
junior Casey Clowes, who feared the court would void the
provision that lets young people stay on their parents’
health insurance policies until they turned 26.

“I think it’s important to respect students’ rights and
new graduates … for when your job doesn’t have health care
because you’re at an entry-level position, but you still
need coverage,” Clowes said.

Medical professionals – although they did not chant as
much as the protesters who showed up in hospital scrubs –
were spread throughout the crowd. Karen Higgins, an
intensive care unit nurse, said her experience with the
uninsured drove her protest.

“I’m concerned in whichever direction (the decision) goes.
It’s a health insurance plan, not a healthcare plan,” said
Higgins, of Boston. “My hope is we can work together to
create a plan where everyone gets health care, not just
health insurance.”

The court was scheduled to meet at 10 a.m., and the
urgency in protesters’ chants intensified as the hour drew
closer. “Hands off my O-ba-ma-care” came from the left
side of the sidewalk and was met with “Obamacare has got
to go, hey, hey, ho, ho” from protesters on the right.

Religious groups camped in front of the steps knelt down
and bowed their heads as Psalm 121 blasted through a
megaphone and washed over them. The crowd noise eased
momentarily for their prayer before other protesters began
to sing along to Stevie Wonder’s hit “Signed, Sealed,
Delivered” as it blared from speakers.

A few minutes after 10 a.m., at least one healthcare act
supporter joined in the faint strains of a Tea Party
impromptu rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

And then those furiously pecking away on their smartphones
saw an erroneous report that the court had struck down the
individual mandate part of the law, which requires
everyone to purchase healthcare by 2014 or be fined.
“Don’t Tread on Me” flags waved energetically as a
jubilant roar erupted from the bill’s protesters.

The tide of cheering quickly shifted to the other side, as
correct reports arrived saying that the individual mandate
– and the majority of the law – was left intact. A key
part of the court’s decision was its reasoning that the
penalty for those who choose not to purchase health care
was not a fine, but a tax.

“IRS, you can take me away now, because I am not paying
that tax!” one angry protester shouted.

George Pauk’s wife, Jane, said she sees the court’s
opinion as the starting point in the fight for an improved
healthcare system.

“I’m very disappointed they didn’t strike down the
mandate. It’s a very inefficient way of providing care,”
she said.

But others welcomed the news, saying the law would benefit
all Americans.

“It’s wonderful for everyone in this country,” said John
Glaser, a member of the National Committee to Preserve
Social Security and Medicare. “It’s essential for everyone
who is sick or will be sick. Everyone benefits. There are
no losers.”