Report from the Field, and Lessons Learned
Report from the Field
Last night, I attended the PNHP NYC Chapter monthly forum, entitled "Where's Labor Been in the Year of Health Care Reform?" LibbyLiberal from Corrente met me there, and we both brought flyers for my Rep. Carolyn Maloney "Yes" vote protest on Saturday afternoon, which she and other Correntians will be attending.
The room was packed, and expectations were high as Bill Henning got up to speak.
"First, I'd like to stop using the word 'but' when describing this health care vote. We had a stunning victory on Sunday, and I think we need to see it that way. The alternative is that all of our efforts were in vain, and I can't agree to that," he said.
You can imagine how well this viewpoint went over (and he knew it wouldn't be popular, either - he said "I realize this statement may be received with some derision in this forum."). Unfortunately, as so many "progressives" do, he had made this health care bill all about him. I hate to fill him in on this, but Obama and the Democrats didn't listen to single-payer activists. They never planned to. They were shut out from the debate from the very beginning, and Obama was quite clear about his feelings about them. So whether or not Medicare for All became part of the bill, had nothing to do with Labor's efforts. Labor, and single-payer, never had a chance with this President. It's painful, but true, and we need to keep telling the truth.
At least this line gave us all a clue about the spin that cheerleaders of the bill will be pushing (there was more later on, which I'll get to). After the rest of his speech, which was about the history of Labor and single-payer in general, Dr. Martha Livingston got up to speak. As usual, she was articulate, brilliant and passionate. (LibbyLiberal suggested after the forum that she run for office, which made Martha laugh.) She said there were a lot of "buts" from her side, and listed the many groups that were thrown under the bus: poor people, women, undocumented immigrants and those with "Cadillac" plans. However, she was extremely honest about the liberal's dilemma when it comes to this bill: If as activists, we oppose it, we are going to be looked at in the same light as the racist, homophobic Tea Partiers who scream "socialism" and spit on African-Americans and gays. (The speaker said he owns a button reading, "Obama's Not a Socialist, but I Am." I liked him a lot better after that.)
As a lefty organization, it would be disastrous to be thrown into the same category as the rabid rightwingers. So, I do understand and empathize with PNHP's (and Labor's) dilemma.
As an unaffiliated blogger, though, I have no such dilemma. So, when the question and answer period came around, I made a statement: "As a woman, I feel that I cannot possibly call this a victory, much less a stunning one. 51% of Americans are women, and Obama, with his Executive Order, has enshrined the Stupak abortion restrictions into law. Yet there is total silence about this in the corporate media, and even women's organizations that are pro-choice are not talking about it! I am appalled that anyone would ask a pro-choice woman to support this bill." (I probably said more, but I went into a zone and can't remember much else.) There was a dead silence, and I then said, "I just felt I had to say that." Believe it or not, people applauded! The speaker then said ("progressive" spin #2), "My understanding was that the Executive Order did not change anything." Martha and I quickly contradicted him, and I said, "No, not only does the EO itself clearly state that it extends the Hyde Amendment restrictions, but it makes Bush's HHS Conscience Clause law as well." The speaker responded that he had to do more research on the EO. Gee, ya think?!
LibbyLiberal also commented during this period about how she feels totally disenfranchised from both Parties, and how Keith Olbermann had mentioned on his show recently that 13% of people surveyed think this bill is too right-wing. She stated she was so happy to have found the single-payer movement, because she feels that single-payer encompasses so many other issues, not just health care. (It's also best for women, because it will increase both the quality of, and access to, health care that women can get.) And, she said she thought a Single-Payer Integrity Party would be a great idea. (Go, Libby!) She was applauded as well.
One other woman had a great comment. She said that it was important that we all realize that the current bill is not a victory, because it pushes a market-based system over the idea that universal health care is a right. It is also completely unsustainable, since there are no cost controls whatsoever in the bill, and there is an unfunded Medicaid expansion which states simply cannot afford. She said that once the American people realize how bad the bill is, there will be a massive blowback and the Republicans will take over. It was a terrific moment of truth that made everyone uncomfortable, as truth often does.
"Where we go from here" was also discussed - suggestions were: better, simpler marketing materials, and focusing on both the moral and economic pluses of Medicare versus the insurance companies. Another participant at the Forum said that people's fears of the unknown should be addressed when talking about expanding Medicare, because some people are used to the idea of private insurance and don't feel that their quality of care will remain the same. (I would simply say, "Go talk to anyone over 65, and ask them if they'd trade Medicare for a private plan. See how you feel after that.")
After the forum, many people came up to me (men and women) and thanked me for what I had said. The posters Libby and I had brought flew off the table, and several people said they would show up to the protest on Saturday. (Please note: I will have posters available, and we don't need a permit if there are fewer than 50 of us, which I'm assuming there won't be.) I've been extending invites through email and Facebook and Twitter and blogging, and so far, the biggest response has come from this forum.
So, once again: for organizing a small group activity, unless you are United for Peace and Justice, Answer or one of the other big orgs, electronic media is not nearly as effective an organizing tool as simply showing up to your local like-minded group and passing out flyers. However, it's important to do that also, so that people can easily find the information on line.
That's it for now...I'll have pictures later, when I can figure out where and how to put them up!