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Report from the Field, and Lessons Learned

madamab's picture

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.")

Lessons Learned

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!

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Submitted by hipparchia on

for both you and libby.

and yes, thanks for posting this online, because having templates to follow in our rl efforts is always valuable.

Submitted by hipparchia on

but my rhetorical bag of tricks is pretty much limited to a mix of sarcasm and pedantry, which works better on blogs than it does irl, so my entire contribution to the discussion would have been to sit there and take up space.

if i win the lottery tonight, i'll fly up there for your demonstration on saturday, but otherwise i'm stuck here, so i want pictures, video, descriptions of that too!

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

You are both so great -- really really.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

jawbone, it was a really nice conference room with tiered seating. I sat on a carpeted step it was so crowded by the time I got there, every seat filled and some extra people on stairs.

How many would you say madamab, 250+? I am so not good estimating. Gotta tell you, though, I loved the energy there! I wanted it to go on another couple of hours. Was so happy to grab a coffee with madamab after to keep the high going and share with her more.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

I am so grateful to have attended the PNHP forum last night. To meet up with madamab IRL, one of my corrente cyber family and such a powerful voice here... as well as out there I was soon to witness -- to share my energy and watch her share hers with this earnest and caring pnhp crew.

After so many apologists for the bill and Obama on the tube and in my real life, it was a treat to be in a room without the fog of denial around and people who know the score. Industrial strength reality. Like suddenly leaving the pollution-stink of a city you have almost ceased to notice and being atop a majestic mountain taking some delicious and refreshing deep breaths. Or like Sontag finding the "book people" at the end of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Awwww... hope for humanity!

As I stood near the door at the end with my handful of last-minute flyers, wanting to re-confirm with madamab across the room before I set them on the table for distribution, BUT inspired attendees of the meeting began pulling them right out of my hands they were so motivated and hungry for action. They had spotted the words "Rally" and "Single Payer" I had scribbled across the top of the xerox master. I was dismayed by the ambush of such incredible energy and will, but helplessly and happily surrendered them.

Then Madamab joined me in the front area and left her more professional and informative ones. What a rush to see such pro-action. People ready to walk the walk. Madamab, I wonder just how many we will get on Saturday. But what a rush to feel the readiness for MORE action with these folks. Walkers of the walk. I got to network with one woman whose comment had moved me and want to follow up on that. She was someone very earnest to keep the movement going and the voice of single payers heard.

And I meant to make a more public pitch (sorry it was end of meeting, and I didn't get to share my last talking point) for vastleft's wonderful T-shirt I was wearing that I got some good feedback on, including from madamab's friend and awesome speaker Dr. Livingston, who apparently already was a fan of this shirt, said she had been admiring it during her talk. :) VL, to make up for it I will be all the more earnest in sharing next time I wear it. My friend loved hers, btw, and says she will wear it a lot this summer and talk it up! I commented on lets blog earlier I think we need to use that branding, 2L4O especially, to fight and be a conciousness raiser for Obama spin. I am going to write it more often when I email personally or in blogging.

Madamab, your courage and passion rang through when you addressed what an affront to women this bill and Obama's Executive Order truly are! There was a hush over the room when you finished -- and then a spontaneous burst of applause to validate your clear and emotional assertions on behalf of all women. I loved that you sure were not going to be talked out of it with any spin. I loved how you commented on the minimizing comment!!!! I hope it is not too codependent of me, but I felt so proud of you for doing that. Corrente be proud of one of your own courageous voices rallying an already attuned group even more ... making the group FEEL rather than just think about the damage of the health care bill. To acknowledge the real people, the women ... to be further jeopardized instead of helped! The hype about the bill's historic nature is all the crueler considering these consequences.

Nice job on the summary, madamab. I appreciated what Mr. Henning was saying, but when Dr. Livingston got up I was relieved to hear my own disappointment and commitment validated and echoed back and you do a great job delivering her message above.

Mr. Henning did a good job discussing the history of health care and the rough and tumble of union politics. Most powerful was when he spoke of how the Harry and Louise marketing had sabotaged any momentum for health care change under Clinton. I liked how he said the Medicare advantage stuff was "clawed back" to help this bill. The word "clawed" does connote the kind of raw struggle against power we are all up against.

And he emphasized that union groups sometimes negotiate from a place of morality and other times from a place of power exclusively. And how we need more and more to evolve and unite and speak from that place of morality.

He said that many "resolutions" are made (I think this was he not Dr. L) and that is called "resolutionary" politics and resolutions are efforts to repair, but what we need is much more than "resolutionary" politics. I don't think he said the word revolutionary or maybe he did but I was thinking it. He stressed we need loud voices to make change for the good happen. He called the Employee Free Choice Act a spectacular failure. It was a union meeting, and it was interesting being a fly on the wall seeing the health care bill discussed in that context.

If I think of any more relevant insights from there I will add.

But it was a delicious experience IRL activism, and I thank you for inviting me. I can't wait to read your Dr. Livingston article. She is a genuine heroine! We need these heroes and they are out there!

Again, good going. And getting this posted so fast!!! Well done! See ya Saturday!


madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

I zoned out a bit during Mr. Henning's presentation (the beginning made me want to turn around and go home!), but it was exactly as you said - very well-reported. And the energy in the room was amazing. You looked great in your 2L40 t-shirt!

I am horrible at estimating attendance, too, but I think somewhere between 150 - 250 would be close. Those rows were at least 30 people across and there were at least 7 of them, I think? It was a very full room.

It really does give you a high to be in that kind of environment, where your context is understood. Most people look at me like I'm a nutcase when I try to talk to them about the bill. SIGH.

mass's picture
Submitted by mass on

Thank you both so much for attending! I must say, I am shocked anyone from PNHP would call this a "stunning victory". But, really great job! So proud of you for standing up and being heard.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

It was such a good way to process the disappointment of the bill's passage. Renewing. Hope we can send some of those ripples this direction at corrente. So grateful to have this site as a base camp... how precious it is to feel more in survivor and fighter mode than victim mode right now in this country.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

thanks for this report, it is so exciting to hear from the field.

maybe those 2l4o shirts will catch on and people will no that opposition to Obama does not make you tea party.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

.. to make our question authority and truth to power statement FROM THE LEFT since the Dems and the media sure ain't helping us.

Is it true Rachel Maddow might go after Scott Brown's seat next election? Maybe that is why she is being so disappointingly cronyish to all the pragmatics and legacy Dems?

Submitted by libbyliberal on

specific unions mentioned... sorry... but it made me yearn for days years ago when I did belong to a union and people did get to share their wisdom and feelings about things, myself included. True democracy. Though management back then could whammy as it does today. Now that I work in corporate near food chain bottom we get news via emails and rarely have even a management directed meeting in groups.