Take a little break from mid term mania and check out Richard Kirsch’s post “What Progressives Did Right to Win Healthcare” at The Nation. While most of the reportage on the struggle to enact health care reform focused on the legislative lobbying, public opinion trends and policy analysis, Hirsch provides an insightful overview of the Health Care for America Now (HCAN) coalition-building effort that was instrumental in passing HCR, and reveals some organizing techniques that should be transferable to other progressive movements. Hirsch’s post covers 10 aspects of the campaign, a few of which are presented here:
A detailed campaign plan: The HCAN Organizing Committee wrote an 865-page campaign plan incorporating: grassroots and netroots organizing; communications through traditional, paid and new media; coalition building including creating a new organization of small businesses; fundraising; and a new round of public opinion research focused on generating anger at the health insurance industry.
Resources to win: If there’s a single hero in this story, it’s Gara LaMarche, the President of Atlantic Philanthropies, which made a $10 million grant to HCAN early in 2008, assuring that we would have enough resources to launch the campaign in the crucial months before the 2008 election. The $51 million amount we raised between 2008 and 2010 from Atlantic and other funders, including our Steering Committee, was sufficient to run a campaign that placed us at the center of reform efforts.
Building on established progressive capacity: Rather than hiring outside organizers, HCAN built local coalitions in forty-four states, through three established networks: USAction, the Campaign for Community Change and ACORN. We funded seventy-five organizers who coordinated the work of paid and volunteer organizers from the local affiliates of our steering committee members and from other organizations that made up our 1,100-member coalition. HCAN’s online staff, working with MoveOn and others, added a huge Internet presence.
Local coalitions held thousands of public meetings and press events with members of Congress and made hundreds of visits to their offices. Regular call-in days generated hundreds of thousands of calls and faxes. When the Tea Party attacks came in early August, members of Congress called on the HCAN coalitions for help. While our response didn’t make as dramatic press coverage as the angry Tea Partiers, the truth is that the HCAN coalition, working with Organizing for America, turned out as many, and sometimes two to three times as many, people as the Tea Partiers, to Democratic Town Halls around the country during the three weeks before Labor Day. Grassroots organizing continued throughout the campaign, with candlelight vigils outside the homes of wavering members of Congress and thank-you events for members of Congress when they returned home after voting for the bill.
Hirsch’s account shows how progressives can overcome disadvantages like a 24-7 attack from right-wing media by taking a long-term view, refusing to get discouraged, thinking big and outworking the opposition. It’s an inspiring story, and one that contains lessons for progressives about the power of vision and commitment.