In 2007, USAction Executive Director Jeff Blum and Richard Kirsch,then-director of Citizen Action of New York, were tossing around theidea of how best to advance the fight for quality affordable healthcarefor everyone. They reached a simple conclusion.
“If we could bring a wide array of progressive forces together,” Blumsays, “progressives would be able to compete with the deep-pockets andinsider lobbyists on the right.”
That realization, combined with vast coalition building experience amongthe key players and a set of principles all could agree on, led to the creation of Health Care for America Now (HCAN)–the largest single-issue progressive coalition in modern American history. This August, with the battle over healthcare reformraging, the success of HCAN will be a determining factor in whether weget a progressive bill–a robust public option and a progressive tax to pay for it–out of Congress.
While the mainstream media is focused on the spectacle/disruption/mob mentality of the right, and also wrongly suggesting that it reflects the will ofthe people, HCAN is waging its fight through a coalition of over 1,000, in 46 states, representing 30 million people. Aside from thecampaign’s founder, USAction, the coalition includes:
And contrary to what we’re getting from most of the cable newsreports, progressives are already out-organizing and outnumbering theright in plenty of events across the country. (Examples here and here.)
“We are coast to coast and throughout the Heartland,” says USActionCommunications Director David Elliot. “This is hand-to-hand combat, inthe trenches, congressional district to congressional district.”
HCAN is targeting Blue Dogs and other swing districts, organizingactivists for town meetings, door-to-door canvasses (including thisSaturday, August 8), phone banks, rallies, press conferences, and otherevents. The hope is that when they hold “send-off rallies” beforemembers return to Congress, they will have succeeded in sending aresounding message on exactly what constituents want.
“We’ve got to out-organize [the right],” Blum says. “And we are. Theyare unloading gazillions of dollars and we’ll never have that kind ofmoney. But we don’t need it if we are actually promoting something thatis good for people, and which has been tested through political fightsat the state and national level over many years.”
You can find HCAN events by supplying a zip code, or giving a zip code and an e-mail address which will then be forwarded to the lead HCAN organization in that state. This allows HCAN to not only get in touch with you aboutupcoming events and volunteer needs, but also loops you in with a groupthat is going to continue waging fights when this healthcare battle isdone and HCAN is no more. That is key to strengthening the progressiveinfrastructure as we move forward on issues at both the state andnational level.
“There has never been a campaign that is built so broadly throughexisting, big community organizations,” Blum says. “So everything we dohas a greater chance to leave in place progressive power on the ground–whether in Green Bay, or Fargo, or Bangor–places that are not thenormal places of progressive strength.”
While many single-payer advocates are disillusioned that the bestsolution to our shoddy, profiteering healthcare system was never even onthe table, Blum agrees with The Nation‘s Washington correspondent JohnNichols–and Nation editorials–that these advocates are vital to the August fight for reform.
“To my single-payer friends what I would say is find a way to be in thisfight now,” Blum says. “If people can’t bring themselves to [support aHouse-like bill], then they should take their legitimate anger, and theyshould go after the insurance companies…[and] members in the pocketof insurance companies, educate the public through their own publicforums about what we need, but they should not sit it out. Because thisis our chance to transform the healthcare system. We are not gettingthis chance again in the foreseeable future.” (Nichols suggestssingle-payer folks track the work of Physicians for a National Health Program and California Nurses Association. He also points out that the push for single-payer heightens thechances for a more progressive–rather than a severely diluted–bill.)
Even the best-case scenario for this bill will leave much to be desiredand the fight will continue. Nevertheless, this is a fight we have towin. And clearly the people will have to lead–not follow–President Obama on this. (Witness the White House’s disturbing dealwith Big Pharma.)
“American history has brief periods of progressive progress andrelatively long periods of stasis or even reaction,” Blum says. “Inthose brief periods we’ve transformed America–that was the New Deal,that was Reconstruction, that was the Progressive Era, that was theCivil Rights Era. If we win on healthcare, we do two things: wedramatically move millions of Americans over the next few years tobelieve that their government can work for them. That is huge. That isthe essence of what progressives need to do. And, politically, we’restrong enough to then potentially win on many other things.”
Don’t be fooled by the images you see on too many of those cable shows. Progressives are in every district, organized, and in this fight. Getinvolved now.