Report on Healthcare Now! (HCN) Strategy Conference 2013, Nashville, TN

-by Ross Lampert, HCAO Organizer

The conference began with a plenary on the strategy in the south. The speaker talked about the need for a special strategy in the south due to the legacy of white supremacy, the plantation mentality (where whites feel oppressed by the government and the northern whites, and the blacks are oppressed by the whites), and the atmosphere of fear, distrust , and envy. They went on to talk about the particular challenges and opportunities that exist for organizing in the south.

Next, HCN’s Director of Organizing, Ben Day, highlighted some resources they’re putting together. They are publishing a Single Payer Activists Guide to Affordable Healthcare Act to help with education, media, and outreach during this time of transition. These Guides will be out soon. They are also planning to conduct Everybody Institutes, trainings they plan to conduct nationwide.

We then touched on Healthcare Justice in Tennessee. There wasn’t much there, but a good story about the women’s suffrage movement and how the last state to approve the amendment was Tennessee. The decisive legislator changed his vote to pro suffrage due to a letter from his mom saying something like “Dear Son, Be a good boy. Hoorah for suffrage! Your mother” It is a powerful story of the persuasive impact of finding an effective secondary target (in this case it was mom).

There was then a break out session on the Challenges and Solutions for State Single Payer Legislation. We spoke about two different strategies, one is passing a bill without funding and then following up to pass another with the funding mechanism, the other is passing a bill that contains the funding mechanism. We also talked about whether to include a laundry list of things covered by the law or to create a body to make those tough decisions. Finally we spoke about some obstacles such as ERISA and getting money from the federal government programs. Additionally, there were questions about the role and necessity of conducting studies.

On the following day, we started out with a plenary on the ACA: Challenges and Opportunities for the Single Payer Movement.  While the debate about the ACA (and even whether to spend time talking about it) was vigorous, most people felt, similar to the position broadly accepted by HCAO, that while there are some good aspects to the law, there are some real negatives to it. The plenary spoke about some of those downsides that the movement could take advantage of. In some states, Medicaid is not being expanded, rural and municipal hospitals will see higher rates of uninsured people, small employers may not be able to afford it, there are more regulations on physicians, a maintained reliance on private insurance, and the exclusion of the undocumented. Inequalities are built into the law, and there is a direct linkage between more inequality and more social problems. Single Payer increases equality. While Single Payer is continually blocked by medical profiteers, 2/3rds of Americans support a description of it. The ACA may provide us with opportunities to involve communities of color and youth necessary to movement.

We then held a breakout on Real World On-line Organizing. We talked about what systems we’re all using. The idea of using an on-line petition (Statement of Support in HCAO parlance) was the first thing the panel talked about. They suggested that we ask our coalition to send it to their members, we focus on one target, make a simple demand, connect the petition to an off line action (like delivering the petition to our governor), and follow up to communicate our successes to the list we formed with the circulation of the petition. They also said that this tool could be shared with email, facebook, twitter, etc. When communicating with the list, they said that a 10-15% open rate was normal, but that the larger your list, the lower your open rate is likely to get. The subject line is important, so don’t put words like “Newsletter”, “X# Support…” (due to spam filters), or anything to do with money. They said that typically, 1% of your list will unsubscribe with each email, and 1% will take action. They recommended sending an email every week, though they noted that consistency is more important than frequency and we should make our mailings action oriented. HCN sends 1 per week, with a newsletter every other week, a fundraising appeal once a month and an action alert once a month. They recommended comparing the growth rate vs. the unsubscribe rate of your list to the birth and death rates of a population so that your volunteers understand why losing 1% of your list each time is irrelevant so long as you’re continuing to grow your list. They also suggested the Network for Good for stats on normal rates around your email list.

Frances Fox Piven gave a great keynote speech about the societal fissures that are occurring at the present time. She noted that the steady pace of advancement toward a social democracy in the early 1900’s has been derailed over the last few decades. Historically, our current situation is similar to that of the 1850’s, when there were deep splits in both parties (Abolitionists on the left, Reactionaries who became the Confederates on the right). She then highlighted the two main fissures we’re experiencing today: wealth versus democracy, exhibited in the curtailment of the right to vote, and the demographic and cultural splits we’re seeing manifest in today’s movements. On the right, there is an uneasy alliance of the rich, libertarians, and evangelicals, while on the left, the youth, indebted, and people of color are allying. These movements manifest as the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement.

They then did a very effective shakedown led by Mark Dudzic of Labor for Single Payer. Several people committed to gifts of $1000 and many people threw down multiple hundreds. Some committed to monthly amounts and some increased the amounts they’re already giving. They were wise to plan this just after Frances Fox Piven spoke and before lunch.

After lunch there was a third break out on Exploring Our Direct Action Potential. In it, we covered some theory, such as “material interest + power = change”, and talked about some of the things people say when we talk with them about the movement. We also spoke about labor’s approach to a strategic campaign. They said that labor needs to see a “plan to win” answering the following questions: Are a lot of workers involved? Can we win? What does winning mean? Are conditions favorable for organizing? What is the worker’s context? What is the political context? What is the legal context? What is the community context? We then discussed who our constituents are and what leverage they may have (including mass refusal). We touched on the balancing act between how much to educate and how much to use power dynamics and then got into a great discussion on tactics. Unfortunately, this discussion ended sooner than I would’ve liked.

We then closed the convention with awards, and final remarks. Overall, it was a fairly good convention and we got a lot of good information and connections. I had hoped to gain more information about other states and their campaigns, and what has been successful for them. I found that we are on the leading edge of the movement and among the states represented, we are doing far better than most, if not all of them. This is largely due to the wise coalition structure we have created, and the commitment and dedication of everyone in our organization from top to bottom. The structure of HCAO allows us to be broad and inclusive while getting a lot done in many places around the state at the same time. I was surprised to learn of the relative difficulties the movement is having in many other states and think that it is incumbent upon us in Oregon to win and then help our neighbors in California and Washington to win. When the big states get with the program, we’ll all be better off.

Ross Lampert is the HCAO organizer

            Ross Lampert, HCAO Organizer 

            Ross Lampert, HCAO Organizer