On Saturday, Barack Obama looked me in the eye and said, “this is our moment.” Actually, his penetrating gaze and rousing voice beamed out of a laptop to a Berkeley meeting of Organizing for America, the President’s engine for grassroots healthcare reform. Obama appeared on telecast to a predicted 6,000 meetings across the country. Was Obama’s address a Fireside Chat? Hardly. However, Obama recently reaffirmed his support for a ‘public option’ in the healthcare reform package this summer. Berkeley is an odd place to take the temperature of a political movement because we’re always off the charts. On the political end, this group got an A+. The twenty-five sexagenarians who came on Saturday had more energy and creativity for Obama’s plan than I have seen in career healthcare reformers lately. Our group set plans in motion for town hall meetings, phone banking, and door knocking, and if the thousands of other OFA events went as well, real health care reform could well prevail.
Organizing for America is the brainchild of the President’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe. The hopes of this effort are twofold. First, Obama wants to demonstrate sheer public will for this reform package. Progressives should be deathly afraid of repeating 1994. Obama’s grassroots approach is his response to Bill Clinton’s complacency over a decade ago. Second, as Rahm Emanuel put it to the New York Times
, Obama is seeking political “air-cover.” Obama needs the buffer of public support to let him present Congress with a solid plan for public healthcare. The administration is hoping that the grassroots movement can gain them ground in two areas: political momentum and mandating progressive policy.
Recently, Beyond Chron editor Randy Shaw wrote that this effort
is going to show whether progressives are capable of organizing around a national issue. Can OFA create a grassroots movement with any clout? In November 2008, I stood in the largest crowd of my life and felt spiritually aligned with thousands of Obama supporters. Yet even after six months of political reality and not a few disappointments, most of the die-hard progressives in the room still said, “I’m here because my President asked me to do this.”
On the policy end, this scene revealed a big issue: Single Payer Healthcare. Berkeley activists won’t buy that it’s dead. This will be the biggest issue that will prevent California progressives from a united front. In fact, many powerful players like the California Nurses Association believe that we cannot compromise the push for single-payer. Sharon Maldonado, who attended the Saturday meeting, is a labor activist in California. She told me, “The only place to start from is support for single-payer.” However, others are calling for a ‘hybrid plan’ that engages key components of the single-payer option.
I believe that among the Bay Area’s spectrum of progressives, the big question is if people can rally around the strongest public insurance plan possible—one that is affordable, provides comprehensive benefits, and has fair-financing. This will bring us closer to the goals of single-payer healthcare.
I checked the news on the day after the OFA kick-off, and coverage was less than thrilling. (CNN, bless their hearts, did run a feature.) Who knows if the thousands of Obama supporters of last November will agree with our meeting leader Janet Cox when she told me, “This is Obama’s big push.” Let’s hope so.