by Rob Roper
VPIRG, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Health Care for All, and the Workers Center recently held a joint conference call with a number of activists to discuss and coordinate strategy for keeping the momentum going on single payer healthcare legislation. Their objective is to gear up their grassroots efforts for the 2012 legislative session when the next set of decisions will be made to shape issue.
“Tonight is kicking off our ground campaign,” said Cass Gekas, Health Care Advocate for VPIRG. “We’re partnering with local legislators and focusing on reaching Vermonters where they are and looking to folks like yourself – the local residents and local healthcare providers, and business owners and clergy members among others – to really help drive the discussions in your communities…. We have more than twenty events around the state on the docket for the summer and fall…. To make this successful we are really looking to the trusted messengers in the community” to help sell our position.
In addition, Gekas went on, “We’ve all been working from our standard tool kit for strategy and ground organization. That includes getting people to help write letters to the editor. As we said before, letters to the editor are one of the most read parts of the paper by legislators…. It’s something people really pay attention to. It’s a really important step all along the way. And we can certainly help with talking points and things like that… And over time, direct contact with your legislators because they’re going to need to hear from you to the extent that they need to know that they have your support on this so that they understand this is something that’s important to Vermonters.”
James Haslam, Director of the Worker’s Center outlined what his organization has been doing and will be doing to be successful. “What we’ve done over the last three years since we started the Health Care is a Human Right campaign is really try to get organized at a community level — on really a legislative district level. So, when it comes time for the legislative session there is no legislator that could possibly say that there is any question whether the majority of their constituents that they’re hearing from support universal healthcare.
Describing the logistics of their operation, Haslam went on, “We have regional organizing committees. We’re going to be growing those over the summer…. A lot of the people we’re going to need to talk to at this point aren’t going to come to forums, so we’re going to have to go to them…. We’re going to have to go talk to them in churches and senior centers and wherever we can possibly go to talk to them. We’re also going to have a series of organizing trainings.”
The leaders of the conference call went into detailed discussion of talking points that their supporters should use to sell single payer healthcare to their friends and neighbors, as well as answers to suspected criticisms from opponents.
Gekas cautioned the listeners, “We do have some opposition, which is part of the reason we have you all on the call today. There are some folks out there that, you know, it’s normal to be fearful of change, others feel like they have questions unanswered, and we’re going to work to address those things, but its clear that we have another level of opposition that’s brewing, and they’re gathering resources and organizing to employ many of the same tactics that we saw in DC during the debate over the federal health care bill – the scare tactic and misinformation that’s really aimed at muddying the waters…. So, that’s really the main reason we have you on this call tonight, so that we can make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
Dr. Deb Richter of Vermont Health Care for All expressed a certain level of contempt for opponents of her position. “One of the organizations, if you want to call it that, is Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has a website. I think they only have about a hundred facebook friends, so we all have more than that (chuckling in the background). I think the opposition doesn’t have much in the way of people. They had I think one protest in this legislative session and twenty people showed up.
Governor Peter Shumlin joined the call at the end to thank these organizations for all their hard work, acknowledging that Vermont wouldn’t be where we are today without their hard work. Shumlin cut short some of his comments after learning press might be present on the call.
The entire conference call is posted on line HERE.
Look for Part 2 in this series, A look at their message, in the next edition