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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The campaign that won passage of health care reform is closing up shop, but its grassroots organizing efforts will stand as a model of success for progressives.

Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the grassroots campaign that powered passage of the Affordable Care Act, is about to close its doors, as planned when the campaign started. But the images it generated of Americans passionately fighting to make health care a right will remain with us for years to come. The new movie Inequality For All includes dramatic footage of an HCAN supporter standing up to a Tea Partier. Another documentary released last year, Escape Fire, has stirring footage of an HCAN rally. Pictures of people holding up HCAN signs or wearing HCAN buttons still appear regularly in news magazines.

It makes great sense that HCAN’s actions have become iconic symbols of the fight for health justice in the United States. From its beginning, the heart of the HCAN campaign was outside the Beltway, its strategy grounded in the firm conviction that we could only win the fight for comprehensive reform if we based our campaign on grassroots organizing outside of Washington. We knew that inside the Beltway, the best we could do is provide a credible voice countering the army of thousands of lobbyists for the health care industry. But outside the Beltway, by organizing ordinary Americans, we could win.

Creating a powerful grassroots force is not easy. It took building a campaign that pushed against the culture of D.C., with the support of a funder that was committed to building progressive capacity, not just winning on an issue. Most national issue campaigns are D.C.-centric, run by campaign operatives, constrained by a narrow band of legislative concerns, with an idea of field work that is narrowly focused on generating earned media and emails and phone calls to members of Congress. After a lot of debate, the union and community organizing leaders who built HCAN agreed to spend almost all of its non-paid media resources on field contracts with state-based community organizations and community labor coalitions. These local organizations partnered with the local chapters of national labor unions and netroots groups.

The national strategy and tactics were relentlessly focused on empowering people at the local level to bring their personal passion, and often their personal stories, to their communities and members of Congress. Their work did generate lots of local media and calls to Congress, but it went much deeper than that, building the kind of relationships that are transformational. The campaign’s major funder, the Atlantic Philanthropies, was fully committed to the strategy, believing that even if the legislative effort fell short, their funds would leave in place a more sophisticated and robust capacity for progressive change at the local level. But because Atlantic had faith in the grassroots strategy, both of the foundation’s objectives – passing historic legislation and building capacity – were realized.

While HCAN was always envisioned as a campaign that would end with the passage of legislation, HCAN’s leadership decided to launch HCAN 2.0 to defend the new law after its passage. With many fewer resources, HCAN continued the fight, working on consumer regulations to control insurance premiums, taking part in the public battle around the Supreme Court’s hearing on the ACA’s constitutionality, defending Medicare from privatization, pushing for Medicaid expansion, and always reminding us that the opponents of the ACA are eager to return Americans to the day when insurance companies were fully able to deny them care and jack up their premiums because, indeed, we do get sick.

HCAN is now closing up shop. It may seem a funny time, with the current fracas over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but that is the point. The organization’s campaign mission was to win passage of a law, a mission extended to include “win and secure” the ACA. The debate over the shape of the ACA will continue for years to come – a struggle over how to fix, expand, roll back, or build upon the law. But as each of the millions of Americans who will enroll over the next few months sign up, another nail is hammered in the repeal coffin. Retiring HCAN, its mission accomplished, is another sign that the campaign is keeping its eyes on the prize.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • charleo1

    Victor Hugo said, “Nothing is more powerful, than an idea who’s time has come.”
    Hugo, who died in 1885, never met a lobbyist, or seen what a super-pac funded with hundreds of millions of dollars can do, to make any idea seem as though it’s time has
    come. Is the T-Party an idea who’s time has come? Let’s hope not. Yet, as we know,
    there are several millions of those who fervently believe so. Then, if indeed so. Those other ideas, those Keynesain Ideas, brought to the forefront in the midst of the Great Depression, by FDR. The ideas that helped to created the most powerful economic engine the world has ever seen, the American Middle Class, are dead. And if those
    ideas that were built on the premise, that a prosperous system must create wealth,
    not from the top down, but from the Middle out. If that is an idea who’s time once came, and now has expired. How far behind then, can be the creation it sustained?

  • Theodora30

    This is a model for what progressives do wrong. Fight for something, declare victory and fold up their tents while the far right gears for a long term battle to dismantle what has been gained.
    Just look at what has happened with voting rights, support for the unemployed and poor, public education…..the list goes on and on. Liberals need to understand that without constant maintainence democracy and programs to strengthen it will be dismantled and our society will revert to the natural state of rule by the powerful over a large underclass to do their bidding. The new twist is that the elites now want this underclass to spend their money to become skilled then work for a pittance.

    it is critical to control the debate to make sure people don’t forget the benefits they have from these struggles instead of allowing anti-government propaganda to frame our national discussions then reacing defensively to it. it is a sure sign of messaging failure when so many Americans do not realize that Medicare and Social Security are hard won government programs that the right has always opposed or that profitizing schools will magical make all kids perform at high levels.

  • Dominick Vila

    Capitulation by progressives is rapidly becoming the norm, and augurs a return to the days when a small elite not only controlled policy making, but our destiny. Wars – whether bellicose, ideological, and economic – usually involve many battles and are decided by the commitment of its supporters to bring it to a successful conclusion. HCAN, and Democrats in general, made a horrible mistake closing shop, at a time when the Tea Party and most Republicans remain determined to undermine and, ultimately, repeal the Affordable Care Act.
    We capitulated on the Single Payer Option, on the 3% tax increase for those earning over $250K, on the closing of the Gitmo prison camp, budgets, and so many other socioeconomic initiatives worth pursuing that I think it is fair to say that the GOP has controlled the agenda since he was first elected.
    Considering the ability of the GOP to turn policies beneficial to the general populace into evil proposals, and their ability to convince so many Americans to vote against their own interests, I think it is remarkable that President Obama has managed to achieve as much as he has in a climate of overt hostility and obstructionism.