Grassroots blitz for health care reform

Organizing for America – the grassroots offshoot of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign – is staging a weeklong blitz to highlight popular support for health care reform that lowers costs, guarantees choice with a public option, and provides every American access to quality care.

Here in California, that means door-to-door canvassing, phone banking and community events like the one planned for 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday in Oakland’s Mosswood Park, at West MacArthur Blvd. and Broadway. OFA California State Director Mary Jane Stevenson said attendees will be asked to call members of Congress and recruit more volunteers, creating “a constant drumbeat that can’t be ignored” so lawmakers know constituents will have their backs when they vote for reform.

On Friday, the office of every California member of Congress will receive written and videotaped testimonials from Californians who’ve run afoul of the broken health-care system. On Saturday, doctors will be canvassing California neighborhoods. On Sunday, volunteers will be manning information tables all over the state.

Also on today’s conference call with reporters was Mary Schmidt, a college student and OFA summer intern from Sacramento who told her own story of battling cancer for the last few years, only to recently learn that her health insurance – provided by her mother, a longtime teacher who also is taking a pay cut – will cease effective Sept. 1. “I believe that something needs to change.”

Volunteer Claire Best of Los Angeles spoke of an HIV-positive friend who lost his job as a corporate executive and, in order to pay for health insurance, had to drain his savings and even eventually sell his house. Even then, he grew ill and in 10 days racked up a hospital bill that would’ve eaten up a third of the proceeds from his home’s sale; knowing he’d be homeless and destitute if he left the hospital, “it’s our feeling that he gave up” and died. “Nobody should have to choose between their life and their life’s savings,” she said.

And Dr. Alex Blum, field director of Doctors for America, said he once saw a 12-year-old boy devastated by a stroke, only to learn that the boy had suffered a less-serious stroke five years earlier but his mother – a sole provider for her kids who was struggling to keep food on the table – hadn’t sought the proper care for him. Too many Americans are forced to choose between health care and providing for their families, he said, and that’s “wholly unacceptable.”

Stevenson said stories like these will play a big role in the health-care reform debate over the next few weeks, and OFA’s campaign is about giving those stories a megaphone. “This has never been done before – this field operation is, we feel, what’s going to make us win the battle that’s been unwinnable for 60 years.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    They need to swing by Diane Feinstein’s local offices and sing whatever the health care equivalent of Christmas Carols would be. She’s flaky on this issue.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    This “grassroots” group is, in fact, controlled by the DNC.

  • Elwood

    “This “grassroots” group is, in fact, controlled by the DNC.”

    Now THERE’S a surprise!

  • John W

    Controlled by the DNC…

    So therefore…?

  • Elwood

    “A grassroots movement (often referenced in the context of a political movement) is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it is natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures.” –Wikipedia

    Disingenuous–see also John W

  • John W


    The fact that Organizing for America is not the result of spontaneous combustion is hardly a deep secret. Josh accurately characterized it as an offshoot of the Obama campaign, intended to mobilize his supporters from the campaign to support his efforts to implement the things he advocated. Anything wrong with that?

    As for the definition, of “grass roots,” that strikes me as a fairly purist and idealistic notion. I can’t think of very many “movements” that would have satisfied that definition.