By Alyssa Roberts
It’s every Claremont McKenna student’s dream job: working for the president of the United States. Secret Service clearance, lunch in the Oval Office, flying on Air Force One, and walking down Foothill Boulevard on a Saturday morning in 95-degree heat. Some of these perks may only come with Senate-confirmed administration posts, but President Obama has placed a “help wanted” ad for positions that can be filled by average Americans. The president has a field team.
With anti-health insurance reform groups spending over $1 million a day on advertising and Sarah Palin worrying that “death panels” will come after her baby, there is no reason to let an army of dedicated campaign volunteers lie dormant. After the election, many of Obama’s supporters replaced the rally cry “yes we can” with “yes we did.” But was universal health care achieved on inauguration day? No, it wasn’t. So no, we didn’t. As Obama said on election night, “This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change.” Today’s rally cry: now we can!
Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee, has re-mobilized a small percentage of volunteers from Obama’s campaign to help the White House gather support at the grassroots level. Using the same organizing strategies that proved effective during the campaign, the group has gathered the names of over 2.5 million people who support the President’s principles for health care reform. These names, along with names still being collected, will be passed onto members of Congress.
The Democrats of the Claremont Colleges recently became the first college team in California to go door to door in support of the president’s plan. “Since legislation hasn’t been solidified, we wanted to drum up support for the idea of universal health care,” said DCC Vice President Catie Edmunds, Scripps ‘12. Over the course of a few hours, the group knocked on the doors of 412 Claremont Democrats and unaffiliated voters and spoke to 136 people. Armed with “Myth v. The Facts” flyers, they got 57 people to commit to call Senator Feinstein and refuted rumors for dozens more.
First-year Scripps students Willa Oddleifson, Lucy Driscoll, Julia Markham, and Rachel Hennessey spoke to many people who were unsure about reform and concerned about the cost, paranoid about change, or distrustful of “big government.” Jared Calvert, Pitzer ‘13, heard a different response. “There is a big base of support for the public option, and I have no doubt it will get passed,” he said.
Going door to door may be an effective way to “get out the vote” during a presidential campaign, but why use this strategy to help pass extremely complicated legislation that aims to reform an industry that legislators have been trying to fix for over 60 years? Because it localizes the issue. Hearing a story from a neighbor about why they need health reform is more meaningful than listening to a politician try to sell his policy on a cable news show. In addition, it motivates people who are generally not as involved in the political process to contact their representatives and ask for their support.
In June, Organizing for America called for personal stories about why people need health insurance reform. Thousands of these stories are now hosted on BarackObama.com. A woman named Karen wrote about how she left her job to start a small business and was denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Her health benefits will run out soon and her business cannot yet afford insurance. “This precarious situation leaves our family one diagnosis short of financial and personal ruin – we’d abandon our dream of entrepreneurship and go back to our corporate jobs, but in the meantime the world economy has collapsed and they don’t exist any more,” she explains.
Eleanor told the story of how she found a way to cheat the system. Unable to afford her $12,000 a year health insurance plan that didn’t even cover a doctor’s visit, she came up with a solution. “I went back to school where I was able to get student health insurance, but only because I lied about the fact that I already had an undergraduate degree,” she said. The student health plan cost her $1,000 a year and covers almost all of her medical costs. She is 63 years old.
These women and over three-dozen more people who submitted a story have one thing in common: they live in Claremont. The owner of your favorite new fro-yo business might be Karen. Look around your 80-person economics class, and you might see Eleanor.
President Obama knows he can’t reform the health insurance industry alone. He knows he needs the help and support of the people who voted for him – and of those who didn’t. He realizes that there is a lot of confusion, misinformation, and fear – as well as some understandable skepticism – not only in the American public but also among some of our lawmakers (“You lie!”) So he returns to his roots as a community organizer and asks his supporters to fight the real lies and share the stories of real people struggling with the health insurance industry.