Recently a friend asked me what my favorite experience was, of all the things we did during the health care-reform campaign. As I started thinking, it occurred to me that we'd been at it so long I couldn't remember a lot of what we did. So I looked at my calendar and my old emails; we did a lot.
I joined fairly late. My first activity was a meet-up (this is a technical organizer's term that means meeting) on July 7 of last year, at the Locust Rendezvous near the Academy of Music. My first action (another organizer's term) was a rally the next week at a health center on South Broad Street.
Boy, did we do a lot of rallies. In September we rallied on short notice outside the Convention Center. President Obama was in town to attend a fund-raiser for the newly Democratic Senator Specter. The teabaggers were at high tide at this point – they'd been having fun at our expense, and it had only just occurred to us that we were going to have to counter-demonstrate if we wanted to win the war of words in the street.
Actually, the teabaggers weren't the biggest problem at this rally. It was the pro-lifers, who showed up with their dead baby pictures and a sound system that would have made a rock & roll band proud. We had posters, but no sound system. A lot of us got very hoarse that day, but we held up our end, and a few days later we had a bullhorn.
On a beautiful day in October we read the bill on Independence Mall, near the Liberty Bell.
I don't have a good count of the number of times we hopped in the HCAN van and drove down to Washington for one activity or another. It almost got to feel like a commute.
And, goodness gracious, we did a lot of phone banking. For me, this involved going to PUP's seriously overheated offices on North Broad Street. (I'd expand all these acronyms, but it doesn't really matter. It's kind of like being in the army – the acronyms are the words the troops understand.)
I don't enjoy phone banking, but I did it. A number of Pennsylvania Congressmen were on the fence about the health-care reform bill. Our strategy was to call people who lived in those districts and ask them to call their congressman. (Calls from people who are not constituents aren't terribly effective these days.) We had a phone system called Activate, which automatically dialed phone numbers for us, and then allowed us to transfer callers directly to their congressman's office, if they were willing.
It was a very effective strategy. Most people would say no, of course, but quite a few would say yes, and we ran up some significant numbers.
There are lots of old people in Pennsylvania. Many of them are sweet, and some are rather crotchety. We did most of our calling in the evening, which was when people were home. So it's late in the day, and it's cold outside, and it's a steambath inside, and I'm stripped down to my tee shirt, sitting at someone else's desk, using someone else's phone, feeling slightly light-headed, doodling around the hatch marks on my tally sheet, glancing at my watch, the wall clock, the clock on the computer, wondering why time is standing still. And the system beeps, and I have yet another voter on the line. It's an older man. I start in on my patter, and after a moment he interrupts, saying somewhat querulously, "You're bothering my dinner!" I immediately have a vision of a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs are frowning, and vibrating with anger. Perhaps a sign that I watched too many Walt Disney cartoons as a child. Or maybe it's just time to go home.
I was going to say that my favorite experience was the walk to Washington in February. Certainly it was the most significant, and personally meaningful, and downright odd thing that I did during the whole campaign. Why would eight people walk 135 miles in eight days from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., even in good conditions, let alone in snow up to their hips?
But there's another experience, only a single day, that I find has stolen my heart. Possibly because it was, for me at least, a turning point. In December, President Obama went to Schnecksville, Pa., near Allentown, to deliver a speech. It was a perfect, crystalline day, and we got to stand on that beautiful green lawn under a blue sky and go toe-to-toe with the teabaggers while we waited for the president to show up.
I think it was then that I knew the teabaggers would lose. They didn't have anything. They called us Russians and Commies and sang God Bless America. And so we sang God Bless America with them, and then quite a few other songs on our own, and then some of our women danced. I believe we even challenged the other side to a dancing contest, but they weren't up for it.
These are people who want it to be 1950 again, and they don't believe that people who don't want that can possibly be real Americans. Well, they're wrong.
We beat them that day. The media couldn't say the teabaggers had highjacked Obama's event – we prevented that – and so they covered the president's speech.
And we'll keep beating them, because we're about the future, and they're about the past.