Thursday, June 18, 2009

Organizing for Healthcare, Part One

By Marc Korman.

Harking back to his community organizer roots, President Obama has transitioned his presidential campaign, Obama for America, into an activist group, Organizing for America. Their work is just getting started in Montgomery County.

Organizing for America exists under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee. Jason Waskey, who served as Campaign Director of Obama’s Maryland operation, is moving over to the DNC where he will serve as State Director for DNC-OFA. Every Congressional district in the country will have a volunteer liaison working with DNC-OFA. In Montgomery County, the 8th Congressional District liaison is Jon Randall, who worked tirelessly at the Bethesda Obama Office. Curtis Valentine is the liaison for the 4th Congressional District. He was an Obama fellow who worked in Prince George’s County during the general election.

A little outreach bye OFA began earlier in the year in support of President Obama’s budget proposal. But their real debut came in early June when house parties were held all around the country in support of healthcare reform, one of the Obama Administration’s top domestic priorities. After a weekend of house parties around Montgomery County, OFA held an event at the new Montgomery County Education Association headquarters.

The event had over sixty people in attendance, including State Senator Jennie Forehand, Delegate Kumar Barve, and State Senate candidate Cheryl Kagan. The purpose of the event was to build excitement for healthcare reform, including preparing for a day of healthcare service on June 27th, and presumably to activate a grassroots army of supporters to promote reform.

At the event, attendees heard about President Obama’s vision for healthcare reform, including his three priorities of lower costs, freedom to choose doctors and healthcare plans, and full coverage for all Americans. Karen McManus from Congressman Van Hollen’s office also spoke, encouraging people to contact his office with thoughts or ideas on the plan.

Following the speeches, the room broke into four smaller groups. Each group had two purposes. First, participants shared personal stories from their lives that demonstrated to them that healthcare reform was needed. Second, attendees brainstormed ideas for a healthcare service activity. Some ideas in the group I sat in were to hold a healthy barbecue, bring health professionals to a specific community to provide services, offer educational services, or conduct activities to lobby for healthcare reform. OFA is still finalizing its plans for the service day, but when they become available we will post them here.

That tells you the who, what, when, where and why of the event. Next time, we will take a look at some of the underlying tension at the meeting.