This morning, I went to a breakfast hosted by Alliance for Justice that featured a panel on applying the lessons of the healthcare reform debate to other progressive causes. I was disappointed by how little the panel focused on the application to other causes part, but it was an interesting summary of how to organize for a huge systemic change like healthcare reform.
The panelists were all part of H-CAN, and so their remarks were particularly useful for coalition organizing and well-funded movements. Big takeaways were: get the funding moving, bring in lots of people (not just those willing to sign on but also organizations that are partially in line with your cause and willing to help tangentially), respect history and don’t back down just because it’s slow, use creative strategies, don’t get too hung up on “purple” states.
I really liked what Ethan Rome said about defining the debate. Using the public option as an example, he suggested that what you have to do as a progressive organization or movement is to take a concept that’s seen as being “on the left” and make that the center of the debate. If you can manage to get people talking about an issue like that, then you’re not playing defense the whole time. I found this particularly relevant with reference to feminism and especially feminist bloggers. When I think about “feminism,” my mental picture is far different from what the big feminist organizations like FMF and NOW give you. That’s because my feminism is centered around bloggers, and it’s about the opinions of people of color, people with disabilities, queer people, trans people, people in the developing world, etc. etc. So for me, a big part of what I think we need to do is to get our online activist messaging into the organizational/political part of the movement. We want people to think about issues like immigration, disability rights, hate crimes, etc. when they think of feminism.
Another point that Rome made was that although the victory wasn’t perfect for health care reform, it was a starting point. I don’t love the actual bill that was passed, but he does make a good point. You take what’s passed and you go from there. Once the system in this bill becomes the norm, then the debate is whether to keep it or whether to have more. Building blocks, basically. I can get down with that.
On a tangential note, I think this event was actually a really good example of how to have an event! I’ve been to a number of panel discussions, and this was one of the better ones. First, the Alliance for Justice host kept it short and sweet, which is exactly what an introduction should be. Second, the panelists were concise, funny, and practical. They were all fairly dynamic presenters. They told stories and they made jokes and they didn’t ramble on. They gave some concrete advice that was relevant to the people in the room. They may have gone a bit long on answering questions, but they answered the questions and they did so with good, practical advice. I think a lot of speakers could learn a lesson from that!
Finally, since we’re on a practical activism roll here, I just wanted to share a few points I learned from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s webinar yesterday on the social determinants of health. One, appeal to emotions. Know your audience’s metaphors and use those, even if they feel general. Phrases like “a family doctor for every family” work better than ideologically loaded and less descriptive terms like “universal health care.” Two, on a related note, avoid acronyms. Educated people may know what they mean, but to those who aren’t familiar, you just sound like you’re playing inside baseball or trying to show what you know. And three, if you’re trying to sell a point to people on both sides of the aisle, you can actually do so by aiming the same message at both left and right. For example, “of course everyone should be responsible for their own healthcare, but it’s not fair if some people don’t have access to healthcare because of where you’re born or how much money you make.” The first part of the sentence reassures conservatives, and the word “fair” appeals to the conservative value of equity, while the second appeals to the liberal value of equality/opportunity for all. Good things to keep in mind when crafting a message, methinks
I was very excited about hearing Inga Muscio, author of Cunt and Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil, speak last night. I’ve never read her books, but I’ve been wanting to forever. It’s clear that she’s a much better writer than a speaker, though an awesome writer. When she read from her written stuff, she was fantastic – funny, empowering, blunt. She really takes on the issues of racism and violence as well as the tragedy of our public consciousness. Unfortunately, in the Q&A session she said something that kind of pissed me off. She had trouble generally understanding people’s questions, but then someone asked her a question about a statement she’d made at Cornell College a few years ago, saying that abortion should be outlawed. Her response to the girl was very condescending, saying essentially that “sometimes when we hear things, we misunderstand them, but I’ll clarify your misunderstanding.” The thing is, my friend Alena was with the questioner that night and heard Inga say that as well. Then the clarification was that Inga thinks that the “vacuum machine” is a torture method and that women should avoid it. What she was trying to say, I think, is that women should use birth control or EC or what have you, but she made it sound like all abortions are performed with one method, and I also don’t like the woman-blaming subtext in saying that women who have an abortion should’ve just taken the damn pill. That’s probably not how she intended to come across, though, and it’s clear that it’s easier for her to think about things when she isn’t on the spot, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt though it rubbed me the wrong way. I’d definitely recommend reading her stuff, and seeing her if she’s doing a reading in your area. Next one is at Oxford, if any Brits are reading.