House Pressure Campaign Guide

Table of Contents

3. Escalating Pressure on Your Representative

If your representative does not reply to your “Ask” positively, it’s time to escalate pressure on them. Below are a few tactics you can use to make them feel the heat.

Low Pressure Tactics

  • Social Media: A simple-but-important way to publicize your pressure campaign is through regular posts on your chapter’s social media platforms. You can boost petitions, share public statements, and publicize your town halls, canvasses, and other campaign events. Twitter and Facebook are also good platforms to supplement your birddogging and letter-writing efforts — politicians’ staffs pay attention to their mentions, and a concerted effort to pressure them via social media (and getting others to do the same) can be an effective way to get your message across. Tag them into your posts directly whenever appropriate. Be firm in your social media messaging, but try to make the positive case for Medicare for All as much as possible: highlight our five principles and the mass demand for a single-payer system that guarantees comprehensive, free-at-use coverage to everyone. Let your rep know that 85% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans want this, and that we won’t accept any carve-outs for the private insurance industry.
  • Writing Letters/Postcards: An easy ask at a chapter meeting is to get everyone to write a letter to their rep asking them to sign on to HR 676, to join the Medicare for All caucus, or to sign on to our 5 principles.
  • Self-Published Public Statements: Stay up-to-date on healthcare news and health policy news, especially in your community. Is a local hospital about to close down? Did a new report come out highlighting health disparities in your county? These are news hooks: opportunities to release a statement from your chapter or coalition, pointing out how Medicare for All would address this problem, how you are fighting for Medicare for All, and how new people can get involved with this fight. These events are also opportunities to submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op-ed (see below).
    • If you ever have any questions about how Medicare for All would address a particular health issue in your community, email the campaign at medicareforall@dsausa.org to get connected with our Policy Subcommittee.
  • Online Petitions: Online petitions can be a helpful way of gauging the size of your base of support because they are so easy to create and sign. Though for this same reason, they are easy for representatives to dismiss as meaningless. Just because a person supports Medicare for All enough to sign an online petition does not mean that they support it enough to vote for a politician because of that issue, or engage in a concerted campaign to win it. Medicare for All already has popular support; now we need to push for deeper engagement and mobilization around the issue. That being said, the online petition is easy to deploy, and you can rack up a lot of signatures with minimal effort, which is especially useful for building a list of supporters in the early stages of this campaign.

Medium Pressure Tactics

  • Canvassing Voters: The best way to get elected representatives to care about a particular issue is to get their voters to care about it, and to do that, there’s no better tactic than canvassing. We gave a basic run-down of how to organize a Medicare for All canvass in our original organizing guide. There we encouraged chapters to take a “knock every door” approach to canvassing, as working-class issues transcend the narrow limits of electoral canvassing. But if you want to focus your canvasses specifically on your CD’s voters, contact the campaign at medicareforall@dsausa.org, and we’ll try to provide assistance in getting your started.
  • Phone Zap: Even better than getting members at a chapter meeting to sign letters is getting member constituents to call their reps. Office staff do make a note of how many calls they’ve gotten in favor of, or in opposition to, a particular bill and report that information to the representative. You can do this in an ongoing fashion, as part of your ‘Ask’ when you talk to voters about Medicare for All, or you can do this in a phone bank event, where everyone is calling at the same time.
  • Op-eds and Letters to the Editor: Politicians and their staff always read local papers, and they are sensitive to negative press. Placing Op-eds and Letters to the Editor is a great way to get their attention. When writing these pieces, use the research you conducted to prepare for your initial office visits. How many of your representative’s constituents lack healthcare? Then why don’t they support a cost-effective universal healthcare system? Perhaps because they took $20,000 from BlueCross BlueShield? To do this effectively, it can be helpful to have a partial draft written ahead of time, and then wait for a health related news hook (and they happen all the time!), tweak it to fit the specific circumstances, and then submit it to the local paper. That way you aren’t rushing to get the draft out while the news is fresh. In your LTE/Op-ed, you will want to reference the membership/coalition that you represent, as this demonstrates political power and might make it more likely that they’ll respond to you. Also, don’t forget you can create your own news hook by organizing a rally or a press conference!
    • If you ever want any feedback, edits, or policy advice in crafting your LTE/Op-ed, don’t hesitate to reach out directly to us at medicareforall@dsausa.org!
  • Plan a Large, Public-Facing Event, like a Rally, Barnstorm, Press Conference or a Town Hall: In our previous organizing guide, we ran through a detailed how-to about holding an educational event about Medicare for All, and the same basic steps apply for any outward-facing event. Especially if you can drum up some inspirational speakers and get your rep’s constituents out to an event, these can be very effective in building excitement for your pressure campaign. Be sure to build your press list beforehand and invite local media.

High Pressure Tactics

  • Birddogging: “Birddogging” a politician means calling them out in public and in person for their actions or inactions. DC DSA successfully birddogged Representative Don Beyer, and you can read more about their action here.
    1. Conduct Research: First, find your representative’s public events schedule. Some representatives will post it on their website, but if not, you can call their office and ask to speak to the person in charge of the representative’s schedule. You may have to call their D.C. office to reach this person, and you may not reach them on the phone, so be prepared to have to email them. Also, sign up for your representative’s newsletter and follow them on social media, so you can stay up-to-date on what they are doing. And know their position on Medicare for All: where they stand on the issue and the reasoning and rhetoric they’ve employed publicly to outline their position. This will be important for crafting effective birddogging questions.
    2. Assemble a Team: : Ideally, you’ll want to have about 10-15 people with flexible schedules “on call.” Public events can pop up pretty quickly, and they might be scheduled in the middle of a weekday. That being said, don’t hold back if you only have two or three people on your team: you can still birddog effectively with a small group! Once you’ve got a few interested folks onboard, get everyone together beforehand and practice. Agree on the questions you’ll ask at the event, and practice responding to things your rep might say.
      • Also make sure you have someone take responsibility for recording the action and posting it to social media. It is tremendously important that the video that is produced at these actions is shared widely through your networks.
    3. The Action: Confrontational or Conversational? From here, you can go one of two routes. You can either opt for a high confrontation/visibility approach, or you can work within the parameters of the event, trying to be more respectful and hoping for a real dialogue. You should choose the route (or some combination of them) that is most likely to actually move your representative on Medicare for All. If you think it is likely that you can get a number of people to ask questions of your rep and have them respond, the conversational route is probably best. If you are unlikely to really get a word in, the confrontational is better. Either way, be sure to arrive at the event early, so you can be sure to get in!
      • The Confrontational Approach: Wear your Medicare for All t-shirts. Get as many people to go as you can. Sit together. Make a ruckus (clapping or booing) when the representative says anything about healthcare. Agree beforehand on coordinated actions, like starting a chant or taking off your jackets and revealing your t-shirts all at once in the middle of the event.
      • The Conversational Approach: Dress in regular clothes. Sit in different parts of the room. It’s less important to have a big group (although that’s great) as it is to be organized and practiced.
        • When the moment arrives, perhaps at the beginning of a Q&A session, make sure all of your people are waiting in line at the mic or have their hands in the air.
        • Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no — ask “How…” and “Why…” questions — but be sure to make it clear that you are really asking why they aren’t supporting Medicare for All.
        • Practice ahead of time and write your questions down on notecards. You won’t get many opportunities like this, and you don’t want to waste it. Prep follow up questions. Try to keep them talking to you as long as you can.
        • As soon as they finish answering one question, have someone else on your team prepared with another. The questions you prepare should be similar but not identical. You’re trying to give your rep the impression that a wide variety of their constituents are very concerned about Medicare for All.
    4. After the Event: Keep an eye out for any reporters that are at the event, and try to talk to them about why you are fighting for Medicare for All. If your rep agrees to your demands, follow up with their staff and keep the pressure up until their verbal commitment is made actual.
    5. Repeat! Sometimes a rep needs to hear these questions over and over again before they reconsider their position. A lot of Medicare for All questions at one event is annoying, but Medicare for All questions at every event during every recess no matter where in their district they go makes them feel they are confronting a movement.
  • Organizing Sit-Ins or Die-Ins: A sit-in is a resource intensive, high intensity tactic that will involve significant planning and coordination with your chapter and your coalition. If you are going to engage in an action that might risk arrest and/or might attract significant press attention, it is crucial to articulate specific demands, to have raised sufficient funds to bail out your comrades (reach out to the campaign to signal boost fundraising efforts), and to have a clearly defined plan and roles ahead of time.
    • A sit-in is likely not an effective tactic for representatives you think you can move on Medicare for All. It is better reserved for representatives who are not likely to move but who have significant support for Medicare for All amongst their constituents. This is an opportunity to gain visibility, attract new members, highlight contradictions in your rep’s positions, and weaken their base of support.
    • A sit-in (like all tactics) should be strategically timed: it will be most effective when the general public’s call for Medicare for All has reached a fever pitch, and we’re close to a win (or a loss).

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There are of course many more pressure tactics than the ones listed here, and these don’t need to be deployed in ascending order. You can be running a birddogging campaign at the same time as you are trying to schedule a legislative visit and doing weekly canvasses, if you have the resources and people power in your chapter. And if you don’t, think first and foremost about how you can use this campaign to effectively grow your chapter. A month of tabling and new member recruitment might be necessary before you are able to escalate to birddogging.

Use the knowledge you and your coalition have about your representative and your community, and get creative. What is your representative passionate about? Where have they caved before? What are their pet interests? Who are their key supporters and donors?

Defining a win ahead of time is also important. Getting your rep to sign on the HR 676 is obviously a win. But sometimes a win can simply be taking a public stand on Medicare for All. Some reps — mostly because they are bought and paid for by the insurance industry — will never sign on to HR 676, but it is still valuable to pressure them because you can highlight the contradictions between what they support and what their constituency wants while building your chapter’s political power. Medicare for All is really popular: no matter the politics of their district, just about every rep who doesn’t support HR 676 is failing to represent the will of their constituency, and they should know it.