An educational event serves a number of purposes for building both your chapter and a movement around Medicare for All. Externally, an educational event can attract members of your community that may not be in your usual social or political circles but who have material needs that our political program can speak to. Many people have been misinformed about the supposedly negative consequences of a national health plan, which they have heard is a fiscal impossibility or will result in rationing of care. An educational event will not only correct some of these misconceptions but also strengthen and invigorate Medicare for All supporters by giving them solid talking points and a vision for moving forward. An educational event is also a public service, places your chapter in the local discussion when it comes to Medicare for All, and allows you to build relationships with coalition partners in your area.
Internally, an educational event can help sharpen the strategic political thinking of your membership and those who want to get involved in the campaign for Medicare for All. A universal healthcare system is not a new idea, but the possibility to achieve this demand has re-emerged. If DSA is to be a successful part of capitalizing on this moment to make real change, we need to learn from the lessons of the past and continue to build our understanding of our political system, the challenges of creating a political movement, and the larger system of capitalism. An educational event can help do that.
Such an event should ultimately result in a solid ask of the attendees. Once you have put Medicare for All into a real, material context, explained our goals, and agitated and excited your audience, you should be ready to ask them to take action.
- Vision: Come up with a solid vision for your event. After you decide on what your organizational capacity is and what the other organizations you may want to team up with are, discuss this vision with your coalition partners. Explain to them what role they can serve, offering clear guidelines about what is involved and how the event will benefit their cause.
- Strategy: Approach your vision for the event strategically. If your goal is to attract coalition partners from unions and other political grassroots groups, it is important to use this event to bring them into a powerful political bloc capable of winning this demand. If, on the other hand, you want to move your audience from a place of political inaction and apathy to being ready and excited to take action, they need to be armed with both talking points and the ability to speak to the ideas that brought us to the system we have today. Education around Medicare for All should both agitate towards political action and also connect the lived needs and political aspirations of advocates and attendees to a broader critique of capitalism.
- Communication: Set up a centralized repository for communication and information. Make sure that all members of the team know how the group should keep in touch and where to find important documents.
- Venue: When choosing a venue for an educational event, it is important to keep three things in mind: size, location, and accessibility.
- Using services such as Eventbrite can help you guess the attendance to determine the size of the space you need. Be sure to keep in mind the event’s program: if the event will have breakout sessions or classes, book the required rooms.
- The event’s location can act as a hidden “organizer” in itself, as can the venue’s role in surrounding communities or groups. By holding the event at a union hall, for example, the event could spread through the union’s network, and likewise for community centers and their neighborhoods. One key objective of any Medicare for All event will be to reach communities that are either underserved by medical facilities, have a high rate of uninsured people, or have a low rate of political participation. It is not a coincidence that the communities that share those characteristics are also working-class and communities of color. By holding your Medicare for All educational event, you will be potentially adding them to your coalition to fight for healthcare in their community. Your venue may require you to get event insurance. If your chapter cannot afford insurance, talk to a local union or non-profit to see if some arrangement can be made.
- Make sure your venue is ADA accessible. Even if you think that the venue is in compliance with ADA, walk the place to make sure that bathrooms are accessible for everyone and that ADA entrances are clearly marked.
- Date and Time: Give yourself ample time to plan. You will need time to fundraise, build a program, get materials ready, and get the word out. Give yourself time to wait to hear back from people and deal with bumps in the road. Do regular check-ins with team members (see Organizing and Leadership Development) to make sure things are moving forward. Set a timeline with deadlines and goals.
- When setting a time for the event, consider if you will be able to provide meals or snacks. Meals are costly and require a lot of labor, but do allow for flexibility with time and length of your program. If you are unable to provide food, keep this in mind when setting a time so that you do not lose attendees to hunger.
- Publicity: See Publicizing Your Medicare for All Campaign for general tips, but there are a few additional things to consider when putting on an educational event. The marketing for the event will communicate the important “When? Where? Who? Why? How?” questions, but it will also help shape the tone and focus of your event. Things as simple as shifting color schemes to red and black will subtly slide the tone towards a more explicit anti-capitalist stance. Of course, the speakers’ topics and marketing texts can achieve the same effect. DSA chapters will know what will work best for their local communities. As political detractors will smear Medicare for All supporters as “socialists” anyway, chapters have found it best to claim ownership of the issue and feature DSA logos and chapter names prominently in event documents.
Developing an event requires you first to decide what you want to communicate and then to select who will be best at conveying it. There are many angles organizers can take, and these angles will determine your choices for speakers.
Do you want to educate attendees about the latest state and national legislation, diving deep into statistics and detail? Or should the event feature healthcare professionals who discuss how Medicare for All would improve both health outcomes and their ability to do their jobs? Should it be a venue where people can share their often painful and frustrating experiences in dealing with for-profit healthcare? Should speakers tie their experiences back to the idea that healthcare is fundamentally exploitative when commodified under capitalism? And finally, can you programmatically address how we force politicians, normally at the beck and call of members of the capitalist class, to listen to the demands of working people? Decide on your goals first, and then seek out speakers to accomplish those goals.
Ideally, the program will accommodate all of these angles and more but will be focused on one goal: Giving everyday people the framework, facts, and knowledge they need to confidently talk to their family, friends, and coworkers about the necessity of Medicare for All.
When selecting speakers, occupational/political background as well as past articles and speeches can give you a sense of what they can most effectively and persuasively communicate. Healthcare workers and union leaders are often well placed to describe the current inadequacies of our system and how Medicare for All would fix them. Longtime political activists can speak to the challenges that confront us in this and other historical political fights. If you need help finding speakers for your event (policy experts, political thinkers, campaign organizers, union members, healthcare workers, etc.), feel free to email the national organizing team at [email protected].
The next task is to organize the event program so that the speakers can effectively communicate their points to the audience. A very simple and effective structure is to give each speaker 5-10 minutes as an introduction for themselves and their areas of focus, and then bring everyone back together for a 30-60 minute panel discussion. Make sure the moderator understands their role (Are they screening questions? Are they coming up with their own questions ahead of time before opening it up to the audience?). This basic structure allows speakers to connect each other’s ideas and highlight the interconnectedness of the issues addressed by Medicare for All. But you could also do one-on-one interviews, hold a roundtable, or offer a traditional academic talk: the format largely depends on the speakers you get. Events without components of listener participation tend to lend themselves to shorter time lengths, such as 1.5-2 hours.
When booking speakers, organizers shouldn’t be afraid of approaching big names or big organizations. They often have a budget set aside for travel, and if not, you can fundraise to pay for their costs. Speaker choice should also reflect the diverse and intersectional struggle for Medicare for All.
Depending on your venue and organizational capacity, it can also be helpful to create breakout sessions or classes. This would be especially useful in conjunction with a canvassing campaign, as it would allow attendees to learn more about Medicare for All and hone their pitches.
No matter which format you select, you will need to fill three key roles besides the speakers themselves:
- One is the MC, to introduce speakers and keep the program flowing.
- The second is the moderator for the panels. The moderator should be well-versed in the topics around Medicare for All and able to ask probing questions. Journalists and media often make good moderators.
- Last is a stage manager who directs people when and where they should go. They will be in the front row with 10 and 5 minute queue cards to let the speakers know when their time is up.
An organized way for people to sign in is important to make this event an organizing tool. Electronic sign-ins are preferable to paper sign-ins because it means that you do not have to worry about the lists being lost or stolen. Data entry after the event will slow down your ability to follow up, and you will lose contacts to illegible handwriting. If you do use paper sign-ins, it is best to have people at the table taking the information verbally rather than having attendees fill out the forms themselves.
Don’t forget to have a solid ask you can make during the educational event. You may want to circulate a petition to be delivered to a local congressperson or have times and dates ready for canvassing. Consider your audience when developing your ask and adjust it accordingly. If you are speaking to your membership or other activists, you can ask for more involvement. Whatever you choose, you should follow up in the few days after the event so that you can put the energy created by the event into action. An email should be ready to be sent thanking people for their attendance and inviting them to get involved.