This past September, DC DSA’s Northern Virginia branch successfully convinced Representative Don Beyer to sign on to HR 1384, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. They voted to take on the campaign in June and then found out a month later about an open topic town hall with Representative Beyer, an opportunity they took advantage of. This is a tactic that can be replicated successfully elsewhere with the proper planning and commitment.
Why Target Your Congresspeople?
Making your senator or representative sign on to the Senate (S 1804) or House (HR 1384) bills for Medicare for All is not a silver bullet for making Medicare for All happen overnight, but it does accomplish several things:
- It builds momentum behind Medicare for All. Every Congressperson who signs on makes it closer to a reality.
- It builds your organization’s capacity to plan actions and mobilize members.
- It builds your organization’s notoriety in your area, especially if you reach out to media before the action.
- If successful, it boosts morale. DC’s Northern Virginia branch was on top of the world when they realized they were successful.
How to Target Your Congresspeople
- Pick a vulnerable target: One of the most important factors in the Northern Virginia branch’s success was that they picked a target who was vulnerable to pressure. Representative Beyer was one of the few members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who hadn’t yet signed on to HR 1384, and this was an inconsistency — being a progressive but not a supporter of universal healthcare — that could be exploited.
- Research pressure points: Once you pick a target, research their political positions, their media presence, their donors, their personal history, and any other possible things you might be able to use in applying pressure if escalation is needed beyond the town hall. If you can, watch videos of previous town halls to see how the target handles pressure and curveball questions. Call their office to get their official position on Medicare for All.
- Come up with a strategy: Make sure you have a plan beyond the town hall if it’s not initially successful. Plan out your campaign and create an escalating ladder of actions to ratchet up the pressure on your congressperson as necessary. Even if the first action doesn’t work, have a plan to keep up the momentum.
- Prepare for an opportunity: During congressional recesses, find out when your congressperson is having public meetings with constituents. Begin preparing materials and signs about Medicare for All. If the congressperson holds a public event that isn’t necessarily an opportunity to confront them about Medicare for All, send members to take note about logistics (how early the doors open, how many mics there are, which of the congressperson’s staff is in attendance, etc.) and on the congressperson’s behavior (what happens when speakers get hostile, does the representative get short in responding to difficult questions, etc.). All of this reconnaissance work will inform your strategy in preparation for the town hall action.
Seize the opportunity: If your congressperson announces an open constituent town hall, reach out to members of the press to let them know they might want to come out and cover the event. Prepare one of your tech-savvy members with a camera and video editing skills to create a video of the event and post it to social media. And call all of your members, especially the congressperson’s constituents, to personally invite them to attend. You can send around a sign-up form to get an accurate headcount and coordinate a carpool for anybody who needs it. For people who can’t attend, ask them to live tweet it and post about it on Facebook.
Before the town hall begins, schedule a preparatory meeting with your members near the town hall to go over the plan. Start with a short, inspirational speech on why you’re doing what you’re doing, then give a broad overview of the plan. Stress that the group should be firm but polite in tone, should stay focused on personal stories of how our broken medical system affects us all, and should end every statement by asking your congressperson to sign on to Medicare for All.
This is an opportunity to frame Medicare for All as a demand for working people, so prepare your members with facts and statistics that can combat common misperceptions about the current system: it is the most expensive but least effective system in the developed world, it forces people to stay in their jobs, and so forth. Check out the FAQ for more.
You should also arm your members with particularly embarrassing points about your congressperson’s past record or donors. If the congressperson has received $200,000 from BlueCross/BlueShield, someone could ask if that’s the reason why they’re not supporting Medicare for All. It makes for a nice shaming moment that exposes corporate corruption.
After you’ve gone over these basics, break up into small groups and have everyone write out a personal story about why they think Medicare for All is necessary. Have your members share their stories with the group and then workshop them so that they are not too long and hit the right notes. Have the groups pick the person with the best story and send them up to practice their delivery in front of the whole group. If they can work in pointed political arguments that reflect the congressperson’s lack of accountability to their constituents, all the better.
Before you head to the town hall, make sure that everyone gets pamphlets and signs to hold up. Try to arrive at the town hall at least 30 minutes prior so that you get the seats closest to the mics. Members who don’t plan to speak at the event can hand out pamphlets and signs to non-member attendees of the event.
Once the event gets started, make sure your members are the first ones lined up in front of the mics. No matter what the congressperson hems and haws about, make sure every statement ends with “Will you sign on to Medicare for All?” At the Northern Virginia’s branch’s town hall, Representative Beyer broke under the strain. Hopefully your target will, too.
- Follow through: The first thing to do after the action is to prepare a press release and send it out to media contacts (see Publicizing Your Medicare for All Campaign), as well as post the press release on all of your social media accounts. Then ask your membership to call your congressperson either to thank them for signing on or to chide them for remaining ambivalent about or opposed to universal healthcare. Keep up the calls until your target changes their position or provides proof that they are indeed signed on. Only when the official record says that your congressperson has signed on to Medicare for All can you stop the pressure and finally declare victory.