I’ve been a longtime believer in the power of grassroots action, but sometimes – as I watch moneyed interests win policy battle after policy battle at the State House – it can be hard to keep the faith.
Yesterday, my faith was restored.
First, a little background. The State Senate is currently working on complicated legislation to reduce health care costs. I believe on the whole it is a good bill worthy of support, but I also know it does not go far enough. In the end, I think the only way to truly control costs AND ensure universal access to high quality health care is to implement a single-payer system, as is currently being done in Vermont.
Bringing single-payer health care to Massachusetts is a long-term movement, however, and I know we have a lot of work to do to convince a majority of my colleagues, and the Governor, of the wisdom of this plan.
In the meantime, I wanted to offer an amendment to the health care bill that would put us in position to transition to single-payer down the road. My amendment would have directed the agency overseeing health care finance in the Commonwealth to study the cost of a single-payer system and regularly compare it to the cost of our current system. If by the year 2015 (or any year thereafter), the study determined that single-payer would be more cost effective, it would develop a plan for implanting single-payer in Massachusetts and submit it to the legislature for approval.
I firmly believe single payer is the best way to go, but I realize others are more skeptical. This is why I’ve proposed we study the issue – from an independent, unbiased perspective – and see what the numbers tell us.
So what does all this have to do with grassroots activism? My single-payer amendment was debated yesterday, and although we did not ultimately prevail, the vote (15-22) was much closer than I – or anyone else – had expected. Frankly, it’s rare to see an amendment that is opposed by the leadership of the Senate gain that much support. Every co-sponsor of my original single-payer bill stayed with us, and several more senators joined us. The vote caught people by surprise, and sent a message that support for single-payer health care in Massachusetts is strong and growing.
This happened because of grassroots activism.
Earlier this week, a number of grassroots advocacy groups, including Mass Care, Progressive Massachusetts, the Progressive Democrats of America, and the League of Women Voters, put out the call: it’s time to contact your Senator and ask him or her to support the single-payer amendment.
And people responded. Many of my colleagues told me the phone just kept ringing with single-payer supporters. Some legislators who may have been wavering stood with us because they knew their constituents were watching. Others gave the amendment more serious consideration after initially dismissing it.
Over 250 amendments were filed to the health care bill. The sad truth of the speed and complexity of the legislative process is that legislators simply can’t focus on and come to a thoughtful position on every single amendment. We have to choose which amendments to focus our energy on — and because of the calls and emails of grassroots activists, a lot of senators decided this was an amendment worth caring about.
We didn’t win on our amendment yesterday, it’s true. In the long-term movement to create a truly universal health care system in Massachusetts, however, yesterday’s vote was absolutely a victory – and it was a victory because of the grassroots.
This is how we do it, and how we should keep doing it. Looking forward, if we want to continue to see progress on this and other progressive issues, we need to work together to develop an agenda for next session, narrow in on a few key priorities, and execute a plan in a strategic, grassroots fashion. There’s power in the grassroots, so let’s use it!