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My experiences canvassing for healthcare reform in OH–the good, the bad, and the ugly

My experiences canvassing at my local farmer’s market was both heartening and disheartening. Through Organizing for America’s website, I organized the event, and 5 people signed up to be there. Most of the volunteers showed up. Nobody shouted at me or other volunteers, or otherwise acted in a threatening manner. I had many good conversations with neighbors who both agreed and disagreed with me. I met up with some wonderful people, and we agreed to do it again. So that was the good. The ugly was small indeed–one person got red in the face when he told me that "Obamacare would cut my wife’s paycheck in half!" That’s a new one. And one very strange woman told me that Obama wanted her to shut up and that I was stupid and should shut up. Ok. So what was the bad? As one 60-year-old man opposed to healthcare reform told me, with whom I had a long conversation, "You have to understand that people are frightened, so that makes them angry." He ended up deciding that I was reasonable and intelligent, if naive. Thanks. So what’s the bad? He and many, many of the people in my small town are absolutely convinced that the quality of their healthcare and their access to it will worsen.

I figured that once we exposed the zombie lies to sunlight, that we could turn to the formerly deluded and ask, "Why would you possibly oppose a public option?" What this man helped me to grasp was that the zombie lies tap a sense of "I’ve got mine, and it’s good enough, so don’t mess with it."

What I learned is that the opposition isn’t just teabaggers and birthers. We can fight against the fact-free paranoia. And we must. We can peel back the zombie lies–Obama won’t kill your grandmother or Palin’s baby. Yes, we must do this. But that is nowhere near enough.

We need to realize that a lot of the people who already have health insurance and a huge number of the people who have medicare are scared that Obama’s plans will make the situation worse for them. While we fight back the crazy lies, we also have to explain in VERY CLEAR language how people who think their insurance is good enough (and for their sake, I hope it is) or who are scared that we threaten their medicare don’t have to be scared. We have to explain how their current insurance coverage could even be improved (for instance, no more rescission). We have to puncture the comforting lie that we already have the best healtcare system in the world. And we really have to explain that health care for medicare patients won’t be rationed, i.e., that surgery won’t automatically be denied to someone in his/her 80s.

We need to explain all of this, or we won’t reduce the opposition to a public option. And I found out that we haven’t done a good enough job on that rhetorical front while the forces committed to health insurance industry profits and bringing down Obama are certainly reaching out to these folks, and doing so effectively.

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