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Jan Schakowsky’s Constituents Demand A Public Option – Will She?

resized-m9u44.jpgThis week I had a chance to facilitate a meeting at Rep Jan Schakowsky’s Chicago office for a group of her constituents. Organized by Credo and FDL, this meeting was set up with Leslie Combs, Jan’s local chief of staff and 21 constituents showed up – on a workday afternoon – to give voice to their concerns on health care reform.

And their voices are ones that we are not hearing in all the media coverage  and so-called debate.

These constituents were quite a group – engaged voters all, thoughtful and sharp – several carried printouts of articles and posts about health care issues that particularly matter to them, all carried their personal stories and each spoke up to tell their story and their concerns.  While the age range was broad – young moms to senior citizens – some insured, some not, one former benefits HR person, one former insurance worker – these folks are the backbone of the democratic party and given what I heard, the Democrats better start listening closely to them. They are not happy – and in many ways their confusion and fear at the falling apart reform process is even greater than that shouted anger of the right wing mobs.

All expressed intense insecurity about their current personal health care situation – well, all except one woman who mentioned she has just qualified for medicare and is “so relieved.” Several were uninsured workers, others were self-insured entrepreneurs who cannot afford the $1,000 a month cost of their own coverage.  But most striking were the many who have insurance – oftern noting they personally have really good insurance – but who still face serious problems getting and affording essential care. Most moving was the tale told by one mom who brought her 4 year old daughter with her. Her daughter has a severe chronic condition and, while they have very good employer-based insurance, the mom described the struggles required to get basic services approved and paid for her daughter. 

As I sat listening to each in turn, I was struck by how strong the fear is – not the crazy fear of the town hall mobs, but the quiet but persistent fear these voters feel day in and day out – that at any moment their lives might be destroyed by the disaster of our current system.

Each asked that Jan protect the public option.

And each expressed so much confusion over what health care reform will mean.

These were voters who follow the media, blogs, news shows – they pay attention and they ask questions, good questions, lots of questions. Yet if pressed not a single person in the room could have really stated where the administration or Jan and her congressional colleagues really stand and what they are really proposing. Leslie was wonderful.  She had obviously prepared for this meeting, spent way more than the scheduled time so everyone would have a chance to speak –  and she did her best to provide answers based on the current state of play in congress but it was obvious that even she was finding it hard – the latest text of the bill is immense and nothing is clear.

The official position from Jan’s office seemed to be “Jan is a cosponsor of the single payer” bill – and a few participants seemed happy with that. But then Leslie noted that that won’t pass and that “we don’t have the votes” and the fallback seemed to be … well … nothing.  Jan shares our concerns, Jan is fighting for the best possible, Jan is trying … but there was no firewall against bad legislaton, no here’s what we do next, no coherent message of “here are precisely the conditions that must be met to get Jan’s vote.”

And this to me was the most shining example of how wrong things have gone. The Democrats – whether administration or progressive leadership like Jan – have not delivered a core message, a list of “must have” or an explanation of precisely what must be done. 

And none are responding to what was the most pervasive fear expressed throughout this meeting – the fear that this so-called reform will actually mean that we will be “forced to pass a crappy bill forcing us to pay for crappy insurance that just makes the crappy insurance companies richer.” 

What the Democrats don’t seem to realize is that while democratic voters may not be as momentarily loud and visibly angry as the lobbyist’s astroturf mobs, regular voters, voters  who form the backbone of the party, are angry and scared and confused. For the moment, they are quietspoken and polite and want to believe their reps will do the right thing. They are looking to leaders like Congresswoman Schakowsky to get it right. They know the price for failing on health care will be enormous in their own lives and any politician who thinks excuses and justifications for a bad bill will be enough to counter that cost should take a closer listen to their real constituents.

The anger of the media show town halls will be nothing compared to the anger of these constituents if the public option fails.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com