I wanted to tell folks a bit more about the project I’m working on for the New Organizing Institute (NOI).
The New Organizing Institute, beyond being a resource for organizers and a famous training institute, also exists to learn from past campaigns. In the past, a lot of that learning has been looking at how electoral campaigns are run. Now, NOI is moving into learning from issue advocacy with a health care debrief project I’ve been hired to work on along with Marci Harris, now a fellow at NOI and a former health legislative staffer on Capitol Hill.
Passing health reform was a monumental legislative task. It took years of preparation and dedicated work and it involved millions of people, from Members of Congress to grassroots supporters out in the states. Throughout the process – which can be thought of to encompass the entire 2008 Presidential campaign all the way through March 30th, 2010 when the President signed the final health care reconciliation bill – many groups of people, whether official or ad-hoc, helped shape the bill and move it towards passage. These groups include "inside" groups like elected and governmental officials like Members of Congress, Congressional Caucuses, Congressional staff, the President and White House staff and various departmental leaders and staff. The groups also include "outside" groups like unions, businesses, community groups, coalitions, membership organizations and the like.
The goal of NOI’s health care debrief project is to examine and learn from the relationship between these inside and outside groups. We aim to demystify as much as possible the legislative process to allow others to learn and foster further civic engagement. How did elected officials and governmental staff work with health care advocates to both shape policy and pass the health care bill? How did opponents of health reform both inside and outside work to weaken and attempt to defeat reform? How did business shape policy? How did pro-reform progressive groups?
To compile the final debrief report, Marci and I are doing a couple things. First, we’re interviewing outside groups to find out what they did for or against health reform or various parts of reform that they thought had an impact and compiling a comprehensive timeline of the health reform fight. The timeline includes sections for the legislative process, the media narrative and public opinion polling as well as actions by outside groups (petitions, letters, lobby days, rallies and the like) and paid advertising online, on television, and in print.
The timeline itself is an interesting debriefing tool. As I’ve been putting it together, patterns and cause and effect become more clear. You can see, for example, how Senator Baucus was able to gain so much control over the early part of the process or how outside advocates responded to legislative events in near-real time.
We are also interviewing staff who work for Members of Congress to get their input. We’re asking them what they were working on at various steps in the process, what actions from outside groups they found most helpful or unhelpful, what they wished there had been more of or less of, and what they felt was effective and what wasn’t. Already during the course of these interviews patterns are emerging.
These interviews, done anonymously, will be compiled together with the timeline and remarks from outside groups into a final report that will stand both as an archive of the work done on health reform by millions of people and as an educational tool for future legislative campaigns.
As a personal project, as someone who spent two years in the trenches working for Health Care for America Now, the debrief has been enlightening and fulfilling, allowing me to make some sense of all the thousands of things that happened and come away with some lessons learned. As a movement project, a chronicle of the actions inside and outside groups took during the health care fight and interviews that get at their effects will be invaluable for the future to learn from past mistakes.
When the report is done and public, I’ll be sure to share the results with you.