Click here to join the conversation at a special briefing featuring Health Care for America Now.

Health Care for America Now march

It’s taken 94 years and many failed attempts for the United States to join the rest of the world’s industrial democracies in making health care a right for all its residents.  And while the process was ugly (that old adage about not watching sausage being made, especially if you want to enjoy a pepperoni pizza, comes to mind here) and the final product not everything  we wanted, I am ultimately joyful and relieved that the Administration and the Congress could deliver on this dream too long deferred.

As one astute political observer noted, the upshot of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is that the health insurance will be regulated like a public utility and that possibilities for holding the system accountable to individual human beings now exist.  The task before us now is making sure the law is implemented and enforced so that all Americans have adequate health care; preventing states from gutting the law; and pushing to make this law better—expanding its reach and improving coverage.  For the policy wonks and movement builders among us, the other big task is learning from the successes and failures of the multiyear push that culminated when President Obama signed the bill into law on March 23.

How did we do it? Hundreds of progressive organizations from big national groups to small local ones created a shared set of priorities and a ten point plan.  It did not include single payer and it did not give everyone what they wanted, but the final package represented a powerful set of progressive reforms.  Then those same groups created a massive coalition, Health Care for America Now, and developed a shared strategy for moving the plan keeping health care a central issue in the 2008 elections and pushing on allies and foes alike to make health care the first order of business for the new Congress and Administration.

HCAN coordinated thousands of actions, large and small, and knit together one of the most sophisticated campaigns progressives have ever undertaken: savvy inside the Beltway tactics bolstered by a powerful grassroots presence in 46 states.  HCAN created c3 and c4 arms  and took full advantage of both to hold law makers accountable to their constituents and make health care reform a progressive litmus test.  When the Tea Party emerged last August, and almost sank reform efforts, HCAN and its members regrouped, reassessed and then kicked into even higher gear, seizing the high ground and simply refusing to let reform die.

What made HCAN so effective?  The scale of its efforts and the depth of the commitment of its partners.  Funders, individual and foundation alike, stepped up as they never have before, and, just as important, so did grassroots groups and individual Americans who kept writing letters, making calls, participating in events and demonstrations across the country and in Washington.  They simply refused to take no for answer.  And that’s a lesson for all of us.

Apr 15, 12:30-2 PDT / 3:30-5pm EDT Join Jeff Blum, Richard Kirsch, and Anthony Wright, respectively co-chair, executive director, and California director of HCAN for a briefing that will be both celebration and learning opportunity.   Come to either Thoreau Center for Sustainability: join us in person in our San Francisco office or watch with Tides staff via video conference in our New York office.

Click here to watch the Momentum 2009 Healthcare Briefing.