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Health Reformers Gather For "Virtual March" on DC

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, February 23 2010

It's been quite a 2010, hasn't it? From the Scott Brown upset in Massachusetts, setting Republican hearts aflutter everywhere; to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, upsetting small-d democrats and setting off calls for Constitutional amendments among liberals; to an anti-tax zealot dive-bombing his plane into an IRS building; war bulletins from Afghanistan and terrorists in federal court and anti-government Tea Party activists cropping up all over, one wonders if we aren't heading into our generation's version of 1968. Or perhaps I'm taking things a bit too seriously.

Perhaps not. With the health care "summit" coming up this Thursday for a live, semi-unscripted(?), televised, webcast half-day encounter between President Obama and the congressional leadership from both parties, for us politics junkies it does feel as if the country is going through a tectonic shift, a grinding of political plates against each other. With the debate on the bill coming to a head, grass roots activists on both sides are also in motion. The collision, and who ends up on top, is likely to frame the politics of the next year, if not the next decade.

In that context, it's worth noting that while much of the news media has been focused on the rapid rise of the grassroots Tea Party movement and the concurrent uptick in Republican spirits, there seems to be a revival of vim and vigor on the grassroots left as well, led by the netroots. Nancy has already reported on how netroots groups have managed to apply CPR to the dying "public option" proposal (it's still unlikely it will recover), but tomorrow's "Virtual March for Real Health Care Reform" is the big event.

A coalition of Democratic activist groups including MoveOn, the SEIU, the Health Care Action Network (HCAN), Progressive Congress, and Democracy for America are mobilizing their supporters to bombard Congress with a hoped-for million messages--calls, faxes, tweets, emails, you name it--all in one day and all in support of passing a reform bill--any reform bill, it appears. The whole effort germinated just two weeks ago, according to one of the March's organizers, Eve Gittelson of New York. She writes on DailyKos:

A senior Congressional legislative aide called me this morning on background as follows.

We must begin to organize a massive and unprecedented telephone call in campaign for passage of healthcare reform, to begin at 9AM EST on February 24th and extend through the entire day of the presidential healthcare meeting on February 25th.

This senior Congressional aide (who asked at this time to remain anonymous), advised that nothing less than a citizen outpouring the likes of which members of Congress have never seen, will be sufficient to get healthcare legislation passed.

Gittelson, along with another Kossack named Noelle (who blogs as slinkerwink), worked their networks:

First Charles Chamberlain at Democracy for America and Darcy Burner at Progressive Congress took a leap of faith and said yes, when I asked them to use their powerful organizations to make the 1,000,000 voices campaign a success. These two great Americans gave the idea a heartbeat. And this historic event was born.

Then I got on my knees and I started pleading. Actually I didn't need to do any begging--things fell into place--just like a miracle, a true miracle. I made a great new friend, Kathleen (Kat) Barr at MoveOn, who responded to my emails and then my calls, as if I was her long lost sister. Kat, God bless her, has been working around the clock to make this a phenomenal success, she and MoveOn are continuing to bring in more organizations.

slinkerwink has been as busy as any human being I've ever known, preparing things behind the scenes. Nobody knows how to create documents and perform esoteric computer marvels like beautiful slinkerwink (Noelle).

And dear Jason Rosenbaum at HCAN, who never stopped being his sweet self, even as I placed my tenth call of the day to demand an answer about when HCAN would be officially on board. He kept me calm, talked me down, and told me not to worry as my calls became increasingly frantic. But hell, I've always said for healthcare, I'll take a bullet or do unnatural things. So America thanks you too, Jason, Levana, Richard, and HCAN.

One indication of how the tide is swelling. On Sunday morning, I took a look at the running state-by-state tally on MoveOn's "Virtual March" site, where people are pledging to make calls to their Congress-members. A sampling of the totals by state:

CA 18559
NY 7337
WA 4937
IL 4081
TX 3636
FL 3918
CO 2663
ME 902

As of 4pm this afternoon:

CA 22721
NY 12138
WA 6112
IL 5481
TX 4777
FL 5630
CO 3350
ME 1381

It's not quite 1 million pledges, but these numbers suggest that MoveOn members alone are likely to generate between 100,000-300,000 calls (higher if each member calls all three of their representatives in Congress).

Something tells me that the mass participation politics that crested in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama, when the Illinois Senator rode one big voter wave into the White House, are going to get even more intense and turn into mass collision politics in 2010, where battling waves from right, left and the angry middle all smash into each other.