An Unlikely Activist

Something is up when someone like me—who never followed politics—finds herself crying at the energy behind health care policy. In fact, I skipped a gorgeous afternoon to be home for the 2:30 pm Organizing for America (OFA) event– with President Obama himself.

My nine-year old even accepts that I’m not joining the relatives on the afternoon outing to Mt. Greylock when his dad explains that I’ll be on a call with the President.

“You’re calling the President!” he says, misunderstanding that nature of a National tele-call.  “Tell him… tell him…”

His voice trails off as he blushes at the thought of the President talking to his mother, but then he forges on, saying: ” Tell him that I want health care for everybody.”

For over a year now, my boys have watched their mother-turned (arm-chair) activist as she blogs and posts about political issues.  When the visiting relatives ask if I want to join them in the kitchen for ice cream, my fourteen-year old explains, “Mom’s working on health care.”

“Are you in danger of loosing yours?” they ask.

“No,” he explains, “She wants everyone else to have it.”

When then send him to check on me one last time before they leave, he returns with an amused tone of respect.  “My mom can’t come; she’s emailing the President with a question for the call.”

Apparently no one hears this reply, but I do and it warms my heart and my fingers.

My question for the President’s presentation is: With your visionary leadership, how can you ignite and unify more Americans around the human rights issue of health care for all?

Hundreds of thousands of people from around the country are watching the OFA event this afternoon (on the internet) and another ten-thousand are listening in like me on the phone.  We’re patched into the call a half-hour before it begins.

The Directors of Organizing for America tell us that our actions have been impressive and unprecedented: 1.5 million people have taken action since June on behalf of health care reform. Over 12,000 organizing events have occurred in every congressional district in all 50 states—171 events a day from Alaska to the tip of Maine—and 64,000 people have stopped by to thank their Congressional Representatives and encourage them to support health care reform.

(There are 19 days before the legislature reconvenes and in that time more organizing events are slated to take place all over the county.  All you have to do is go to :<> and enter your zip code to find (or offer to host) an event near you.)

“This is our moment.  This is why we worked so hard to elect this President,” Representative from Florida says.  “Some say that this is the wrong time to enact such widespread change, but this is precisely the right time!”

It’s this sense of timing that fuels me on.  It’s echoed by a Change for America volunteer who introduces the President by saying that he restored her hope in this Nation because he was the first public leader in her lifetime that demonstrated vision, ideas, passion and commitment–which in turn motivated her (and so many of us) to get involved.

I remember my Aunt saying the same kind of thing: “I haven’t been this fired up for a Presidential candidate since your mother and I went door to door for Kennedy.”

“I know we can do this,” says the Governor of Virginia, “Because we’re in it for the right reasons.”

It’s this “rightness” that inspires me and many others, I suspect; a rightness is echoed in my own children’s voices.

By the time President Obama arrives on the call, my inspirational tank is full. “It’s not the unemployed that will be helped by this reform,” he explains, “They already have Medicaid. It’s working America: the small business owners and the self-employed and those who can’t afford health care.  These are the Americans who will benefit most.”

“Even the deficit hawks should be behind this,” he continues, “Because with the disproportionately rising costs of health care, Medicare will be operating in the red in 8 years.”

This reminds me of something I read at my doctor’s office yesterday:  “Starbucks has to pay more to insure its employees than it does for coffee beans.”

“I don’t know if reform can pass,” my doctor says; but I tell her that if we can elect a black president, anything is possible.

My mind flashes back to last summer in New Hampshire where my family was canvassing for Obama.  A gun-totting home owner met us on the driveway of his property with a hunting dog in hand.

“I’m a lifetime Republican,” he said, “but not anymore.”

He asked if we thought Obama had a chance.

“Call your old friends from the city,” we told him, “talk to them.”

“They don’t get it,” he said, “They’re living the life I used to live.  It’s all about the money.”

But enough people did “get it” and President Obama WAS elected, and now this opportunity stands before us, an opportunity to create a fairer, more just America—and I’m all for it—and I think that most of this country is too.

“The facts are beyond poles and pundits and cable chatter,” the President tells us. “Most who oppose health care reform are just afraid of what the change might mean.  Right now, the system works better for the insurance companies than it does for the people. Our plan is to decrease costs and increase quality– and within that process, there are important conversations to be had–but not with the defenders of the status quo.”

“Help people see past the distortions and the scare tactics,” he encourages us,  “Because all though time, important change has been met with resistance.”

–and overwhelmed by the tide of  “unlikely” activists like me, I think.

Just I get online to blog this piece, my family arrives home, and my nine-year old calls out:

“How was your call with Obama?  Did you tell him what I said?”

Kelly Salasin, 2009
Note:  Although I didn’t begin to participate politically until my late thirties, I’m delighted to say that my boys have been at it all along.  They were the ones whose enthusiasm drove us to Unity, New Hampshire last summer to see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama together.  And they accompanied me when we went door to door for Obama as President last fall.

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