Is Racine Ground Zero for Obama's health plan?
Maybe that's over-stating things a bit -- but at the same time, one of the President's top organizers was here last week to meet with ten local volunteers at the Cup of Hope coffee shop on Sixth Street. He left them pumped up and optimistic, just in time for this week's "listening sessions" with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, one of the Obama proposal's chief opponents in the House.
The man who was here last week was Jeremy Bird, deputy director of Organizing for America, a national network of Obama supporters. The local volunteers he met with are members of Community for Change, the volunteers here who worked hardest for Obama's election last fall.
Accompanying Bird was a reporter from the Washington Post, Eli Saslow, who wrote about the Racine visit in Sunday's newspaper.
Kelly Gallaher of Community for Change tells us how last week's meeting took place:
"In early August, I received an invitation to meet with Jeremy Bird... Jeremy wanted to sit down with us and talk about what we had been doing since the November elections, gather our thoughts and ideas about the future.
"Community for Change is one of hundreds of Obama Presidential Campaign organizations across the country that formed their own groups outside of traditional partisan or political organizations. After the inauguration, Organizing for America (OFA) began to take shape in Washington and worked to keep the connection between individual groups through an OFA website and eventually hiring a state director in Wisconsin. At the national level, OFA is a special project of the Democratic National Committee and OFA accepts no PAC or lobbyist money."
Gallaher says Obama is the first president who has attempted to adapt their campaign operation into an ongoing organization after the election. "I believe Barack Obama’s experience as a community organizer has highly influenced his choice to do so. It is also important to note that these groups all over the country direct their ideas and thoughts up the food chain rather than from the top down," she said.
At the same time, she says Community for Change "remains its own organization with events and agenda determined and funded by local organizers. Though largely comprised of a progressive membership we aim to be post-partisan and C4C will not endorse candidates for office. We feel our work is to translate national issues into a local conversation and our efforts are best used to bring people into that process."
Still, their work is cut out for them in the health care debate. Two weeks ago we had a story here about threats made against congressional listening sessions like the 17 Rep. Ryan has scheduled in the district, including three in the county this Thursday. Racine's is at 1:30 p.m. in the Great Lakes Room at Gateway Technical College (Complete district schedule here.) We took some heat for the story -- its main source at the time was the Huffington Post -- but it proved accurate regarding angry listening sessions all across the country.
As Sunday's Washington Post story points out, "OFA has responded by asking its volunteers to visit congressional offices and flood town hall meetings in a massive show of support." As Bird told Ryan Gleason of C4C at the Cup of Hope meeting, according to Saslow, "If you stick with this, I'll promise you: We will get health care passed this year."