Anatomy of an Organizing Victory, with National Nurses United

Today we’re celebrating a win! We’re talking to organizers and leaders at National Nurses United (NNU),who recently ran a very impactful campaign to get Representative John Garamendi from California to commit to being a co-sponsor for the Medicare for All bill in Congress. Representative Garamendi supported previous versions of Medicare for All legislation, but had not signed on since Representative Pramila Jayapal became the lead sponsor and rewrote the bill in 2019. After a long campaign using multiple tactics, NNU and local organizers were able to bring him back into the fold and he has committed to co-sponsoring the bill.


Show Notes

Our guests are: Deborah Burger, RN, Co-President of National Nurses United, the country’s largest union of bedside nurses; Jasmine Ruddy, Medicare for All Team Lead, National Nurses United; and Max Cotterill, Community Organizer, National Nurses United (and our MFA national team lead for this campaign).

Deborah first tells us how the pandemic has affected nurses and patient care, and how a Medicare for All system would have made for a far better pandemic response for patients and healthcare workers.

Profit-driven hospitals have focused on the bottom line and as a result, haven’t had the supplies, resources or staff to adequately respond to a public health crisis. Nurses are experiencing moral suffering as a result of being forced to work in unsafe environments where they can’t provide the care that they’ve been trained to give. On top of that, hundreds of RNs are among the thousands of healthcare workers who have died of COVID. Many of those deaths can be connected back to inadequate protection and infection control in the workplace.

Finally, a Medicare for all system would include a robust public health system, responsible for reliable, science-based information and national coordination of supplies and resources from Day 1. Instead the market-based system of hospitals and health insurance have put up barriers to care, hurt patients and healthcare workers, and exacerbated the crisis of the pandemic.

While it’s clear to many of us that the pandemic made it obvious why we need a Medicare for All system, that revelation unfortunately did not sweep through Congress. Jasmine tells us about NNU’s broader strategy this past year, and why securing Representative Garamendi’s co-sponsorship was a priority.

When the Medicare for All bill was reintroduced in the House this spring, it was more urgent than ever to build momentum for this legislation. In the weeks leading up to the reintroduction, partner organizations and volunteers organized to get 112 original co-sponsors on the bill. In the weeks that followed, that list went up to 118, more than half of the Democrats in the House. But that would still not be enough, so NNU focused on organizing in districts of Democrats who weren’t yet co-sponsors.

In the fall, volunteer-led district level campaigns focused on four members of congress: Representative Albio Sires (NJ-8), Representative Joyce Beatty (OH-3), Representative Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15) and Representative John Garamendi (CA-3).

Max tells us about the creative, COVID-safe tactics they used to help move elected officials. The campaign first textbanked voters to identify supporters, then organized volunteers around the country to send handwritten postcards to Medicare for All supporters in the district asking them to call their Representative, and finally held a day of action featuring a car caravan in the biggest city in the district. The car caravan was planned around the local farmers’ market, a big community event, ensuring lots of visibility. It also garnered earned media, increasing the scope of the action.

Deborah discusses why NNU is doing community organizing with the public, which isn’t something many unions do. As patient advocates, NNU nurses organize for Medicare for All because the current broken system directly impacts how they deliver care.

Nurses are uniquely skilled at organizing because they are accustomed to listening to people, meeting them where they are, and finding out what will move them. One on one conversations have to happen to convey hope and move people to action. Nurses do this every day at work and the skills translate well to organizing.

For activists who want to replicate this campaign in their own districtand get their Representative to a Yes, Jasmine recommends having a clear strategy that escalates over time. And when a tactic is working, keep it up. Be persistent and involve other local groups who have credibility with the Representative.

CALL TO ACTION: If you live in Rep. Garamendi’s district (Davis, Fairfield, Woodland, Yuba City, CA), thank him for becoming a co-sponsor of Medicare for All!

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