Stage #1: Build an Initial Core of Activists

Stage #1: Build an Initial Core of Activists

At the very beginning, you want to build a single-payer campaign as opposed to building an organization right away. Think carefully about the communities you want the campaign to represent and take leadership from, then research whether there are existing organizations working in these communities that could serve as a home for your campaign. Your initial focus will be on building a small core of supporters, training a couple of leaders, and organizing one action or event.

Jump to any of the five goals of Stage #1 for more details and resources:

Email us at Healthcare-NOW if you are starting out at Stage #1 so we can provide you with help and support – particularly with training your leaders. If you have just finished Stage #1, email us so we can brag about your accomplishment to the rest of the country!!

Goal: Map the Affected Communities You Want to Organize

Healthcare is a bridging issue, since it adversely affects so many disparate communities – from people with disabilities and communities of color, to more privileged groups such as providers and business-people. This provides an almost unlimited potential base for a grassroots organization, but these diverse communities can approach the issue with very different values and politics. It’s extremely important to be intentional about the communities you choose to organize at the outset, and that your leadership has an organic connection to those communities. Many new groups bring in whoever they can reach at the outset, unintentionally developing an internal culture, shared values, and shared priorities that will effectively exclude a whole range of communities from later participation. It can be extremely difficult to change that internal culture and makeup further down the road, so it’s important to be intentional at the outset and take as long as necessary to identify an initial group of members and leaders who are rooted in the communities and share the values you want your organization to embody.

There is no “correct” map – a group of business people for single-payer is no more or less valuable than a group that focuses on bringing together providers with patients from marginalized communities. However, be careful to avoid “savior activism” (relatively privileged activists who want to organize poor and less-privileged communities). Building multi-racial, cross-class organizations can be extremely powerful, but communities you wish to organize must have leadership from the very beginning and give direction to the organization.

Goal: Identify a home for your single payer campaign

Most state and local single-payer campaigns are run out of single-issue organizations, which work exclusively on advancing single-payer. However, single-issue organizations have some limitations: in particular, they are rarely able to build bases as large as multi-issue organizations, which advocate for many issues faced by the communities they work with. Single-issue organizations also tend to rise and fall much more dramatically – in membership and activist enthusiasm – as their issue moves into and out of the political spotlight.

If there’s a multi-issue organization in your area that might be interested in acting as home-base for an autonomous, volunteer-driven single-payer campaign, it’s worth trying to build a close relationship with such an organization at the outset. This will relieve you of some of the burdens of starting from scratch, and stabilize the campaign over the long-term.

A word of caution: make sure you don’t get involved with an organization that will have significant political constraints due to their funding sources or relationships, or that could ever try to rein in your messaging or political activity. If you find a good match, make sure that the campaign’s autonomy has been explicitly agreed upon. Having autonomy may also require that you agree not to do your work under the larger organization’s name, but rather under the name of the single-payer campaign itself.

If no such organization exists or is interested in collaborating with you, then home base will likely be a public library or your living room for a while!

Once you have established a home for your group, you will want to begin to build your initial core of activists. Your early work will all focus on base-building, and at the start you’ll be interested primarily in identifying a core of activists – people who not only support single-payer reform, but want to help make it happen.

Goal: Identify and Train Two Point People from Affected Communities

Point people are leaders in your organization, who will take on key responsibilities such as onboarding new members via one-on-one meetings, helping to coordinate members’ participation in organizing, and potentially act as spokespeople for the organization in the public. .

To train your spokespeople, contact Healthcare-NOW for training information. Your spokespeople should be able to:

  1. Effectively tell their personal story of why they are called to fight for single-payer healthcare;
  2. Understand and be comfortable speaking about the policies and benefits of a single payer health care system.

In the future, all these trainings will be offered through the Single Payer School. For now, contact Healthcare-NOW to organize a personalized training for your point people.

Goal: Recruit 10 People From Affected Communities, Have One-on-One Onboarding Meetings

An activist pledge is a petition you ask people to sign that not only indicates their support for the cause, but involves making a commitment to help build the movement for single-payer. A basic tenet of organizing is that you want to recruit people to actions instead of recruiting them to meetings: this has the side-effect of attracting individuals who want to do work and organize, as opposed to people who mostly want to discuss the issue at meetings.

Healthcare-NOW has a basic “Pledge to Fight for Single-Payer Healthcare” form on our website that you are welcome to download and print, or you can create your own version. Our version asks activists to pledge to recruit 20 additional people to “take the pledge” and to respond to calls to action that we send out. Just make sure that:

  1. You collect the essential contact information from everyone who takes the pledge: cell phone, email, and mailing address;
  2. You give signers everything they’ll need to follow through on their pledge: if they pledge to get 20 additional signers, make sure you have pledge forms printed out that you hand to them in person, along with instructions on who they should hand their forms in to. Make sure they feel comfortable talking about single-payer – if not, they may need some basic literature, or to go through a “single payer 101” training; and
  3. You have organized a follow-up schedule for any concrete pledge commitments: for example, if they agree to identify 20 single-payer supporters in the next month, send a reminder after the first week, then check in after two weeks to see if they’ve made any progress or if they need help, etc.

Goal: Hold an event to build up interest or organize an action

Holding events is another great way to advertise your organization and educate people about single payer reform, while attracting new activists. Potential event ideas include:

  1. Host a speaker
  2. Have a film showing
  3. Table at a local farmer’s market or other local event
  4. Develop a petition
  5. Hold a House Party for Single Payer Health Reform

To get started, try joining with another group at an event they are holding. This is a good way to start and target an already existing audience.

Be sure to have copies of the Activist Pledge available at these events, or be prepared to take contact information from attendees to attract more activists to your group.

Resources for holding an event: