Campaign: Getting MA-4 Rep. Joe Kennedy on the bill

When Healthcare-NOW and coalition partners launched a campaign last year to get Rep. Joe Kennedy, Massachusetts' 4th district representative, on the Medicare for All Act, many felt that we were wasting our time. Our channels were flooded with emails and tweets that Kennedy would "never sign on" because of the money he receives from the pharmaceutical, insurance, and hospital industries.

The haters were so wrong!


We decided to take up this campaign because Rep. Kennedy was of national importance to the movement. He position on Energy and Commerce, the first committee that H.R. 1384 will have to pass in order to get to the floor for a vote, makes his support essential.

"You'll never get him"



Rep. Kennedy is very well-liked; in 2018, he won both the primary and general races with over 92% of the vote. We knew we'd need to bring together a broad coalition of key players in his district that would help lend some muscle to our ask. In late September 2018, we sent his office an official request (pictured right) to cosponsor the Medicare for All Act cosigned by over 30 unions and community groups active in his district, including Massachusetts Nurses Association, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Massachusetts PNHP, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and SEIU Local 888 and IBEW Local 2222. These partners also took part in a social media day of action targeted both at Kennedy - asking him to sign onto the bill - and also his constituents, urging them to contact his office.

While we were certainly on Kennedy's radar at this point, he still wasn't willing to give us a meeting. That's when we kicked in the grassroots organizing phase!


We started with a one-day door-to-door campaign in Brookline, a neighborhood in the northern part of his district. We cut turf (pictured right) and sent 14 activists out into pairs; a couple hours later, they came back with about 25 commitments to call Kennedy. Not bad, but we thought we could do better.

So we adjusted the tactic and set up a series of crowd canvasses - instead of going door to door, we recruited volunteers to stand outside of supermarkets, inform people about Kennedy's reluctance to sign the bill, and ask them to make a phone call - on the spot - to his office. For two weeks, we spent 2 hours every day at different supermarkets across the district, and it worked. We generated over 300 phone calls to his office during that time! People were surprised to find out he wasn't on the bill and many were happy to make the call.

We combined this with Part 2 of the coalition strategy: increased pressure from unions and community groups. Representatives from these important partners (including one union president) made calls to his office. Our union president reports that Kennedy himself called back 30 minutes later!



5 months into the campaign, we finally sat down with Kennedy. He had concerns about the single payer bill at that time, H.R. 676, which was drafted and lead by former Rep. John Conyers.

Often legislators will list issues with a bill to delay signing. Since he could've had this conversation with us years ago, we were skeptical but listened.

At this time, Rep. Pramila Jayapal was taking over the bill from Rep. Conyers and doing a re-write (H.R. 676 was more of an aspirational bill than a comprehensive, executable law). Kennedy wanted in the new bill for the Hyde amendment to be explicitly excluded, and to retain the VA & Indian Health Service. All of these improvements were included in Jayapal's upcoming Medicare for All bill, H.R. 1384.


Since H.R. 1384 met his standards, we were hopeful that Kennedy would sign on - but we had to be prepared that he'd continue resisting. Winter in Boston is no time to do outdoor canvassing, so we organized cozy indoor phonebanks instead. We got hold of a VAN list (thank you Boston Democratic Socialists of America!) and a relay dialer (thank you National Nurses United!) and set up Tuesday night events.

We planned to call Kennedy's voters and ask them to keep the pressure on. If he signed, we could use the phonebanks to pressure Rep. Richard Neal, another powerful committee chair.

In February 2019, two weeks before H.R. 1384 dropped, and no word from Kennedy, we let him know about the phonebanking, respectfully informing him that the pressure would continue. By this time, he knew we had the capacity to follow through on our commitments to organize.


On February 26th, 2019, one day before the launch of Jayapal's H. R. 1384 - and after years of ducking questions on single payer - Kennedy announces that he will be an **original cosponsor** of the landmark bill:


This win galvanized the many local groups that worked on this campaign, generating enthusiasm for the next important campaign: getting Ways and Means chair Richard Neal on the bill.

This campaign is similar to the one Mass-Care: The Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare ran to get then-Rep. Markey on the bill almost a decade earlier, back in 2009. You can watch that story here and learn more about it in the school.

Leave a Comment