Thursday, November 12, 2009

From Celebration to Mobilization
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
November 8-15, 2009

One year ago, the Americans joined the world community in celebrating the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. After years of preference to the greedy over policies for the needy we all embraced a new Administration, committed to pitching a wider tent under which all Americans could fit.

The highest policy priority of President Obama’s Administration has been health care reform. Throughout the summer of 2008 Congressional Committees in the United States Senate and House of Representatives worked on crafting legislative bills that could be enacted into law. As legislators worked, so did the leaders of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

This week, the United States House of Representatives voted to pass a health care reform bill, notwithstanding an amendment to restrict the provision of abortions in health policies.

Prior to the vote, the 51 Member Organizations of the Black Leadership Forum moved from celebration to mobilization.

Led by the National Urban League, National NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus, National Conference of Black Mayors, National Council of Negro Women, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, National Action Network, and the National Dental Association, the Black Leadership Forum moved from reactive to proactive.

A “civil rights war room” was established in Washington, DC to mobilize chapters and affiliates of the Black Leadership Forum to contact their Congressional members and demand progressive health care reform. One key element needed in the final legislation is an option to private health care providers—a government-run public option.

A strong public option is critical in countervailing the negative impact of private health insurers’ ability to make health care un-accessible and un-affordable. Currently, the health care industry is exempt from anti-trust laws. In other words, health providers can set fees “willy-nilly”, without violating laws. In many states, there are one or two health providers from which the public can choose. Such is not a choice at all. I submit that health care bullies violate moral laws by profiting on the backs of working people.

Health care in the United States of America should be a right and not a privilege. Congressman John Lewis, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives said it best: “We have a mission, a mandate, and a moral obligation to lead this nation into a new era, where health care is a right and not a privilege.”
Accordingly, the war room provided talking points and a toll-free telephone number connecting callers to their respective members of Congress. Member Organizations designated people to staff the war room for 10 critical days prior to the vote in the House of Representatives. In the best tradition of unity, Member Organizations left their individual “logos at the door” and worked in tandem to push for a strong public option in the legislation.

In the end, we proved that, contrary to naysayers; national Black organizations can (and do) work together to produce policies for the public good. Moreover, the Black Leadership Forum sent a message to our adversaries that we are proactive as leaders on legislation for the people.

In the words of the music-recording artist known as the O’Jays: “…got to give the people, give the people what they want.” The American people (over 65% according to CNN) want and need health care reform. In particular, the nation needs healthcare that is accessible and affordable. Now!

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