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Mike Elk

Mike Elk

Posted: September 4, 2009 03:11 AM

I Am a Former Staffer of the President's and I Want Him To Fight Like He Promised Us


I just joined thousands of others, including several hundred former staffers from the campaign, in signing a petition to President Obama, telling him that health care reform without a public option is not "change we can believe in."

As a staffer of the President's working as a community organizer in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, in rural Western Pennsylvania, I fought hard for him during the campaign. I worked 16-17 hours a day with no days off for nearly four months working to get the President elected.

I worked in an overwhelmingly Republican area where there had never previously been a full time organizer. I organized over 250 volunteers into five autonomously run neighborhood teams that conducted aggressive door-to-door and over-the-phone voter contacts every day of the week. These were people who had never been involved in Democratic politics because their area was so overwhelming Republican, but they fought with everything they had because they believed in a President who promised to be a fighter against special interests.

There were people like Shelia Lane, a recently laid off single mother of three, who worked ten hours every day in the most mundane, inglorious of tasks making sure we elected a President who represented people like herself. There was 66-year old Wayne Hanson, an old time community organizer, who was recovering from a heart attack and would stay at the office till three in the morning making sure the plans for our massive Get Out The Vote operations were properly executed.

Their understanding of how important electing Barack Obama was what led people like Harmony Grogan, from Texas, to quit her high high-paying job as an architect and drive all the way to Crawford County, Pennsylvania to volunteer full time, without pay, to work for change.

It was an incredible moment in American history, when people come together for a common purpose. Never in my life have I seen people open up and work towards a common cause as the good folks of Crawford County did. They endured countless hours of volunteering, vandalism of their properties, and in one instance a man with a shotgun threatening them. They lived in an overwhelmingly Republican area, which they had little chance of winning, but they fought hard anyhow because they wanted a President who would be a fighter against the special interests that had dominated.

On election night, the tears didn't stop streaming down my face -- we won 44% of the vote in our county (the most Democrats had in 50 years in that county) and won my home state of Pennsylvania. So many people had given so much and had fought so hard together because they believed in this man's capacity to stand up and fight for them.

I will never forget my experience of those few brief months as long as I live. I'll never forget what I learned: that we could beat any powerful interest in this country if we were just willing to fight hard enough for it.

Speaking at a party for former staffers, a day after he was inaugurated, President Obama called on his staffers to continue the fight they had fought during the campaign. (Watch the clip at around 2:30 -- I've watched it dozens of times and it has never ceased to inspire me!)


He said, "I promise you if everybody in this hall is willing to keep doing what you guys did over the last two years, then I am optimistic about America. I may make some mistakes, but you'll set me right."

Mr. President, we have not forgotten the promise we made that night. We are here to set you right.

There are rumors that you are considering dropping the public option, despite 77% of the American public and the majority of U.S. Senators supporting it. Sir, there is no way we can have real health care reform without a public option. Any real change requires the inclusion of a strong public option to promote competition, bring down costs and serve the people.

If a vigorous public option is not included, it would be a major victory for the health insurance industry.

As Marshall Ganz and Peter Dreier, two of the leading visionaries of Obama's community organizing strategy pointed out in an op-ed this past weekend:

If the unholy alliance of insurance industry muscle, conservative Democrats' obfuscation and right-wing mob tactics is able to defeat Obama's health-care proposal, it will write the conservative playbook for blocking other key components of the president's agenda -- including action on climate change, immigration reform and updates to the nation's labor laws.


Mr. President, we are here to say that there is only one force in this country more powerful than the insurance industry and its corporate allies - us!

During the campaign, we defeated two of the strongest political machines ever assembled in the primary and the general election. We can beat these guys too.

We are ready to fight, sir. You are the most inspirational leader of our generation, sir, and we will follow to hell and back in this fight.

Therefore, I am asking my fellow campaign staffers, team leaders, and volunteers to sign this pledge promising to fight for the public option and urging President Obama to fight for it. Also, feel free to email me (at mikeelk@boldprogressives.org) if you are a former staffer and interested in ways you can help organize other staffers to help set the President right, as we promised him we would.

We are the most powerful grassroots army ever assembled in American history, and we want you to fight for a public option. We promise to fight with you every step of the way, just as we did during the campaign.

Mr. President, We are fired up and ready to go!

Are you ready to lead?

Join me in signing the petition to the president here.

Follow Mike Elk on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MikeElk