When Wendy came into our Northeast Ohio office, she would stay on her feet. Pacing back and forth with a phone in one hand, she'd call undecided voters, urging them to support Barack Obama. If we offered her a chair, she wouldn't take it. If we told her she could take a break, she would turn us down. Later, I learned why she made phone calls with such passion, and why she made them standing up.
"I have to," she said. "I have two herniated disks in my back, and sitting down is too painful. And if I don't make these calls, I won't get the healthcare I need."
Wendy fought through the pain; she made 72 calls her first afternoon. The next week, she came back to knock on doors. In the final weeks of that campaign, whenever I felt too exhausted to keep going, I thought about Wendy, limping from neighbor to neighbor, fighting for the healthcare she needed.
On election night, when Barack Obama won the White House and John Boccieri became the first Democrat to represent our Congressional district in 44 years, I thought of her again. To me, she personified the faith that drove millions of Obama volunteers to sacrifice their time and money, to do everything they could to help the cause. Barack Obama himself put it best: "People who love this country can change it."
But I also thought about Wendy in the months following the election, as my elation soured. I thought about her when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat, knocking healthcare reform off the tracks. I thought about her in February, when Sarah Palin went to the National Tea Party Convention and mocked Obama supporters. "How's that hopey changey thing workin' out for ya?" she asked.
At the time, we all knew the answer, even if we didn't want to admit it. Things weren't going well. Healthcare reform was on its deathbed; Wendy was not going to get better. When Democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, as they seemed sure to do, they would not just be killing healthcare. Spineless Congressmen and self-serving Senators would be breaking the faith with all of us who gave up our lives for months, or even years, because we thought change was possible. They would be proving true something I had heard time after time. "If there's one thing Democrats know, it's how to screw things up."
Only this time, that's not what happened. President Obama stuck to his principles. Nancy Pelosi found the votes. (She was aided by John Boccieri, who cast a courageous "Yes.") Harry Reid held together his cantankerous caucus. Congress found its spine. The bill passed.
That hopey changey thing? I think even Sarah Palin would have to admit it worked.
As I watched President Obama at the signing ceremony today, I thought about Wendy again. The healthcare reform bill is long. It is complicated. It is full of fees and cost controls and pilot programs and I don't really know how they will work. But I do know that Wendy's sacrifices were not in vain. She will finally be able to get the healthcare she needs.
Because we love our country, and we changed it.