Guest Blogger

Is Social Media Saving the Public Option?

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 21, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics

Editor's note: Guest blogger Jake Kaskey is a queer activist, organizer, lobbyist, rabble-rouser, and social media enthusiast living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He blogs at and can be found tweeting away @jakekaskey.

Thumbnail image for Jake Kaskey.jpgLast weekend, liberals had little to be excited about.

Secretary Sebelius, Press Secretary Gibbs, and President Obama himself seemed to be walking back from their commitment to passing health care reform that included a public option- what many progressives and liberals, including myself, consider to be the cornerstone of any meaningful reform. What once was a deal-breaker for the President, and a major campaign promise, had become "negotiable," and "only a sliver" of reform.

What happened next was truly remarkable.

Liberals have gotten quite the reputation for rolling over- backing away from confrontation, avoiding major fights for compromise- and giving in on their own priorities. This time, the House Progressive Caucus, led by Rep. Anthony Weiner, has made it absolutely clear to the White House that nearly 100 members of the House will vote against any bill that does not include a robust public option- effectively killing the bill.

Matt Yglesias notes that for this strategy to work it has to be considered a credible threat- and it is. Today the White House began walking back their discussion on dropping the public option, and the debate has really flipped 180- from moving the bill to the right to satisfy the likes of Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe, and instead how progressive the bill must be to pass the House.

So what happened, and why do I believe that social media saved (thus far) the public option? First- Progressives have drawn a line in the sand and are holding together to force the White House (and the Senate) to adhere to their own priorities, for once, if they want to see the bill passed. Progressives in the House are truly the last line of defense for any hopes of a public option.

But what I argue is that the condition and environment which is allowing these progressives to stand together and stay strong in this legislative battle is because of the massive and immediate overnight response throughout the blogosphere and in the new social media.

Twitter blew up with the #hc09, #p2, and #hcr hashtags filtering information on minute-by-minute updates. How can I thank my Congressman for standing strong? How do I know if s/he is committed to the public option? Activists and supporters of reform were able to simply open their twitter client, run a search, and find all the information they needed within minutes.

Bloggers, especially Chris Bowers at OpenLeft, rallied activists and supporters, and served as a clearinghouse for up-to-date information. Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake posted a vote count to whip those members not yet publicly vowing to vote against a watered-down bill.

And, most importantly, social media geeks, bloggers, and activists alike created a platform to fight fire with fire - and support those members taking a principled stand financially. Pharmaceutical companies and anti-reform astroturf organizations have spent millions to uphold the status quo and work against meaningful reform - and it seems overnight the progressive movement all of the sudden woke up and fought back, supporting our allies in the way they need it most.

Almost instantaneously a campaign surfaced on ActBlue where supporters can donate to members of Congress standing up for their principles. As of this writing, over $70,000 has been raised, specifically for members of the House of Representatives who are publicly sticking together to see this bill passed the right way. Nearly every other tweet in progressive-minded twitter hashtags provide the link to the ActBlue campaign - and the progressive grassroots and netroots are engaged in a way they haven't been throuhgout this entire legislative fight.

So would the progressive block be sticking together were it not for this immediate and large-scale response and organizing from the social web? Maybe... and maybe not. But I believe it is this mobilization and engagement that is driving the debate finally - for the first time to the left. And keeping Obama to his promises from the campaign.

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