Neither Donald Jessup nor Ali Canada seems to have a great ride for a drive across Oklahoma in sure-to-be scalding July weather.
"Hopefully, we're not using my truck," said Jessup, describing poor gas mileage and a cramped cabin. At 25, he's already been the manager of one successful political campaign, and he's devoted to politics enough to reference details of Clinton-era White House proposals from the early 1990s.
"Mine doesn't have air conditioning," countered Ali Canada, a bright-eyed retiree active in lots of causes and organizations after a more than 30-year career with Ford Motor Company. "Neither does mine," Jessup replied.
The pair has a couple of weeks to figure it out. Both plan to hit the road on July 27 as part of what's being called the Motorcade for Medicaid.
Vehicles decorated with pro-Medicaid messages will make stops at various county fairs, farmers' markets, and Walmart parking lots in an effort organized by the Coalition for Medicaid Expansion, an activist group formed in Tulsa. Stops in Muskogee, as well as a community festival and rodeo in Eufaula, have already been planned.
"We can sit on Facebook all day, we can tweet, we can email each other. But we've got to get inside the communities and start educating the communities, get them to see there's another side to this," said Canada, co-director for the coalition.
Along with vehicles departing from Tulsa, similar caravan efforts elsewhere in the state will encourage Oklahoma to take part in Medicaid expansion.
It may seem like a long shot, given the political aversion in this state (and several others with a Republican majority) to "Obamacare" -- a turn of phrase not likely to be uttered by Jessup or Canada.
"The ones that crafted this (term) 'Obamacare' knew what they was doing," Canada said, noting the unpopularity of the president among many in Oklahoma.
But Canada and other Medicaid expansion advocates know a thing or two about influencing people, as well.
Jessup said the group plans to emphasize information found on healthcare.gov, the official government website that attempts to explain the new health care law in simple terms.
For example, the site touts the new Health Insurance Marketplace set up under the Affordable Care Act, with quick links for individuals and families about how to apply.
Some of the questions highlight perceived benefits of the new healthcare law; a question that site visitors can click on about pre-existing conditions notes -- in big, bold letters -- how "being sick doesn't keep you from getting coverage." Jessup said he'll use that as a selling point to people who wouldn't benefit from Medicaid directly, along with the idea that Medicaid expansion would bring more money to hospitals and thus "decrease hospital costs for everybody."
As far as Medicaid expansion, an estimated 180,000 low-income Oklahomans currently without health insurance would receive coverage, according to widely-published estimates.
"Hopefully, we'll be changing heart and minds," said Ginny Webster, co-director for the coalition and an activist for decades.
The coalition came together last year, she said, with the gathering signatures in support of Medicaid expansion and a rally earlier this year in Oklahoma City attended by about 300 people. The petition included over 5,200 signatures, and the group will be collecting more as part of its motorcade.
"The boots on the ground, the grassroots activists like us, it's our job, I believe, to go out and educate people," said Canada, who also serves as the political action committee chair for the Oklahoma NAACP and is on the executive board for the local Oklahoma chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. He said both groups are part of the coalition.
The approach will be personal for Canada, who described himself as a poor person who worked his way into the middle class.
"I know the plight of poor people," Canada said, denouncing the idea that state leaders are striving to look good in the eyes of tea party political groups when "we've got over 200,000-and-some poor people here, working poor, that need this."
He's savvy and experienced enough to have a plan when broaching the topic with strangers.
"I tell a story of self, myself. As I tell my story, I'm also trying to incorporate your story into my story," Canada said, adding, "if I use the word we, it's more simple."
Jessup said the "biggest challenge" is making people feel comfortable enough to talk about health care, but he said he thinks people are interested in the topic. "Whether people really like or really hate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the vast majority is at least curious about it because a lot of people feel like they're not getting the whole story when it comes to all the aspects and ramifications of it," he said.
Nationwide, of course, lobbying efforts on both sides are taking place as states wrestle with whether to take part in Medicaid expansion. Earlier this month, for example, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity -- funded by the deep pockets of billionaires David Koch and Charles Koch -- announced an effort in Pennsylvania to fund online ads with a "Medicaid is Bad Medicine" tagline.
The group has plenty of Oklahoma members, but hasn't done any similar campaigns in this state, said Webster, who is also the Oklahoma regional organizer for MoveOn.org.
She said she didn't know how many people in Tulsa will sign up to participate in the motorcade, with the Leavitt Partners report delivered to state officials on June 27 occupying much of her focus. The consultant's report recommended using Medicaid funding not to actually expand Medicaid, but instead create a new program that relies more on private insurers. ("The true stakeholders, in this instance the patients for whom the law was written, have once again been lost in the narrative, and the biggest winners of all will be the commercial insurance carriers," Webster said in response to the report.)
Webster spoke optimistically about garnering strong public support for Medicaid expansion, however, as she described a national campaign promoting the Affordable Care Act that has begun to heat up.
"I did just see the other day, for the first time one of their paid commercials on TV. That, coupled with our effort, I think that hopefully by the time the 2014 election rolls around we're going to have public sentiment fully on our side," she said.
Send all comments and feedback regarding City to firstname.lastname@example.org
Share this article: