My latest adventure in temporary political outreach has ended.
I am no longer employed as a Certified Educator for Covered California.
The operative word is “employed.” Once an educator, always an educator: within the past 48 hours I have had two different conversations about the Affordable Care Act and some of its provisions. One was with an interviewer from a temporary agency, who expressed an interest in passing along info to her friends, and the other was with a good friend and concentrated on Medi-cal expansion. I have a suspicion that I will have more of these conversations, at least for the next few weeks. I plan to keep abreast of developments so I can be as accurate as possible.
My job wasn’t really political, either, at least not in the partisan sense. We were not asking people to like the Affordable Care Act (although if we changed a few hearts and minds along the way that was great), simply to know that they had to buy insurance, and what their options were if they didn’t already have it. It was surprising to me how many people were ignorant about the new law. It’s a little appalling the number of people who don’t follow the news. There was also a lot of misinformation out there: whether the ACA actually applied to certain classes of individuals, what the IRS could do to you if you chose to take the penalty (the people who thought the IRS could take their houses or wages I lay at the feet of Tea Partiers), and about the expansion of Medi-Cal.
As far as I am concerned, the most important work we did was not strictly about Covered California but about Medi-Cal: we were helping the most vulnerable people, often people who were dealing with the fallout from the economic crash. We helped people who had been just been laid off — and people who had been looking for full time employment for years. The stories I heard were heartbreaking: there are far too many diabetics and people with high blood pressure who have been skipping their meds for months or years because of lack of health care. In some cases it was a choice between health insurance and rent or food; in some cases, especially with people with pre-existing conditions, insurance rates were astronomical, if insurance was available at all. There was the parent who had to make the choice between their blood pressure meds and their child’s psychiatric medications. There was the woman who bought her husband’s medications on the black market, from a man who illegally imported them from Mexico.
In some ways it seems like I did this forever, in another that it just started. In fact, it was five months, ending at the end of January.
It was a good job: I liked the hours (I am not a morning person, in much the same way (to quote Neil Gaiman) that “the moon is not a fruit bat”), I liked my supervisors, and I liked my coworkers. I had worked with many of them before, on either 2012 campaigns or the Chavez campaign of the spring and summer last year. It was different from political campaign work: campaign work is sales, this was customer service. The most important attribute in the former is confidence, which I often lack; the most important attribute in the latter is empathy, which is one of my strong suits. I am good at helping people.
It was hard at times: I have written before of some of the tolls the job took on me. But it was also rewarding.
My last day, one of my last calls was to a woman in Southern California. SoCal calls were a crapshoot — Orange and Riverside counties have a lot of angry Tea Partiers, San Diego less so. (The Central Valley was better than the OC — conservatives there were polite before they hung up. They seemed to recognize that I was working; people in OC seemed to think that I was a personal representative of the administration. More than one person instructed me to tell the President how awful he was. (I am not joking about this.) I wanted to say “If I had a direct line to the White House, I wouldn’t be talking about you.) This woman lived in San Diego. When I told what I was calling about, she said flatly, “I have insurance.” This was usually a prelude to a rant about Obamacare, so I thanked her for her time and was about to hang up when she said, “I think what you are doing is very important. Thank you for all your hard work.” I told her that she was one of the last calls I was going to make, and thanked her for her kind words. “It’s nice to be able to go out on a good note,” I said. I was almost in tears.
I often wished I could change the world. I am changing the world, at least for the people I helped. And all the people that spread information to their friends. Quiet revolution one person at a time.
If there is one kid who lives to adulthood because his cancer was diagnosed early, thanks to his parent’s insurance plan, if there is one grandfather who is able to see his grandchildren graduate from college because of his Medi-Cal coverage, if there is one child who spends the first months of life at home rather than in a neonatal ICU because her mother had prenatal and maternal services, if there is one mentally ill person who is able to be a contributing member of society because they can get the medications which allow them to control their symptoms, then all of the work I and my coworkers did, and all the crap we had to put up with, will have been worth it.
We did good.