Hoping to further drive the grassroots activism that has galvanized progressives in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election, members of the DePaul Democrats are lending their voices to the cause, one phone call at a time.
The partnering with Illinois progressive group Citizen Action, Dems president Jack McNeil and executive board member Ellie Thorson have helped lead a three-nights- a-week phone bank effort to help save the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s funneling the energy and the anger that a lot of people feel in their districts and funneling into something that would be useful like going to a town hall, calling your congressman, putting direct pressure on them,” McNeil said.
The group, made up of volunteers from DePaul and within the community, make calls to U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam’s (R-6th) west suburban district in the 48th Ward office on the city’s North Side.
Roskam, a Republican, has generally enjoyed comfortable winning margins since first being elected in 2006. And, when state Democrats redrew the congressional map in 2010, they spared Roskam, using his district to swallow chunks of reliably Republican territory in the suburbs.
But in spite of that, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried his district in the last election by seven points. And Roskam has faced intense pressure from constituents demanding to know his position on repeal and replace of the healthcare law.
As many as 18,000 constituents participated in a telephone town hall Roskam held in early February.
Roskam abruptly canceled a smaller meeting with constituents this month to hear concerns about repealing the Affordable Care Act. Protesters have since shown up to his events. The League of Women Voters has also invited him to debates and town halls, which he has declined.
Roskam, in an interview on WGN 720-AM earlier this month, said, “Town hall meetings tend to be platforms for people to shout at one another and get angry at one another and leave more upset and disappointed and bent out of shape than when people came. And the proof of that is just look at the national news.”
Indeed, many of Roskam’s Republican colleagues have been bombarded with angry constituents at town hall meetings, including in reliably red places like Utah.
Some have compared the efforts to the Tea Party in 2009 against then-President Barack Obama. McNeil sees some shared characteristics, but argues the current resistance is “more organized” though perhaps not as willing to use scorched earth tactics.
“The difference between Democrats and Republicans at the end of the day is Democrats believe that government can do good and Republicans for the most part shy away from government,” McNeil said. “So I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we are willing to shut down the government and read ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ to do so. But I will say that I think Democrats in power will stand firmly protesting things they see that are just completely wrong.”
Despite many different areas progressives could focus on, McNeil believes an issue like the Affordable Care Act is important to fight for, given its reach and how it could potentially fall through the cracks as health care policy is not the sexiest issue.
“You can talk about repealing with a plan. They don’t have a plan,” McNeil said. “They don’t have a plan of replacement once it’s repealed, so I think it’s very dangerous to repeal this law without an actual plan that guarantees those protections that Trump has guaranteed to those working class people that voted for him.”
After what he calls “complacency” costing the Democrats the last election, McNeil hopes that the group’s efforts will serve as a model for activists around the country in the age of Trump.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.