The House has passed “Trumpcare,” and the Senate has taken it up. But congressmembers are already feeling the heat at home, and Jennifer Flynn is out to ratchet that heat up. A longtime organizer on issues of healthcare and HIV/AIDS, she explains what “bird-dogging” is and how and why it works.
JF: Some people actually believed that Trump might win. People had already started talking about how vulnerable the Affordable Care Act was. The House had voted sixty times to undo it unsuccessfully. We knew that this was coming and something that he said he would do on Day One. We also knew that if we could slow down this fight and if we could build a resistance based on this fight, that would only help every other issue that is part of the Trump agenda.
A couple of days after the election, a colleague of mine from the AIDS world—we actually worked together in an organization that came out of an effort of bird-dogging, of following around elected officials back in the late 1990s. We worked together in this organization that was really known for bird-dogging, particularly during the presidential candidates, when they would go around to Iowa and New Hampshire. So, we had done that work all along. We had been on the campaign trail following Trump so we actually could witness first-hand how popular he was in certain parts of the country.
My colleague sent out an email just on two listservs. These kind of listservs that sprung up the night of the election where thousands of people joined immediately because we were all so desperate for something to do in a community, to commiserate with. He said, “I don’t really know what to do in this time.” My colleague, by the way, is named Paul Davis. He now works at Housing Works. He said, “I don’t really know what to do at this time, but the one thing I have done in the past that was very effective under previous Republican administrations, particularly under the Bush Jr. administration, is that we would do this very targeted bird-dogging campaign where we would not let any elected official off the hook and just repeatedly ask them questions and through our question-asking move them, get that different answer each time. We are actually moving them from being strongly opposed to our view to being closer to our side.” He said, “So, if you can get fifteen people and a space, I will come out and do a training.”
He just thought a bunch of people where he lived or he is close to, some place where he could get to easily with sign up and he would go and do a couple of trainings. Within three days, he had thirty-two cities scheduled.
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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.