I’ve been working in and around Democratic politics for more than a decade. First for campaigns and PACs, and now, for the last six years, as a consultant.
That changed recently when I became part of the Obamacare repeal story. I went from consultant to high-profile constituent activist to news cycle centerpiece, and learned a few lessons along the way.
I’m used to working behind the scenes. I’m the person in the back room setting up websites or posting on social media, not the person on camera. In fact, my media experience revolved around telling other people’s stories.
In 2009-10, the AFL-CIO sent me to Arkansas to work on labor law and healthcare reform. That was my first exposure to traditional communications work — setting up press conferences and other media events. Some of this work was in support of Obamacare, which is saving my life now.
And the media skills I learned back then have helped me put my story in front of 20 million people.
I’ve written fairly regularly for C&E over the past few years, but have taken a hiatus since this spring—and here’s why. In April, I was an average 40-year-old woman with a nagging cough, juggling my campaign and non-profit clients and planning for the surge of campaign business with 2018. Then I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
Not sure how much you know about lung cancer, but stage 4 is not good. It’s as bad as it can get, while you’re still alive. My doctors were thinking I wouldn’t make it to Christmas.
Luckily, it turned out I have a rarer, but more treatable form of cancer: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It can be cured, even in stage 4.
I slogged through chemo for six months this summer and fall, while fighting the administration’s attempt to wreck the exchange market for small business owners like us. My life, literally, depends on Obamacare.
I decided back in April, after I was diagnosed and after I learned that I would probably survive this, to be public because cancer isn’t something to be ashamed of. Around the same time, the fight to end Obamacare geared up, then geared up again.
I spoke at many local events in Las Vegas, because my senior senator, Dean Heller, was one of those supposedly on the fence. Unfortunately, he betrayed us cancer patients and voted repeatedly to put people with preexisting conditions at risk.
While going through the very hard process of day-to-day chemotherapy, one of the things I would do was tweet at Donald Trump. I didn’t expect to be heard, but it did make me feel better emotionally. Also, you can reach hundreds of thousands of people when your responses are highlighted in a Twitter thread to Trump, potentially a larger audience than your local paper or radio show.
I was utterly shocked to wake up one day and realize that sometime during the night the president of the United States had blocked me. Me. I’m just a snarky nobody, trying to get through the day alive.
I was also pretty fired up, because by blocking me like a petulant teenager, he ensured my story and my message would reach millions upon millions of people. He turned my personal story into an international story. (Hint to candidates and elected officials: don’t punch down. It’s a very bad look.)
It’s very strange to be talking to reporters and going on television as a private individual. On a campaign, usually if you’re the story it means something has gone horribly wrong. I walked out of chemo and right onto live television on MSNBC.
The patients, the doctors, the nurses, everybody in the cancer center stopped what they were doing and turned on the TV to watch. While I was on TV, the word came through that Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) would vote no on TrumpCare and the bill would die.
The work that all of us healthcare activists had done, the thousands of calls, letters, events for many months, it all made a difference. For the moment, my insurance and that of millions of other Americans was safe, albeit safe being a relative word.
I still don’t understand why Republicans and Democrats can’t work together to make healthcare great again for everyone. Nevada’s Heller didn’t really want to talk about that and so I was thrown out of his LIBRE town hall a few weeks ago for asking a question.
That became a story unto itself and should provide a myriad of lessons for candidates and consultants alike, one of which is how to handle constituent questions at town halls.
The moral to this story is that everybody needs access to comprehensive affordable healthcare. And you, yes you, should make sure you are covered at all times. Accidents can happen to anybody at any time.
My treatment will cost in the ballpark of $1 million—or more, if it recurs—to my insurance company. That’s just not affordable to anybody out of pocket, and I don’t want anybody to be in the position of dying because of a lack of healthcare.
Moreover, your campaign skills can make a real-life difference. Don’t ever hesitate to tell your story and work to make the world a better place. All the stats in the world don’t move people like our personal stories do, so keep telling your story and help others to tell theirs too.
Finally, pro tip: it’s an extremely bad idea for your candidate to block somebody with stage 4 cancer on Twitter while trying to take away his or her health insurance.
Laura Packard (@lpackard) is a cancer survivor and partner at PowerThru Consulting, a Democratic digital strategy and web development firm.