- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

The plan for a series of grass-roots demonstrations Tuesday to promote President Obama’s health care agenda calls for tightly scripted events and an “escalation” of efforts against “enemies” of reform.

Organizers insist there is no comparison to rowdy summer town hall meetings and recent “tea party” protests that have challenged White House policies.

But Health Care for America Now (HCAN), which is backed by a coalition of labor unions and liberal groups including ACORN and MoveOn.org, organized the protests to target insurance companies and drafted the plan, which describes the demonstrations as part of its “insurance enemies project.”

The document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, details specific talking points, tactics, props and strategies to stage the protests. It lists goals that include action that “mobilizes our base by animating existing anger about private insurers.”

The HCAN field plan dictates that each protest will include a minimum of 30 participants, target only health care insurers CIGNA, WellPoint and United Health Care and showcase what it calls “victims,” or people who have either lost insurance, can’t afford it or were denied coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.

“We built a campaign to win health care reform and that is exactly what we are working on,” said HCAN national spokeswoman Jacki Schechner, who authenticated the documents. But she asserted: “There is nothing top-down about this.”

The field plan says the protests should attract media coverage that “creates villains or enemies that serve as a contrast with our side; validates the need for affordability and the public health insurance option; [and] forces the other side to respond.”

David Palombi, senior vice president of corporate communications for WellPoint, said the “enemies project” is counterproductive to the debate and will do nothing to expand access, reduce costs or improve the quality of health care in the United States.

“It is extraordinarily disappointing that it comes at a time when [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] and others are calling for a civil discussion.”

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, became emotional at a news conference Thursday when she expressed fear that the harsh rhetoric of the debate would lead to violence.

The White House and congressional Democrats charged that the fierce protest against the health care plan this summer at town hall meetings and widespread “tea party” protests were “Astroturf,” or fake grass-roots uprisings manufactured by conservatives to undermine the reform effort.

Still, the anger expressed at the town hall gatherings were credited with turning some lawmakers against the health care plan and raising doubts about the bill passing this year.

Conservative activists defended the outpouring of opposition to the Democrats’ agenda as genuine.

“The politicians in Washington who think this movement is Astroturf had better think again,” said Dennis E. Whitfield, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union. “This is the grass roots coming alive. … This is for real.”

HCAN designed the demonstrations set for Tuesday to “help shape new national narrative around the national health care debate” by vilifying insurance companies, according to the field plan.

The strategy aims to sway Capitol Hill lawmakers by making them choose between voting for the president’s health care reforms or siding with insurance companies.

The field plan outlines demonstrations for cities and towns across the country sharing the banner “Big Insurance: Sick of It,” and the slogan, “If the insurance companies win, we lose.”

The protesters are instructed to confront top officials at the insurance companies and demand they sign a declaration titled, “Stop Denying Our Care.” The declaration pledges the company will not meddle in patients’ medical decisions, deny or drop coverage based on a pre-existing medical conditions, terminate any policy or reward employees for denying care or rejecting claims.

The declaration concludes with a pledge not to “use any resources - including funds, employees and facilities - to oppose any aspect of the health reform proposals supported by President Obama and being considered by members of the United States Congress.”

Tactics listed in the field plan include “large-scale rally or march to insurance company with victims leading delegation in to speak to CEO or other spokesperson.” It suggests materials or props including signs, pictures and “good stories that embody our key message.”

Under the heading “escalation,” the plan advises: “We could start with a delivery to the office and then escalate by bird-dogging the CEO or company by bringing smaller delegations every day to this location or others until we get an answer.”

Another tactic described in the document is “vigils featuring faith leaders [or] clergy” who visits insurance company office with the demand. For props, it suggest using “spokespeople who can wear clerical uniforms.”

It directs the protesters to “escalate by increasing the involvement of congregations to take small actions; hosting more vigils that invite the insurance companies to repent.”

The HCAN demonstrations are planned throughout the country, with flagship protests in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Milwaukee - cities in which the targeted health insurance companies have a large corporate presence.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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