By Matt Starlight
Grassroots organization Together Louisiana has been affecting legislation in the state for three years under their official name, but the groups that comprise it have been hard at work changing their state for over 20. After the religious and citizen groups came together under the umbrella title in 2012, Together Louisiana has set their sights on statewide issues that could not be handled on the city level. Now, the group is putting a bug in the ears of their local representatives for the expansion of Medicaid, helping low income citizens get the healthcare they need.
“It’s now made up of about 200 different religious congregations and civic organizations. It works on a multitude of different issues that come out of an organizing process, to be able come together in small groups, talk about what’s affecting them, and everything from getting very local issues, like getting streets fixed, or to major, statewide ones, and that was really the interest of forming Together Louisiana,” explained Elite Organizer of Together Baton Rouge Broderick Bagert.
The push for expanding Medicaid was one of the first big projects Together Louisiana took on. They started working on “medicaid expansion in the very first year that we came into existence as a statewide entity, taking a position in favor of expansion was one of the two issues, two positions we took that year. The other was on the governor’s tax plan.
“A lot of our member institutions are faith institutions; a lot of them are in low income communities. So, when 20%, 30% of your congregation doesn’t have any health insurance, it and access to healthcare has always been a major issue,” said Bagert.
Despite those numbers, the group prides themselves on having a diverse membership that crosses party lines.
“There’s actually a pretty broad variety of people in terms of their political orientation. There are Republicans and Democrats and Independents who are a part of this,” said Bagert.
With political ideologies that span so far across the spectrum, clashing ideas are bound to happen in other areas; however, Bagert says the organization works hard to ensure that everyone’s best interests are represented.
“We don’t assume everybody is in the same place on things, but we do do a lot of research and when there is a broad enough consensus inside of the local organizations, then we’ll vote on something statewide.”
Together Louisiana has made Medicaid a top priority since inception, but last month, community leaders of Together Louisiana met for a press conference to formally announce their efforts to support Medicaid expansion for Louisiana citizens.
“We had planned the press conference before the election and met with Senator Vitter and had a very interesting and well attended event. I think it was the only event that was not a debate that both candidates attended where one of the main questions was whether and on what terms they would accept Medicaid,” said Bagert. “It was certainly a much more enthusiastic support for Medicaid from Representative Edwards, but Vitter had it on the table and if anything, it was going to take an even more robust effort to push him. The case now is we don’t think the governor’s office is going to be the main potential obstacle here.”
When it comes to concrete efforts, getting boots in the ground and making real changes is something that Bagert believes can be done through perseverance, intellectual enlightenment, and a personal touch of their members.
“Amazing things happen when local constituents of many legislative districts speak directly to their representatives with stories that affect their own lives. Amazing things happen. The ability for people to be pragmatic and do votes that look at the issue in that party, the ability for strange coalitions of people to work together. Our principal focus will be in about forty key legislative districts engaging congregations and organizations of citizens who are already involved on the effort to understand whats at stake, to share their stories of problems around health care access, both people who are uninsured and people who have healthcare insurance, because it extends to both,” said Bagert. “Then, engaging their legislative or representative and say ‘Look, it’s time to start looking at this on its merits and from a pragmatic perspective.’ Not continuing to have it be a political football that’s really coming out of national politics and is not really something that there’s any kind of intense on the ground opposition to except in very, very ideologically driven quarters.”
Together Louisiana’s efforts, plus John Bel Edwards soon to take office, is sure to make a splash when the time comes to make a decision on Medicaid. The only questions that remain are when will it happen, and what will Together Louisiana set their sights on next.