Harnessing Political Power to Transform Care

My new Better Life Lab report is the result of reporting, research, and over 40 interviews, and offers a PRACTICAL playbook.

Harnessing Political Power to Transform Care
Photo by Ernie Journeys / Unsplash

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I am beyond excited to share with you all that my report, A Playbook to Transform How America Cares: The Care Movement’s Winning Tactics, Lessons, and Case Studies from the Pandemic Era and Beyond is live and ready for all who care about care to dive in! 🎉 Today's newsletter focuses on key, topline highlights about the politics of care to give you some cool insights in case you don’t have time to immediately immerse yourself in a sixty-page wonderland. 

This report is the result of reporting, research, and over 40 interviews with some of the key leaders in the care movement, and offers a PRACTICAL playbook for how policymakers, activists, business leaders, care workers, philanthropists, media, cultural influencers, and care consumers can be a powerful part of a burgeoning care movement. The report identifies eight tactics paired with case studies that are crucial for large-scale social change....The list includes Power Building, Union Organizing, Ballot Initiatives, Political Money, Narrative Change, Building a Bigger Tent, Fighting the Opposition, and Effective Messaging. You can click on any of these to read more about a particular tactic in the report.

For someone like me who writes about issues facing mothers and caregivers, there is usually plenty of opportunity to highlight problems. What I loved about working on this is that I got to really focus on solutions, and not just pie-in-the-sky utopian ideas, but very practical tactics that are already working and that more people definitely need to know about. Also, I learned a ton, which is a great feeling when you’ve already spent years covering a certain beat.

What I loved about working on this is that I got to really focus on solutions, and not just pie-in-the-sky utopian ideas.

Today I’m going to share three points from the report related to making progress on care issues in the political arena.

  1. The Care Movement Is Getting Ready for 2024 and Beyond. Yup, the next federal election is a year away, but activists have already been planning for it for months. While the outcome of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better (BBB) social agenda is widely known, much of the progress care advocates made given their minuscule financial resources is a big success story that deserves more attention. “What’s the difference between the climate change movement and the care movement?” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising asked, referring to the climate package that was able to pass separately after BBB’s social agenda failed. “Tens of millions of dollars and several decades [of concerted organizing]. I bring that up not to be bitter, but to show how much we were able to accomplish relative to the environmental movement with less time and less money. That shows true momentum for these care policies.”
  • According to Open Secrets data, during 2021 and 2022, the top three environmental lobbying groups outspent care lobbying groups about three to one. The top three care groups had 1.4 percent of the lobbying spend compared to top business groups who fiercely opposed BBB because of its funding component to increase corporate taxes.

Let’s look at a visual representation of this lobbying spending, shall we? 

While these business groups lobbied on a range of issues in 2021-22, not just Build Back Better, this gives you a sense of the financial might behind the opposition. Based on lessons learned, care movement leaders are refusing to be politically sidelined again. Here are a couple of the exciting political spending initiatives that are cooking right now:

  • Care Can’t Wait Action is a new coalition of care groups aiming to raise $50 million for the 2024 election to make care a central voting issue.
  • Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy has a $40 million goal for the 2024 election, running programs across seven swing states.

2. Care Is a Ballot Blockbuster. Care policies about childcare, pre-K, and paid leave are popular across the political spectrum in red and blue states when put directly to voters. My report found that bold, meaningful, and even more costly proposals can often do as well or better at the ballot box than smaller, incremental ones. The report also highlights that voters from across the country have demonstrated that they are willing to raise their own taxes for meaningful policies backed by a well-run campaign. Here are a few success stories. 

  • In 2020, Multnomah, a county in Oregon that includes the city of Portland, passed a Preschool for All initiative that funds universal pre-K for all three and four-year-olds. It is funded by an anticipated $202 million a year in additional revenue, raised from a new income tax on wealthy individuals.
  • Through a new property tax, the city of New Orleans passed a ballot initiative in 2022 that will access over $40 million annually for early childhood seats for up to 2,000 low-income children. Read the full case study here.
  • Escambia County in the Florida panhandle passed a ballot initiative with 61 percent of the vote that is now raising $10 million per year for 10 years for children’s services funded through a property tax. This passed in 2020 at the same time that Donald Trump won the area with 57 percent of the vote.

There are over 50 local funds across the country that raise $1.5 billion annually for children’s well-being. 🎉 In the face of federal inaction and state house stalemates, it may be one of the most effective levers out there for more taxpayer funding for care.

Also, check out my op-ed this week in TIME about how ballot initiatives are one of the most promising ways to fund childcare without needing Congress to step in.  

3. Strongly Countering the Opposition Is Needed. When movement leaders find themselves facing active campaigns from better-funded corporations, business groups, and social conservatives, identifying and defining the narrative around who’s fighting against care policies and why might help coalesce strength. “You need to make clear what the impediments are,” said progressive messaging strategist Anat Shenker-Osorio. “There has to be a contrast, and there has to be a villain. Otherwise, why is it that we don't have these things? What's going to animate people to get into and sustain the fight?” Clearly naming and shaming the corporate greed that fosters inequality needs to be a part of the playbook, as a counterbalance to corporations who fight against tax increases.

Hope you enjoyed this little snippet of my reporting! There’s a ton more goodness in the report, so here’s a link to the report highlights, which this newsletter is adapted from, and the full report. You can download it to PDF and send it to a kindle if that is your thing.

So much appreciation to Brigid Schulte and Better Life Lab for supporting this work.

Whew! After that writing and reporting marathon, I’m now off on a whirlwind of business trips. This week’s members-only thread is asking you all what you love about work travel. Double Shift members, check your inboxes tomorrow!

If you want in on this discussion, become a member of The Double Shift. You get great conversation on our members-only threads, virtual hangouts, and audio newsletters. It starts at $7/mo and it’s how I am paid for my time to write this newsletter.

If you are at the MH Worklife Summit tomorrow in NYC, please say hello!

If you are at CareFest next week, November 2nd and 3rd in LA, come find me! 


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