Can We Make A Difference?

Rev. Dr. Bill Ekhardt delivered this speech as a representative of Indivisible Iowa at the Our Lives on the Line rally at the State Capitol on Saturday, July 29.

Can We Make a Difference?

Thank you coalition leaders for the opportunity to come and speak today. It is a privilege to represent Indivisible Iowa. Today I come with the question:

Can we make a difference?

We are here today to stand up for health care for all Iowans and citizens across our country and for health care as a right. We are standing against the efforts of a Republican Party that for seven years has been promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act. When President Obama invited them to join them and build a bipartisan health care plan that the whole country could get behind did the Republican leaders accept? No, they refused! They stood against health care reform from the beginning. They cynically decided it was in their best interest to oppose any change rather than join in the process to make the reforms our country needed. Instead of offering up solutions, they conjured up images of death panels pulling the plug on grandma.

And when it finally passed what did they do? They pledged to repeal it. They campaigned against it. They demonized it. They played on people’s frustrations with the individual mandate, folks losing plans they liked, individual markets struggling, premiums and deductibles rising because healthy folks still weren’t joining pools. They shouted about their complaints but did they ever come up with a plan to fix them?

No! Instead they painted themselves into a corner. They have promised repeal and lower premiums and deductibles but they have no way to deliver. McCain told his fellow senators, we don’t have a plan and I don’t know if we ever will.

But this fractured, conflicted party with no plan to replace what they have promised to repeal has all the electoral power. They have the White House and both chambers of congress. They have the Iowa Governor’s seat and both chambers of our legislature. They control the legislatures of 32 states. In the face of this political opposition I ask:

Can we make a difference?

If I flip back the calendar 6 months to last January, I was asking that question. I was a stay-at-home dad of 4 kids in 6th, 5th, 4th and 2nd grade. A Presbyterian pastor who’d set aside the pulpit to raise my kids and support my wife’s career. I had collected a Doctor of Ministry and an MBA but I had never attended a political meeting. I had no training in political organizing. I was asking the question,

Can we make a difference?

All I had was conviction. On the night that Trump was elected president something changed inside me. I knew that I could no longer sit back and watch as our country elected someone with his character and disposition to the most powerful office in the world. It wasn’t enough to read politics and follow it on TV. I had to get out of the stands and get into the game. I didn’t know what I could do but I had a deep conviction that I had to do something.

Do you know what else I had? I had people all around me who felt the same way. I wasn’t alone. I was one among many, a groundswell, a forming movement. I was one in a crowd of folks newly awakened and eager to act. People were taking to the streets. People who had never been to a rally in their life were making signs and going out to march. There were spontaneous rallies at the airports. Do you remember how many Iowan’s gathered here for the woman’s march in January? 26,000! I attended an organizing Indivisible chapter with 18 folks in a neighbor’s living room. We were forming as leaders of a group of 200 Indivisible members in Matt McCoy’s state Senate district. We were one of 6,000 groups that formed across the United States. Indivisible Iowa has more than 10,000 members, the largest Indivisible group in America. Tens of thousands of Iowans were gathering and asking,

Can we make a difference?

We started meeting and getting to know each other. We started learning and organizing. We connected through Facebook and in person. We read the Indivisible guide written by congressional staffers. You know what we learned? We learned how to call our members of congress, to write and sent letters, emails and faxes. We learned to write letters to the editor to magnify our message of resistance to Trump’s agenda. When two of our leaders recently met in DC with our legislators, do you know how far Grassley’s staff were behind they were in processing constituent’s letters? 28,000 letters!

Can we make a difference?

What else did we learn? We learned to look for and show up at town halls. First, they called us paid protesters. They wouldn’t call on us or take in signs so we made red and green “agree” and “disagree” cards to wave to show our position on their talking points. We learned to target questions, to repeat questions that weren’t answered. We turned out and showed up. You know what the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce had to do? They had to move their town halls to the Urbandale high school because their tiny room couldn’t hold the hundreds of people that showed up to talk to Brad Zaun. We made national news and members of congress quietly confided in DC that they were inundated and beleaguered.

Can we make a difference?

What else did we learn? We learned to gather and go to members of congress’ offices. We met in groups of 8-25 with state and region representatives for Grassley, Ernst and Young. We brought our focused ask and learned to stay on topic. I and 10 others Indivisible leaders met with David Young and pressed him about his position against the AHCA. He agreed with us until he bowed to party pressure and went along with a fig leaf amendment to protect Medicaid. But did he feel the pressure? Yes he did! He knew the political capital he was spending in casting that vote.

In November, it looked like a forgone conclusion that the GOP had it well within their grasp to repeal the ACA but did we sit back and watch them do it? No! We refused to let it die and put our fellow Americans in jeopardy without a fight. We made it painful and costly. We resisted.

Can we make a difference?

After six months of action, opponents, reporters and even those of us in the movement have asked, can we maintain this? Will we get rally fatigued? Will we lose our spirit? Can we sustain this? Or could our elected officials just ignore the grassroots because we wouldn’t last long enough to make an impact on election day?

I admit as a member of the movement and an organizer, I and people like me have slowed down and become less involved. We’ve stopped pushing all day every day. We’ve turned back and paid attention to our kid’s events. We’ve gone on family vacations. We’ve given attention to our jobs and spouses. We’ve enjoyed entertainment and the arts. In short, we have stopped sprinting and we’ve slowed down to a sustainable pace. Is this a sprint? No, we’ve learned this isn’t even a marathon. It’s a relay race. We’ve learned to pass the baton and stop and rest so we could pick it up again to run the next leg of the race. But we haven’t stopped! We haven’t faded! We haven’t gone away!

Can we make a difference?

We are building a movement. We are building skills and friendships. We are learning how to make an impact. 6 months ago, I’d never attended a political meeting. Three months ago, I led a meeting to organize the Des Moines West Side Democrats that drew 80 of our neighbors. We have gotten to know each other. We have met legislators, party leaders, attended meetings and rallies of the NAACP, CCI, Indivisible and the Democratic Party. We have met citizens at the farmer’s market and at our voter registration table at Price Chopper. We are learning how to organize, to register voters, to knock on doors, to get out the vote, to phone bank, to collect voter data. We are not fading, we are building a movement! Growing and entwining our roots with other activists and community groups. We are becoming gamechangers!

Can we make a difference?

We may stand in a weak political position now. But today we can fight for health care and we fight those who oppose us even when it looks like they hold all the cards.

Can we make a difference?

We can raise our voices and let them be heard. We can tell our stories and we can stand shoulder to shoulder with those on this stage who are hurt by the GOP’s actions.

Can we make a difference?

We can write and call. We can show up and meet. We can let them know that their constituents are watching! Refusing to be silent!

Can we make a difference?

We can build friendships and organize. We can knock on doors and rally our neighbors. We can make it clear that if they don’t listen to us. WE WILL VOTE THEM OUT!

Can we make a difference?

Fellow Iowans, sisters and brothers in this coalition movement, let us not grow weary of doing what is right.

In the words of our last President, Barack Obama,

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

On behalf of Indivisible Iowa, let’s go make a difference.


Bill Ekhardt recently founded the Des Moines West Side Democrats. He has led teams with Indivisible to meet with congressional staffers. Bill is an ordained Presbyterian pastor who stepped out of paid ministry to be a stay-at-home dad to his four kids, and to support his wife’s career as a Pediatric Intensive Care Doctor at Blank Children’s Hospital. Bill serves as a volunteer pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Des Moines and is a passionate political activist in Indivisible and the Democratic party.

Highlights from Bill’s speech and others at the July 29 rally in Des Moines are on YouTube. Al Womble took the photo at the top of this post.

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