Interview: Rebecca Wood on Her High-Profile Heathcare Activism

Rebecca Wood is a mom, a huge music fan, and HeadCount’s Charlottesville, VA Team Leader. In just the last few months, she’s also become become a high-profile advocate for the Affordable Care Act, meeting with multiple members of Congress and getting interviewed many times by the national press. She never expected to be an activist in this regard, but her five-year-old daughter Charlie was born three months premature and has had to endure many surgeries since – so being able to keep health insurance is quite personal for Rebecca and her family. HeadCount is non-partisan and we don’t take a position on healthcare legislation. But Rebecca sure does embody our credo of “Make your Voice Heard.” We sat down with her to learn more about her and Charlie’s unique story.

HeadCount: Did you watch the final Senate Obamacare repeal vote live?

Rebecca Wood: Oh my goodness, yes. This was torture for me: I was at FloydFest Team Leading, and there was no cell service. There was only a wifi hotspot, so during my breaks I would go over there and download my emails, and keep an eye on things. And then when I saw the Senate vote at 8:30 pm I started watching, but of course it was delayed until 1:30 am. And I remember as I was texting with [MoveOn’s] Ben Wikler, [Vice President Mike] Pence drove up to the Capitol. And I texted Ben: “Oh no, they’re driving Pence up.” And I frowned, because I thought, in my gut, that they had the votes [had McCain voted Yes, Pence’s tie-breaking vote would have repealed Obamacare]. And he sent back: “We’re fighting for you.” And Thievery Corporation was playing “Fight for Survival” at that moment. It as just a really big moment in my head, where I thought, ‘how appropriate.’

So then I was watching on CSPAN, and random people come up to me and try to talk, but I would just brush them off. And they would say, “What’s wrong? You’re here to meet people, right?” And I said, “Nope. I’m here to watch CSPAN.” And when McCain did the thumbs down, and everybody gasped, it was a moment for me. I had tears in my eyes, and I was trying to hold it together… So then I ran back, and found some of my team, and just said, “They killed it!”

Before this vote you had been doing a lot of lobbying, meeting with a lot of senators, and talking with a lot of our elected officials. How did you get involved in that?

Well it started very, very slowly. About six months ago, I started showing up to protests. And because I had Charlie with me, we would stand in the background. We didn’t want to stand too close in rallies where she would make a bunch of noise over the speakers. She’s five, you can’t expect her to sit patiently. So we stayed in the back, and I held a sign – our signs changed every rally – and a news outlet took our picture. At this point it had become commonplace because I had a small child at a rally. But it was picked up by reporters, and somebody else saw it, and then we started doing news stories and interviews. And then CNN came and wanted to talk to us, and when they talked to us it was right around the House vote. And my congressman had flipped, after I had called and written and begged for him to vote no against it. And I was furious, and I wanted to speak with him, and unfortunately there was a lottery system for his town hall, like Phish shows.

So I was explaining this to CNN, and they asked, “Well what are you going to do?” And I said that I was going to go down to the local office to voice my opinion. And they asked if they could go too. I said sure and we all went, and of course we all got kicked out immediately. But they called me back, and they tried to explain a bunch of things. I voiced my concerns about the ACA, and the repeal would greatly hurt my daughter’s chances at healthcare access. So they tried to explain a way that the state’s statutes will protect her, and he said to me, “I don’t expect you to look this up, so let me tell you what it says.”

So immediately after I got off the phone I looked up what it says. And what he told me was a bunch of nonsense. As I am not trained in law or policy, or anything of the sort, I called a lawyer friend and asked some questions of them first. And he said that “yes, you are correct. She’s not as protected as she would be.” And we discussed this at length, and then when I got off the phone with him I called them back the aid who called me. I said, “Hey, I have some questions. But rather than discussing policy over the phone while I am grocery shopping, I would like to sit down.” And he said, “Sure, but I don’t want to make you come all the way up to Washington.” And I said, “Oh that’s not problem.” And he asked, “Well can I take you out to lunch?” And I said no, the office is just fine.

So then we sat down, and started talking, and CNN took the recording and, you know, made a story of it. After that accessing someone like Senator Warner was just a matter of showing up, and talking to them. And it just kind of took off from there. Then I met up with the Little Lobbyists, and lobbied some with them. And it just blew up, but it all started with just showing up.

Had you ever done any activism before you had Charlie?

Um… no. I think there may have been one time back when I was 18. I might have attended a protest. But no, not that I can really think of. [However] my grandfather was a labor union local president for twenty years and later served on the union’s national conference board. I grew up with folklorish stories but never witnessed or experienced any of his work. My parents were happily settled in the middle class… so my grandfather’s stories were just merely tales I heard in my youth. But, I can’t help but wonder if they’ve possibly influenced me in some way.

Did you ever think that you would meet a United States Senator in their office?

All of this seems pretty bizarre to me. I never thought any of this would happen, or that we would be where we were. Or that we would be one of the faces of the healthcare fight. I mainly just wanted them to see that it’s not numbers, it’s people’s lives. And many of them are as innocent as young children.

Of all the politicians that she’s met, who is Charlie’s favorite?

This may get me in trouble. I don’t think I can pick one, she loves them all. She does have a crush on Ben Wikler from moveon.org. She really, really likes Ben. And it got to the point where I asked her, “Who do you like more: Ben or Chad?” Chad [Stokes], you know, from Dispatch. And she thought about it for a minute, and then said “Chad, because I love Chad.”

That leads into the Dispatch angle. HeadCount previously ran a blog by you about your experiences with Chad Stokes of Dispatch, and how warm and gracious he was when you met him at a HeadCount event.

Oh my god those guys are so nice.

Have you and Charlie been able to catch many Dispatch shows this year?

So this year Dispatch did their tour for their new album, and when they announced the tour and the pre-sale I jumped on the tickets, because I couldn’t screw that up. You know, it’s like Disneyland for [Charlie]. And it was complicated because this year’s healthcare battle was really heating up during their tour. So we were in Austin because I wanted to go to Stubb’s and she wanted to go to Dispatch, so it kind of worked out. So my friend called me and asked, “Hey can you make it back by Thursday morning to meet with Senator Warner,” and this was a Tuesday night right before their show. So we flew back, right before their show, to see them. But that was the show that Brad handed Charlie some drumsticks, and that was huge for her. She occasionally sleeps with those drumsticks.

How did you get involved with HeadCount? How did you learn about the organization?

We had just moved to the DC area [around 7 years ago], and I was looking to get involved with something. Because I was looking at going to school, I was applying to a global health program at George Mason, and I just wanted to get out and do something positive. And I stumbled upon HeadCount, in my search, and just really had a great experience the first show, so I came back and did more. And became friends with Chris Reed, who was the DC Team Leader at the time [and currently HeadCount’s mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator], and it just stuck.

What is one of the best HeadCount experiences that you have had so far?

It was definitely the time Charlie got to meet Chad Stokes. Because so much has come of that, and it has met so much to her. There are more pictures on my Instagram account of her with Chad and his brothers, than her with blood relatives. But, it’s really given her something huge. When she’s getting medical things done to her that aren’t all that pleasant, I distract her by showing her Dispatch videos. So it’s not only something she gets to look forward to, and it’s something that is awesome, but also really, she had a speech delay. And she learned to talk through singing, and she sings a lot of their songs. So that’s probably the most meaningful one.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think out of everything this has shown me, I did not expect anything to come to something like this. I didn’t expect any of this to happen. I basically started by just showing up, because like I said I wanted the legislature to see that these are not numbers, these are lives. So it all began with just showing up. And I have had people say to me “You’re amazing” or “This is incredible,” and I’m not. I’m just a mom. It’s just a matter of showing up, and anybody can do this. They just need to get out there and ask questions, and find their people.

There were so many unsung heroes in this fight functioning behind the scenes like Ben, Jennifer Flynn from The Center For Popular Democracy, Paul Davis from Housing Works, and Melissa Byrne from Ultra Violet. Plus there was everyone who called their senators, showed up for demonstrations, and those that risked arrest. Also, a special shout out to the Little Lobbyists. All of these people came together and made a difference.

So no matter what your fight, show up for it. It matters.

Tell your friends!