Statewide & Nationwide Meetings on Health Care, Federal Budget, etc.

  • CaliforniaSpeaks: Working Together for Better Health Care On August 11, 2007, some 3500 randomly selected Californians gathered in eight cities statewide, linked by the Internet, to discuss the major problems and proposed solutions for our health care system. I was one of 24 on a “theme team,” analyzing feedback in real time, for a report to the state government and mass media.
  • AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our EconomyOn June 26, 2010, some 3500 Americans across 60 cities, including yours truly in Pasadena, Calif., participated in a national discussion on America’s fiscal future.
California Speaks logo

CaliforniaSpeaks: Working Together for Better Health Care

On August 11, 2007, some 3500 randomly selected Californians gathered in eight cities statewide, linked by the Internet, to discuss the major problems and proposed solutions for our health care system.


Fabian Nunez & Arnold Schwarzenegger at CaliforniaSpeaks

Assembly Speaker Núñez & Governor Schwarzenegger at CaliforniaSpeaks.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, and other Republican and Democratic legislators attended the event, sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, and The California Endowment.


Doug Drenkow in Theme Team at CaliforniaSpeaks

Yours truly (circled) in “theme team.”

Feedback from the 3500 participants was analyzed in real-time by a “theme team” — a panel of 24 select participants, including yours truly — to develop questions based on emergent themes, on which the entire statewide group voted. A final report based upon the results was presented to the participants, media, and lawmakers — all of whom gained a greater sense of urgency for bipartisan solutions to this crisis affecting everyone.


CaliforniaSpeaks was organized by AmericaSpeaks. AmericaSpeaks is a non-partisan, non-profit organization with the mission of providing Americans with a greater voice in the most important decisions that affect their lives. AmericaSpeaks has engaged more than 145,000 citizens across the country on such topics as shaping municipal budget priorities in Washington, D.C.; creating regional plans for greater Chicago and Cleveland regions; and developing rebuilding plans for the World Trade Center site in New York City, and New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

CaliforniaSpeaks By The Numbers

CaliforniaSpeaks was one of the largest town meetings ever convened in the United States. This is CaliforniaSpeaks by the numbers:


1 Statewide Conversation

CaliforniaSpeaks convened thousands of Californians in a statewide conversation to make choices about health care reform.


3 Technologies

1) Electronic keypads were used to capture participants’ votes throughout the day.

2) Networked-laptop computers were used at each table to capture ideas generated through small group discussions.

3) A satellite system linked the eight meetings sites.


8 Meeting Sites

The statewide conversation took place simultaneously across eight meeting sites in San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, and Humboldt County.


400 Trained Facilitators

Participant discussions were supported by more than 400 skilled facilitators who volunteered their time to support the small-group dialogue.


3,500 Californians

The statewide conversation took place with about 3,500 Californians across the eight meeting sites.


120,000 People Contacted

In order to ensure that a diverse group of Californians participated in the discussion, CaliforniaSpeaks randomly identified and contacted 120,000 people across the state by phone and mail.


300,000 Letters Sent

To encourage participants to attend, CaliforniaSpeaks mailed more than 300,000 letters to Californians, including letters from the Governor, Senate President Pro Tem, and Speaker of the Assembly.


2,000,000+ Phone Calls

To encourage participants to attend, CaliforniaSpeaks made well over 2,000,000 phone calls to Californians across the state.


6 Nonprofit Foundations

CaliforniaSpeaks was created by AmericaSpeaks with the support of three nonprofit foundations: Blue Shield of California Foundation, The California Endowment, and The California Wellness Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Alliance Health Foundation, the Sierra Health Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation.


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Our Budget, Our Economy logo

AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy

As a guest of One Community: A Grassroots Think Tank, in Pasadena, Calif., I was one of the thousands of participants in this nationwide town hall meeting, linked by the Internet, discussing the record federal deficits. As a progressive, I wanted to make sure that long-term considerations of national debt did not overshadow the near-term need for job creation nor the overriding concept of fairness, particularly given how our economy has gotten into such a precarious position. I did my “homework” — studying not only the materials provided by the organizers of the event, AmericaSpeaks, but also other research, as from the U.S. labor movement. I firmly believe that unless America gets back to work — as with further economic stimulus spending, federal assistance for state and local governments, and humanitarian as well as pragmatic extension of benefits for the unemployed — we will never be able to get out of this recession, let alone pay off our debts.


PDF Document Finding Common Ground on Our Fiscal Future: Our Budget, Our Economy Interim Report to Congress (July 27, 2010)


For transcript etc., visit original presentation, at


PDF Document Our Budget, Our Economy Preliminary (End-of-Day) Report


Remarks by Carolyn Lukensmeyer, President, AmericaSpeaks, June 26, 2010


Today, thousands of Americans across 60 cities participated in a national discussion today on America’s fiscal future. Reflecting the nation’s rich diversity, approximately 3,500 participants sent a strong message to leaders about the importance of action to strengthen the nation’s economy in the short-run and their willingness to make tough choices to address growing deficits over the long-term. Reforms that were preferred by participants at the National Town Meeting included options that:

  • Raise the limit on taxable earnings so it covers 90% of total earnings.
  • Reduce spending on health care and non-defense discretionary spending by at least 5%.
  • Raise tax rates on corporate income and those earning more than $1 million.
  • Raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits to 69.
  • Reduce defense spending by 10% – 15%.
  • Create a carbon and securities-transaction tax.

Using keypad polling devices and networked computers, participants identified and prioritized the messages that they were interested in sending to Congressional leaders and the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.


The nonpartisan discussion, called AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy, originated in Philadelphia and linked 19 meeting sites across the country.  Small group discussions were held throughout the day and keypad polling was conducted to identify shared values and priorities.  The sites were connected via satellite so that the participants could see and hear fellow Americans across the country.


In addition to Philadelphia, other sites included Albuquerque, NM; Augusta, ME; Casper, WY; Chicago, IL; Columbia, SC; Dallas, TX; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MI; Grand Forks, ND; Jackson, MS, Overland Park, KS; Pasadena, CA; Louisville, KY; Missoula, MT; Portland, OR; Portsmouth, NH; Richmond, VA; and Silicon Valley, CA.  Volunteers convened more than 40 conversations in other communities across the country.


AmericaSpeaks Founder and President, Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, led the discussion in Philadelphia.  Current and former members of Congress participated either in person or via video and included Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), former Senator and co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force Pete Domenici (R-NM), Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Representative John Spratt (R-SC).  Senators Conrad and Gregg serve on the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  Dr. Alice Rivlin, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, President’s fiscal commission member and co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, was also in attendance.


Sixty-one percent of participants said that in the short-term they believe the government should be doing more to strengthen the economy. Participants expressed more mixed views about the recent stimulus bill that failed to pass the Senate last week. Fifty-one percent of participants supported the legislation, while thirty-eight percent of participants said they were not supportive of it. The concerns about the state of the economy spanned unemployment and the need for more jobs, personal and federal debt and deficit, the slow pace of economic recovery, too much spending and government involvement, the increasing gap between the rich and poor, lack of support for small businesses and distrust of elected officials to fix what is broken fiscally.


The participants prioritized balancing the needs of current and future generations and placing a greater burden for reducing the deficit on those who are more financially able as the core values that should guide our country’s fiscal future.  Americans were split when rating whether the government should hold primary reasonability for those most vulnerable or individuals should be responsible for taking care of themselves. Social Security, including preserving benefits for all Americans served as the spending option most participants agreed must be preserved when balancing the budget.


“At a time when many are focused on things that divide us as a nation, it is refreshing to have so many Americans come together to find common ground on long-term fiscal choices and inform the efforts of our national policymakers,” stated Dr. Lukensmeyer.  “‘We The People’ have prioritized what is most important for America’s future: creating equality of opportunity for future generations, maintaining a free country where individuals can maximize their potential, guaranteeing children receive a quality education, securing prosperity for future generations and ensuring a stable economic environment.”


Specific messages participants asked to have sent to Congress and the President’s Commission to address our fiscal challenges included:
  • Please find the political will to use this input as if it were coming from a powerful lobbying group — because we are.
  • Abandon the failed politics of partisanship. You can’t demonize each other and expect us to trust you.

Dr. Lukensmeyer will present the findings from today’s discussion to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on June 30th in Washington, DC. The presentation will be followed by briefings with Congressional leaders over the coming weeks.


The National Town Meeting was hosted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan AmericaSpeaks, which accesses the collective wisdom of the American people on local, regional and national decision-making on the most challenging public issues of the day.


AmericaSpeaks: One Budget, One Economy was made possible by support from a diverse group of private foundations, including the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Back to AmericaSpeaks Back to AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy

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“Your involvement can make [health care reform] happen. That’s why we need to hear your voices, opinions, and experiences, so we can create the best health care for everyone.”

— Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, addressing the CaliforniaSpeaks participants

“[It] put the spotlight on an issue that people already knew was important, but it also helped drive the agenda towards a solution. And I think it was incredibly effective. The forum had a direct impact on the policy.”

— Former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez

“AmericaSpeaks is providing a valuable public service in spearheading a national dialogue on the country’s long-term fiscal challenges. It is critical to have an informed and involved citizenry on such matters of national importance. AmericaSpeaks is helping to educate the public about our nation’s fiscal problems and the difficult choices that must be made. This effort is vital to our economic future.”

— Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

“I applaud AmericaSpeaks’ effort to create a national dialogue on the fiscal challenges facing our nation. Many Americans do not realize the magnitude of our long-term fiscal imbalance, so the National Town Meeting is a good way to educate citizens, initiate discussion, and generate ideas about how the United States can get back on the right track. The economic well-being of future generations — our children and grandchildren — depends on this generation’s willingness to take this issue seriously and find effective solutions.”

— Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Ranking Republican, Senate Budget Committee and a member of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

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