Monday, November 8, 2010

A novel approach

Turns out you can fight City Hall. Or the tobacco lobby or the gun lobby. And you can win, too.

An admiring crowd of public healthers was on hand for a Sunday afternoon signing of a book that shows exactly how to mobilize in the name of public health and social justice. “The DeMarco Factor: Transforming Public Will Into Political Power” is what the Rev. Cynthia Abrams called “a roadmap for successful community-based organizing for social justice issues.” And she ought to know. Abrams, with Faith United Against Tobacco, is featured in the book's section on how the faith community was marshaled to bring about an historic tobacco tax increase in Virginia.

“You need to buy it!” Janice Bowie, of Johns Hopkins University, shouted across the PubMart booth to someone who had eyed the book signing with uncertainty. I asked her why, and she grinned broadly and told me DeMarco has “the kind of courage that we all need to have.”

He’s also pretty charismatic, cheerfully greeting everyone who stopped by the book signing in the Public Health Expo, slapping the table and throwing his head back with laughter when a woman from California relayed a story about campaign ads gone awry.

There’s a lot of mutual admiration going on between DeMarco and the book’s author, Michael Pertschuk, too. The men met about 20 years ago when Pertschuk, former head of the Federal Trade Commission, was trying to figure out how to make progress on gun control. Pertschuk saw how DeMarco could attack deep-seated special interest groups and affect change in the name of social justice.

“Each time he began to beat the gun lobby, the tobacco lobby, Wal-Mart…at various points I thought, ‘I’ve got to write a book,’” said Pertschuk, author of such books as “Smoke in Their Eyes: Lessons in Movement Leadership from the Tobacco Wars.”

He said DeMarco’s personality and success rate made this, his fifth book about advocacy, “by far the most joyous.”

The head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and APHA member, David Michaels, stopped by the book signing to shake Pertschuk’s hand. Michaels told this blogger that he’s a long-time fan of Pertschuk for his ability to distill important public health advocacy issues into readable text.

In the face of opposition to federal health reform legislation, the book’s chapter on health care expansion in Maryland offers lessons on changing the health care landscape. It lays out advice on organizing an advocacy campaign and lessons in strategies and leadership.

DeMarco himself summed it up this way as he signed copies at the Annual Meeting: “It’s a very good read about public health advocacy.”

See for yourself at PubMart (booth # 1348 at the Public Health Expo), or buy the book online at

Do you have an advocacy story to share?

— D.C.

Above, Michael Pertschuk, middle, and Vincent DeMarco, right, greet an Annual Meeting attendee during their book signing at the Public Health Expo on Sunday. Photo by Jim Ezell/EZ Event Photography

1 comment:

Shawn Barcus said...

I must confess that I had never heard of Mr DeMarco and if not for this article I would have more than likely went through my life unaware he ever existed. Having said that it is a pleasure to discover him not only his passion but his technique. Here we seem to have a rare individual who is fighting a bear in his own cave...and winning.

I have seen many descriptions of the man but I like "Vinny DeMarco might be a latter-day Don Quixote except that he tilts his lance at real obstacles to social justice: lobby-locked state legislatures and Congress, stonewalling the public will". I smoked for 26 years and watched in horror and confusion the strength and power the tobacco industry had over congress. Despite overwhelming evidence pointing to the deadly effects of smoking, the massive amount of fines, levies and being forced to advertise against itself the tobacco industry thrives with record profits. I have often wondered how this is possible...kind of like how can one kid on the playground can rule by fear over those who could easily overwhelm him and restore balance.

Well I could go on and on but I will buy this book and see if their is a way I can contribute to this movement. And I thank you "D.C" for bringing this to my attention!