Opponents of new Medicare bill mobilize comms effort against AARP

WASHINGTON: AARP, often called America's most influential advocacy group, became the victim of its own brand of political pressure last month after endorsing the Republican-crafted Medicare overhaul bill that was passed by Congress last week.

WASHINGTON: AARP, often called America's most influential advocacy group, became the victim of its own brand of political pressure last month after endorsing the Republican-crafted Medicare overhaul bill that was passed by Congress last week.

It took only a few hours for fellow advocacy groups - as well as countless AARP members - to mobilize following the November 17 announcement that the group was throwing its weight behind the controversial bill. AARP, which has approximately 35 million dues-paying members and represents the public-policy interests of citizens over the age of 50, claims no political affiliation, but many advocates of the aging saw the endorsement as a politically motivated betrayal.

Actions against AARP included e-mail and letter-writing campaigns, as well as a hastily organized, though widely covered demonstration outside their DC headquarters.

"We decided to dramatize the rebellion that was going on inside the organization, so we put a bunch of seniors on the bus and went to their headquarters. People began spontaneously ripping up their membership cards," said Roger Hickey, codirector of the liberal group Institute for America's Future, who was featured burning his card in a widely distributed photo that accompanied several stories citing membership backlash against AARP. "We called our entire media list," Hickey said.

Lisa Davis, AARP director of communications, said she had experienced a sharp rise in letters and e-mails from members since the endorsement, but added, "We know some come from a concerted effort because they all say the same thing.

"We have not heard anything negative from the majority of our members," added Davis.

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