The Right Of Free Speech Is Not The Right Of Hate Speech!
It Is Time To Act Or Shut Up And Get Out Of The Way.
Without getting too bogged down in defining or extolling the value of civil disobedience, I can’t begin this post without at least paying a nod of tribute to Thoreau’s 1849 essay, Resistance to Civil Government (later titled, Civil Disobedience). It was slavery — specifically, his rejection of a government, not to mention a society and a religious culture that condoned the institution of slavery — that compelled Thoreau to his own act of civil disobedience (withholding his poll tax) and to writing his essay.
Since then, Civil Disobedience has been embraced by various causes and leaders — from anti-war protesters to anti-McCarthy activists to civil rights workers, from Mahatma Gandi to Martin Luther King, who wrote of Thoreau: ”I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.”
In the spirit of this legacy, I have a few words of encouragement to offer my fellow Democrats, beginning with a few excerpts from Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience:
But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it….
Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform….
What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them.
What’s Up with Democrats, Anyway?
Nothing that a little civil disobedience couldn’t fix. If you are a Democrat, you can start right here, right now, by pledging to:
Before shying away from that last option, which is, by definition, the only real act of civil disobedience, I would contend that it wouldn’t become necessary, should we undertake, ”with earnest and effect,” the first two pledges. And, in order for the first two to be effective, it is necessary to make our intentions known to our leaders – from Barack Obama to our representatives on Capitol Hill. I have 5 specific efforts to offer (in bold blue text toward the bottom of this post), which will take you one hour, tops, and will cost no more than a few postage stamps. And, no, email doesn’t carry the weight of a physical letter.
p.s. Don’t set this aside as a good intention — something you’ll get around to, when you get the time, ”one of these old days.” Remember, the road to hell is paved with these. Today is August 22nd. If you hop on it right now and get them in the mail no later than Friday, August 28, your letters will arrive in plenty of time to be read before Capitol Hill resumes business on September 7th.
If enough people do these –and follow through — we can make actual progress toward disarming the insurance, pharmaceutical and oil industries that have hijacked our political system and, in the process, driven our country into financial, economic, environmental and moral ruin. As a bonus, these simple efforts can also compel our leaders to take seriously the issue of campaign reform, which is the only avenue for driving a stake through the heart of the corporate vampires.
What About Good Old-Fashioned Protests, Petititons and the Power of the Vote?
It’s not that Democrats haven’t taken to the streets in protest. (We have. But if a tree falls in the forest, and it’s too boring for mainstream media to film… ). And it’s not that we didn’t turn out the vote last fall. (Because, “Yes We Did!” to the tune of 65 million votes for Obama, plus voting in a 60-vote majority in the Senate). Nor is it that we haven’t signed petitions, written letters, made phone calls, talked til we’re blue in the face, and thrown our hard-earned cash at democratic causes, in general, and at the Democratic Party, in particular, in our fight to elect reform-minded candidates, such as Obama, in the vainglorious hope that – once in office — these politicians would fulfill at least some of the promises they made on campaign trail.
It’s not even that Democrats are too nice, even as we’re more likely to be volunteering in a soup kitchen than to show up at political events totin’ guns, hanging effigies, lobbing death threats and shouting “Nigger! Nigger!” and “Commie faggot!” and “Kill him!” (which, again, makes us dull as dishwater, from a ratings standpoint, to the mainstream media).
It’s not even because we lack the insurance industry’s $1.5 million per day budget to bankroll their corporate-hack protesters, and to feed fear to the gullible, slack-jawed tea-baggers, ‘birthers’ and’ deathers’ who are chompin’ at the bit to do the corporations’ dirty work for free.
No, our problem is that we lack the ability to meet the billions-per year payroll our politicians collectively enjoy through their relationships with corporate America — a truth that we are currently seeing played out in the farcical efforts, from both sides of the aisle, toward health care reform. If not for our votes every few years, our politicians (with some noteworthy exceptions) would have nothing whatsoever to do with us. This concept was succinctly summed up last year in Sheldon Wolin’s book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, as recently quoted in Paul Street’s excellent piece on ZNet, titled, Frank Rich, Barack Obama, and the Corporatist “Punking” of America:
Should Democrats somehow be elected, corporate sponsors [will] make it politically impossible for the new officeholders to alter significantly the direction of society. By offering palliatives, a Democratic administration contributes to plausible denial about the true nature of the system.
In other words, all that talk about fighting for hope and change — all that talk about the power of grassroots efforts — was just lip service. Something to alternately inspire us and lull us into benign complacency through the belief that our votes somehow constituted a voice in the political process. Little did we know. The decisions had already been made. They’d been ironed out through the nods and winks exchanged between our Democratic politicians and their corporate sponsors. Change? It was all an illusion. We were, indeed, punked. As Wolin described it:
…. the parties set out to mobilize the citizen-as-voter, to define political obligation as fulfilled by the casting of a vote. Afterwards, post-election politics of lobbying, repaying donors, and promoting corporate interests – the real players – takes over The effect is to demobilize the citizenry, to teach them not to be involved or to ponder matters that are either settled or beyond their efficacy….The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts, points to the crucial fact that, for the poor, minorities, the working-class, anticorporatists, pro-environmentalists, and anti-imperialists, there is no opposition party working actively on their behalf.
The Health Care Debates (same old, same old song, different verse)
It’s Time We Learn to Speak the Language: How to Fight Fire with Fire Against the Corporate Interests That Have Hijacked the Political Process (as learned from an 81 year old woman who got so sick and tired of being lied to and feeling powerless, that she did something about it)
I had an interesting conversation the other day with an elderly woman who is a lifelong Democrat, and has, over the years, volunteered thousands upon thousands of hours to democratic causes, and has thrown thousands upon thousands of dollars into democratic candidates and causes: from poverty, hunger, illiteracy and injustice, to the environment and, most recently, to Obama’s campaign, even as her modest contributions constituted a real sacrifice, coming as they did from her modest social security check. This woman (I’ll call her Virginia) is well-read, with a roster of subscriptions ranging from The New Yorker, The Nation, The Hightower Lowdown and Newsweek, to the Catholic Worker and the Smithsonian. Virginia recently received a phone call from the Democratic National Committee, wanting yet more money. She pledged $20. When the pledge packet arrived in mail, coming as it did in the midst of this unfolding farce of a health care debate, she thought to herself, “What the hell am I doing?”
So, instead of dutifully mailing in her $20 check — as she’s done so many times over the years — she instead mailed the pledge card back with this note written across it:
I’ve decided to renege on my pledge. When the Democratic Party decides to honor its commitments to its voters, instead of its corporate donors, I’ll send you some money. Until then, I’m keeping both my vote and my money.
What a great idea. What if progressive Democrats decided, en masse, to keep their votes and their money? To renege on our support for the Democratic Party, the same way our representatives have made a habit of reneging on their campaign promises to their voters? I’m just saying.
But Isn’t That a Mean Thing to Do?
A better questions is this: Why am I and so many others lying awake at night in genuine fear for our country — knowing, as we do, that Obama’s reneged promises not only kill any chance of real reform, but they actively pave a path for 2012 election of a president of, say, the Sarah Palin’s ilk (e.g. someone who Doug Coe’s C-Street Fellowship would approve)? Why are we being so goddamned nice and polite, when our politicians are turning the business of leading into lucrative careers, selling off their loyalties to the highest bidder?
To wit, we have so far seen the corporate hand being played our through:
And, lastly, we have the battle over health care reform that has consumed all of America’s attention this summer — a faux battle, as it turns out, since the outcome was long-ago decided by those elected politicians from both sides of the aisle (not to mention Obama, himself) whose loyalties lie with their corporate sponsors in the insurance, pharmaceutical and, yes, oil industries; even as the majority of Americans have consistently long-favored universal, single-payer, “Medicare for All,” (or, at least they did until the $1.5 million per day insurance industry propaganda campaign scared a few dozen percent into thinking otherwise) .
“Medicare for All” has been demonized by the right and hidden away like an embarrassing relative at a family reunion by mainstream journalists and Democratic politicians. But the American people strongly support the idea when it is posed as an option: In a June New York Times poll, 72 percent supported a plan like Medicare for everyone under 65. — excerpt from “Who’s Got the Power? Progressives find themselves outmaneuvered on healthcare reform
Next time you find yourself lying awake at night feeling mad as hell, scared as hell, powerless as hell or betrayed as hell, take a page from Virginia’s playbook: Do something.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus
Remember the movie Miracle on 34th Street? Remember how Judge Harper was finally forced to admit that Santa Claus existed — but only after being presented with 50,000 pieces of mail addressed to Santa Claus? It is going to take a similar effort to convince our politicians that we exist.
Short of adopting the slack-jawed, gun-totin’ neaderthal, racist lynch mob mentality that garners so much media coverage, the 5 efforts below are the simplest, most effective ways to grabbing our politicians’ attention and loyalties, which are guaranteed to be otherwise diverted until the next election season rolls around, at which time they’ll start courting us again with all those pretty little promises. Our strength is in our numbers and our votes — our individual votes being the one thing the insurance industry cannot give our politicians: my vote, your vote, the vote of every single American who wants to reclaim a voice in the political process.
* * * * *
How to become the highest bidder for your politicians’ loyalties for under $5 bucks:
- ONE -
For a mere 44-cents in postage, you can send your ”I’ve decided to renege on my pledge” contribution to the Democratic National Committee. Simply print out the donation form at their site and check off the box that corresponds to the level of donation you might ordinarily hope to afford. Only, don’t send any money. Instead, consider this the perfect stationary for delivering your hand-written message. Be sure to remind them that — along with your money — you are also prepared to withhold your vote. You can borrow Virginia’s words, or write your own. I’m sure you have lots to say. Of course, you want to be courteous and respectful, so that you can be proud to leave your name and address. Else, how can they know whose vote has been lost?
- TWO -
While you’re at it, drop another 44-cents and send a message to President Obama. Perhaps you could also enclose a similar, ”I’ve decided to renege on my pledge” note, using the official donation form from Obama’s website as stationary. His mailing address is:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
- THREE -
Don’t stop there. Your Senators and Congressmen need to hear from you. There are, to date, only 93 representatives in the House who have stuck their necks on the line — corporate bucks be damned — and voted for true health care reform, via H.R. 676. These are the good guys. Are your representatives on this list? If so, send them a thank you note and, if possible, a contribution.
If they’re not on the list, they need to hear from you. Go to each of your representatives’ websites and print out their donation/contribution form, and use it for stationary. Tell them you are prepared to write “none of the above” on your ballot, come next election day, and to pledge zero money to their campaigns.
Not sure who your representatives are? Find them either here or here by simply entering your zip code. Next, follow the pertinent links to reach your representatives’ websites and/or their contact info for their physical mailing addresses.
If you’re up to it, it wouldn’t hurt to also give them a call to offset Michele Bachman’s plea to the tea baggers and deathers to “melt the phone lines” of Washington liberals. Phoning is fast and painless. Just call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and ask to be transferred to your senators’ and/or congressman’s office. You’ll speak to one of their aides. If you’re new to calling/writing your representatives, this page, has some practical info.
- FOUR -
If any of your Congressmen are among the list of 74 progressive leaders in the House who recently signed-on to the “very tough letter” sent to Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius — stating unequivocally their pledge to NOT vote for any health care bill that doesn’t include a public option — you’ll want to send a different message to these Congressmen.
With the exception of the 8 politicians** listed below, you’ll want to thank the signatories of this letter — most of whom are also cosponsors of H.R. 676 — for their ongoing support of true health care reform and, if possible, donate money these leaders. Go to their websites and contribute whatever you can. But be sure to tell them WHY you are contributing, and urge them in whatever language you see fit to not back down from the fight for true universal health care.
**The following 8 signatories to the letter have NOT yet cosponsored H.R. 676: Albio Sires (NJ), Bill Pascrell (NJ), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Pete Starsk (CA), Jackie Speier (CA), Lloyd Doggett (TX), Mel Watts (NC), and Peter De Fazio (OR).
Send a different message (and zero contributions) to these 8 representatives. Tell them that, while we appreciate their pledge, we do expect them to follow through. Otherwise, we are prepared to write “none of the above” on our ballots, come next election day, and to pledge zero money to their campaigns. While you’re at it, you might want to ask why they haven’t yet cosponsored H.R. 676.
(I know. It seems discourteous to bite the hands that are promising to feed us, but the plain fact of the matter is that we’ve seen enough political theater to know that – like so many campaign promises — following through on noble pledges is easier said than done, given the enormous pressure these politicians receive from their colleagues and corporate lobbysists/campaign benefactors. Our pressure needs to be equally compelling because, as Mike Soraghan wrote in The Hill earlier this week:
…. House leaders appear to be betting that liberals will relent, unwilling to be responsible for defeating Obama’s top priority in his first year in office.
“I don’t see how we ask our guys to walk the plank on this [demand a public option], considering the president is now walking away from it,” said a senior Democratic aide).
Demand that the Kucinich Amendment be passed.
While considering # 1 thru 4 above, keep in mind: The only genuine, true health care reform bill that has been offered is the single-payer plan, aka H.R. 676 (you can read the bill here). Also called the “Conyers Bill, H.R. 676 not only has the aforementioned 93 co-sponsors in the House, but it also has the support of a majority of the American public and most doctors andnurses and unions.
At this point, however, it appears that our only hope for a single-payer plan (that is, the only hope that hasn’t yet been killed by the insurance industry or bargained away by our politicians) is the Kucinich Amendment. Tell each and every person you talk to, from President Obama on down, that we expect the Kucinich Amendment to remain, as-is, in the bill, and that we have every expectation that it will pass. (Read here and here for more on the Kucinich Amendment).
* * * * *
Many of us have health care horror stories we could tell. Many more exist in a precarious state of balance – ”getting by” with a minimum of medical care, or neglecting medical care entirely, because we just plain can’t afford it — all the while keeping our fingers crossed that we won’t be one of the one million-plus Americans this year ( or next year, or the next year), who will disintegrate into financial ruin or bankuptcy — or even death — due to our inability to pay medical bills. Still more of us are just plain lucky. We have yet to know what all the fuss is about, and won’t know until it’s too late — until we have been denied a life-saving surgery; or our policy is dropped as we stand on the cusp of a life-altering illness; or, worse it is our child, or someone we love who gets caught in the spokes of our broken health care system.
At this late hour – and after so much dickering around by our politicians — the likelihood of a bill for true health reform, come September, is zilch without heroic measures, en masse, by Democrats like you and me. Ultimately, we want to demand single-payer health care throught HR 676. Unlike the so-called public option in HR 3200, the single payer plan responsibly and realistically addresses cost control. HR 3200, as it now exists, does nothing to address cost control. As was bravely pointed out this week by Rep. Eric Massa —who has vowed to vote his conscience for HR 676, single-payer care – HR 3200 will, in fact, only add to the national deficit, while doing nothing to reduce the cost of health care in America.
Too much has already been gifted to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries in this bill — to the tune of millions and billions of dollars in built-in protections and subsidies to these industries – entirely at the expense of the American citizens. (Odd, the birthers and deathers haven’t offered one word of protest to the ongoing billions of taxpayer dollars being funneled into the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, nor to the ongoing trillions being funneled into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a half-billion per day being projected for Iraq, alone, over the next 5 years).
As is, whatever might survive in the form of a public option can only aspire — at best — to save face for the Democratic Party. The de facto definition of ”public option,” is no longer even a half-hearted attempt to give the appearance of offering a reasonable facsimile of the single-payer plan, whose advocates were ousted — with police escorts and arrests — from the hearings on health care reform. The de facto definition of the public option has now come to this: no option.
VIDEO ABOVE: “We need more police,” chuckled Sen. Max Baucus (to a full round of guffawing approval), as physicians and advocates for single-payer health care were arrested and escorted out of the health care reform hearing, one-by-one, as each stood to demand a seat at the health care reform table. For his part, Sen. Grassley muttered, “Isn’t there someplace they can watch it on television?” Despite Obama’s promise that “everything” would be on the table, with no voice excluded, and despite that, at the time of this hearing in May 2009, the majority of Americans favored such a plan, single-payer advocates were not given a seat at Obama’s big table. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries were.
Our leaders are hoping we won’t mind too much, settling for whatever crumbs they can muster to give us without offending their corporate benefactors. They’re hoping we won’t hold them accountable for their softened spines, come next election. They’re hoping we’ll be grateful that anything at all was passed. They’re hoping that we will find a way to console ourselves, as we’ve been doing for years, with the phrase that has come to be the mantra of the American people: ”Well? It’s better than nothing!”
by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers
A few extra links for more info:
ZNet: Barack Obama and the Punking of America …. The federal legislative and executive branches have been “taken back” by the Democratic Party. Sadly, however, the United States’ corporate-managed “dollar democracy” and its narrow “one-and-a-half party system” (Sheldon Wolin) have yet to be taken back from concentrated wealth. Obama’s single-payer speech (viewable on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpAyan1fXCE) was delivered before the future president knew he had a serious shot at the White House. Once you enter the high-stakes, big business-coordinated arena of “in-it-to-win-it” and “winner-take-all” presidential politics, social-democratic principles go out the window.
The Bloomington Alternative: Health Care Reform: For the People or the Corporations? [this piece explains some of the candy, the economic victories, that are being promised to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries through the current health care "reform" bill, HR 3200].
In These Times Who’s Got the Power? After decades of playing political defense and suffering defeats to an increasingly arrogant and reckless right wing, it’s not surprising that American liberals and progressives suffer from “a culture of impoverished politics,” in the words of Jeff Blum, executive director of USAction, a coalition of citizen groups.
Tikkun Health Care Wanted: Dead or Alive – The masquerade is over! The “public option” is … dead. Health care reform is now a private option: WHICH FOR PROFIT INSURANCE COMPANY DO YOU WANT? You have to choose. And you have to pay. If you have a low income, under HR3200 government will subsidize the private insurance companies and you will still have to pay premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
A few single-payer advocate groups who could use your time & donations — and whose sites are good resources for info on health care issues & reform:
Guaranteed Health Care: We Don’t Need Insurance; We Need Guaranteed Health Care! Guaranteed Healthcare is a project of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, and patients and community groups around the country. The California Nurses Association, and its national arm, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, is one of the nation’s premiere nurses’ organizations and health care unions. One of the fastest growing health care organizations in the U.S., CNA/NNOC presently has 75,000 members in all 50 states, representing nurses at scores of hospitals, clinics, and home health agencies. Since 2000, over 19,000 RNs at 50 hospitals have elected to affiliate with CNA. (see also: 10 Reasons for Enacting a Single-Payer Healthcare System)
Physicians for a National Health Program: Our Mission: Single Payer National Health Insurance
California Nurses Association: Hold the line on healthcare, Mr. President – Only in the US is medicine solely run for profit
Unions for Single-Payer Health Care: Pass HR 676! Make health care a human right!
HR676.org: The Citizens Alliance for National Health Insurance H.R. 676
HealthcareNow: Supporting the passage of H.R 676
Written by canarypapers