Hello, I am back. My absence is not due to lack of words – trust me, I am full of them, or something! I’ve written several essays that I intended to send out but never got to the point where I was happy with them. The shift in Washington is so drastic, that my mind is overflowing with thoughts. Let’s start with Biden’s COVID relief package:
Congress passed and President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and some unusual things happened:
- Biden asked for $1.9 trillion and got $1.9 trillion.
- Nearly everything that was in the bills presented to Congress made it through untouched.
- What didn’t make it through was something every Democrat knew was a procedural longshot (minimum wage hike) or fussed about by Dem-Centrists (Manchin especially).
- In context, the sacrifices were very minor compared to the gains.
- Biden and Schumer did not bother negotiating with bad-faith Republicans, who made it easy to ignore them by not coming up with a credible counter or, mostly, anything at all.
- The only things that slowed down what was a relatively fast process were some procedural things and fussing with Manchin, who was finally told to get with the Dems or STFU.
I was too young to consciously experience the Johnson Administration, so what I know about LBJ’s Great Society comes from the history books. I started paying attention to politics when Carter was president, so what I’ve watched is Carter’s inability to work the system, Reagan, and how prior presidents handled Reaganism. I witnessed two attempts at progressive economic reform: Bill Clinton’s initial healthcare plan – which was to the left of the Affordable Care Act – and Obama’s ACA. Clinton’s push was defeated. Obama’s was watered down. Neither were as grand and expansive as what Biden and Congressional Dems pulled off.
That Biden engineered a successful COVID vaccine rollout is only surprising because the challenge was huge. The former occupant left Biden with little more than vaccines approved for use. There was no production strategy, which meant that there was not enough vaccine to go around. As bad, the prior administration had no plan on how to distribute the vaccine and get it in people’s bodies.
The bulk of the vaccine production and delivery infrastructure had to be created from scratch and it had to be done without any major glitches. Biden and his people have been able to do that. No doubt they were aided by Biden’s experience with the rocky ACA-launch and an eagerness of states to be done with the pandemic. Even more important, Biden and his crew are competent professionals, something that we should expect from a presidential administration, but was lacking over the past four years.
Today, conservatives – with the help of the mainstream media – are trying to sell us on a border/immigration crisis, laying the blame on the new administration. This is unfair. Biden inherited an immigration system which broken, sabotaged, and remade to stress maximum cruelty. Unlike a COVID vaccine strategy, he is dealing with much, much more than creating something out of nothing. Biden must, as one administration official said, rebuild a damaged immigration plane while trying to fly it.
Four years of reactionary, abusive immigration policy and practice must be reversed. What is to salvageable must be repaired. All this must happen while immigration officials deal with a large number refugees, many of them children, fleeing from violence, poverty, and climate-change-enhanced natural disasters.
Republicans are framing this as a crisis unique to and caused by Biden, though anyone who has paid half-assed attention to immigration knows that this surge is part of a very long trend. The former occupant dealt with similar surges, also caused by events that were out of his control. Same with the guy before him and the guy before him and the guy before him and the guy. Every president since Reagan has dealt with immigration/refugee surges and an immigration system that has, for decades, badly needed an overhaul, something that Congress has failed to do.
Amidst the newness and the chaos, the House is passing progressive legislation – stuff I never thought I’d ever see. The Democratic Senate is dealing with Republican obstructions with workarounds. Rather than be duped into “debates” on “bipartisanship,” Democrats are looking at ditching or reforming the filibuster simply because they want to pass needed legislation. Democratic know that a robust infrastructure bill, fairly taxing the rich, inheritance tax reform, voting rights, D.C. statehood, defeating white supremacy, and other needed reforms are DOA if the filibuster stays as is. This reality-based approach to governance is another thing that is new.
There is a lot happening in Washington, D.C., and I am happy about that. What I fear is that we – the public – are back to playing spectator. We watch from the stands as Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer mount white horses and ride to save us. When they lap the Republicans, we cheer. When they falter, we sound like fan-callers to sports talk radio. Maybe we write emails, but we are not making strong, proactive public demands about what we want and need.
When President Obama first proposed the ACA, Republican activists, using the Tea Party movement, staged massive resistance to the plan. The Tea Party mobbed administration-sponsored public meetings on the ACA, where activists, supported by the insurance industry, spun lies and fear-mongered healthcare reform. This push empowered corporate Democrats, such as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, to water-down the ACA, while Republicans built a voting base strong enough to take control of Congress and strengthen the GOP’s hold on state governments, all of which supercharged right-wing voters and their support for the former occupant. Whew!
Republicans and the Tea Party politically dominance in the ACA fight (and beyond) was assisted by lack of active, grassroots support of healthcare reform. While the Tea Party mobbed public meetings, a progressive/left counter-presence was missing. Rank & file Democrats were content to let the Obama administration sell the ACA, which they did not do well. Leftists sat out because the ACA wasn’t single payer. Because the Democratic base and leftists took themselves out of the fight, we got weak healthcare reform. Worse, the ACA fight supercharged the Republican Party, especially its far-right. By not engaging, Democratic voters and the left outsourced change and left a power vacuum which the right-wing was happy to fill.
Right now, we have a president and Congress willing to pass much needed legislation, programs and reforms that can profoundly change the direction of this country, bury the rotting corpse of Ronald Reagan, and render the GOP inert. While we will not get utopia, we can build a better future, one in which wealth is not the determinant factor in life, where we emphasize mutual aid over dog-eat-dog competition, and where white supremacy, misogyny, and other bigotries are marginalized. However, to get to better, we cannot be spectators. We must be actors.
As someone who has worked as an activist and organizer, I know the power that people possess. I also know that, almost always, we flash power in reaction to things that we don’t want. We turn out in the millions when a president creeps us towards war. We build huge crowds in opposition to environmental destruction. We hold mass rallies to support gun-control but only in reaction to a mass shooting, when emotions are high and opinions harden. We march en masse in support of women and science, but only when they are threatened. We are reactive. We are anti. Rarely, do we gather proactively, to advocate and demand what we want, absent of reaction to an event or politician.
I am very happy that Congress passed and the president signed the COVID relief bill – which goes beyond mere relief – however, I know that they we did very little to make it happen. We pressured Congress, which was successful because we are ass-deep in the pandemic, where over half-a-million people have died and the economy is in shambles, and the bill was pushed right after Biden and the new Congress took office, very close to the 2020 election. Elected Democrats worked hard, but as far as we go, reform cruised on momentum.
To rely on momentum is foolhardy. Momentum is temporary. One successful propaganda campaign over a manufactured crisis, such as Chaos at the Border and momentum shifts to your opponent. The smart organizer never relies on momentum. They work to turn momentum into a movement.
We must make a big public fuss over every single thing we want. Some examples: We need a day of infrastructure marches, when millions of people in hundreds of cities demand a fully-funded federal infrastructure program. We need continuous pickets at the home offices of Senators demanding that the filibuster either be abolished or reformed. We need mass rallies demanding voting rights.
Simply sending letters and emails or using an app to register opinion is not enough. People must hit the street like we did in 2017 with the Women’s March and March for Science. Absent coordinated mass events, we can organize among our friends to do many smaller actions – pickets and rallies – outside the offices of our Congressional representatives. These smaller shows of force can be just as effective as large spectacles and much easier for everyday people like you and me to pull off.
Start by contacting ten people you know who would be willing to spend a couple hours holding signs in front of your House member’s district office. Figure out a time and date that works for most of you, preferably two weeks out. Have each of your core group contact a few of their friends. No need to advertise the event or pump up the numbers. You don’t need a thousand or a hundred people at your district office rally. A couple dozen is fine, fifty is great.
Make some signs that say things like INFRASTRUCTURE NOW! Contact local media a couple days before your rally. Make sure you have a spokesperson. Make a short list of clear demands, focusing on support for Biden’s infrastructure plan, as well specific examples of local infrastructure that needs federal help. Include some of the demands and local examples on a flyer, with contact info for your people in Congress, to give to the press and hand out to passersby.
Not an expert on infrastructure? That is okay! You are a tax paying citizen who uses it every day, that in itself is important! Never done something like this before? Not only is that great, make sure people know that you are new to this and not a hardcore activist. Oh, and make sure you and your pal include your kids. The press loves kids with homemade signs and matter-of-fact answers to their questions. More important, you are teaching them civic responsibility and giving them a sense of their own power.
Once you have your shit together, contact your rep’s district office, especially if they are already in support of the infrastructure plan. Tell them what you are planning. Ask if there’s any local projects that they suggest focusing on. Why do you do this? Because, if they are already on your side, they can be helpful and every elected official that is an ally appreciates a public push. They want to show opponents that their voters are pressuring them. It makes their job easier. And, if your rep is in town, invite them to say a few words in support of the infrastructure plan.
Talk to like-minded friends in other cities and towns and encourage them to do the same, preferably on the same day. And, then plan another rally supporting the infrastructure plan for the next month and the next month. Tip the local labor council and some progressive groups. Build your presence but don’t get hung up on crowd size.
I have done small scale events like this hundreds of times before. They are relatively easy to do. The most difficult thing you will deal with is the stuff within yourself – shyness, laziness, cynicism, fear, self-doubt or whatever other mind-spiders creepy-crawl inside. Push through, because once you step away from the screen and engaged with people and politics in real life, you will probably find something that has been missing in your life, a sense of civic fulfillment and a little bit hope. Acting collectively is not only good for you, it can change things.
We tend to get cynical about politicians, but know that many elected officials started as citizen activists. They understand what it takes to engage for the first time. They also understand that you can be a potential ally or a threat depending on how they treat you and your demands. They know that if you and your people are rallying at their district office, you sure the hell are going to vote. You are also going to influence other voters – friends and family – and that alienating you means turning a dozen people against them. They understand the power of people who know that they have power and they know that that power can lead to great change.
You are that power and you are that change, but only if you dare to speak up and engage.