I spoke last weekend at a public library in Blue Hill, a small coastal town in Maine. Most in the audience worked and voted for President Obama, but in the course of what was a very interesting conversation, it became clear that most of them haven’t done much since then. How to explain this? Probably they thought that they had done their part in electing a new president and that the country would move in a progressive direction on the strength and momentum of that victory.
Obviously, this hasn’t happened. Since President Obama entered the White House, opposition to his agenda has been stiff, but none of the earlier legislative struggles match the scope and intensity of the current struggle over health care reform.
The Republican Party and its echo chambers in the mass media, shamelessly spewing hate, and racist caricatures and code words, and lies, want nothing more than to put a stake into the heart of health care reform. Then there are the private insurance companies who turn blue at the thought of a Medicare-like public option that would cut into their profits and power. And if this isn’t enough, sections of the Obama-led coalition, while supporting some aspects of health care legislation, are busy trying to torpedo a public option as well.
Marx once said that ‘the weapon of criticism can never replace the criticism of weapons.’ Marx wasn’t making a pitch for violence, but rather suggesting that social change, above all, requires the united action of millions. Marx’s observation was insightful then and resonates now as far as the struggle over health care reform is concerned.
If the people who elected the president and a new Congress (as well as others who didn’t vote for them, but desperately need health care overhaul) become political actors (criticism of weapons) in the next few weeks, the American people will seal the deal on real health care change and set the stage for other reform struggles, including radical ones.
Admittedly, mobilization by labor and others is going on, but I suspect from my experience in Blue Hill that many decent-minded people who could and should be engaged in this battle are still on the sidelines. If this is so, the main task of supporters of health care reform is to immediately draw these very people into the struggle in very practical ways.
Maybe it’s organizing a phone tree to a congressional representative, a visit to a legislator’s office, a local demonstration, a town hall meeting, a resolution in a city council, church or union, civil disobedience at corporate headquarters of a private insurer …
Victory is assured if we do!
Sam Webb (swebb @ cpusa.org) is the Communist Party USA’s national chairperson.