Nov 19th 2009

Crashing the Gates of the Status Quo

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's announcement that he will send health insurance reform to the floor of the Senate this week signals that the long march to change America, that began with Barack Obama's announcement for President three years ago, has arrived at the gates of what is most certainly the "castle of the status quo."

The next two months will - without question - be a decisive period in American history. The Obama victory opened up a great historic opportunity to make fundamental change in America. But the ability of the progressive forces to take advantage of that opportunity now hinges on our success at laying siege to that "castle" and crashing through its gates by passing significant health care reform.

Everyone realizes that health insurance reform is not just another piece of legislation. But its significance goes well beyond the fact that it affects one-sixth of the economy; or that it will massively impact our country's ability to create jobs in the future; or even that it will determine whether or not health care finally becomes a right in America.

If we succeed in winning health insurance reform we will have breached the gates of the status quo
. We will demonstrate that fundamental change is possible. Into that breach will flow a wave of progressive change. That victory will also make it possible for us to pass legislation to restructure the energy economy - to put the brakes on climate change and free us from the tyranny of foreign oil. It will make it possible for us to rein in the power of Wall Street and pass long-overdue comprehensive immigration reform. It will make it possible to structure a bottom-up economy that can produce the jobs of the future.

Of course none of these changes will happen automatically. The massive forces whose economic interests lie in maintaining the status quo will not just roll over and concede defeat. But if they are capable of preventing our victory on health care reform, they will make it ever so much more difficult for us to succeed on other critical fronts.

So an enormous amount is at stake - both for the progressive agenda and for the forces that oppose us. All depends on our ability to vanquish the forces that -- over the next two months -- will use every weapon at their disposal to prevent our success. It won't matter whether the special interests in question have a fundamental interest in health care. The Chamber of Commerce, the insurance industry, the Republican Party, and right wing talk show hosts will all rally to defend the status quo. They understand beyond the shadow of a doubt the significance of this engagement. They will lie, they will threaten, they will sew fear, they will batter our supporters with negative advertisements, they will pay for busloads of right wing zealots, they will offer jobs, they will do favors, they will bite, scratch and poke out eyes - they will do whatever is necessary to prevent us from breaching those gates.
It is up to us to have the resolve, the resourcefulness and endurance to defeat them.
This particular battle is so decisive for three reasons:

1). Change is about momentum. Just as in physics, it takes a great deal more energy to accelerate an object at rest than it does to continue its motion. Those who fear change have always used delay and obstruction to slow momentum to a standstill. In the Senate, the other side will do everything it can to delay action. Their first trick will be to demand that the entire 1,900 page bill be read aloud. America has debated health insurance reform for over 60 years.

We have seriously debated the current round of proposals for nine months. Now is the time for action. Americans deserve and up or down vote on health care. As we confront the obstructionists in the Senate, we must maintain our momentum for change and make our movement a battering ram that is un-slowable and therefore unstoppable. Progressives in the Senate cannot accept infinite delay. They must be - and I believe they are - prepared to use every parliamentary technique available to make certain there is an up or down vote. If the other side insists on a filibuster, we need to make them filibuster - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We need to force them to stay on the Senate floor and show themselves to be the obstructionists they are, for as long as it takes.

2). To maintain an unjust status quo, those with power must always prevent the majority from believing that change is possible. They must extinguish hope. They must convince us that the status quo is immutable - the natural order - that we must accommodate ourselves to things as they are, and satisfy ourselves with our lot in life. Once people see that change is possible, the flood gates open, so the defenders of the status quo must prevent us from even imagining a different world.Once the sons and daughters of African American families left their lives as sharecroppers in the South - took jobs in Chicago and New York - saw Europe during World War II -- there was no longer any stopping the surging demand for change that ultimately became the civil rights movement. Suddenly, they could imagine the possibility of a different world.

The other side understands this completely. If they block health care reform, they know that it will convince millions of Americans that change - not just health care reform -- is not possible - that they have to live with things as they are. They know it will snuff out the light of hope that was ignited by the Obama victory. And just as important, it will drain the reservoir of confidence that President Obama can make change. They know it will cause America to lose faith in possibility - and that is exactly what they desperately want to do, because they know that the reverse is also true. They know that if we win, faith in the possibility of change - and in President Obama's ability to deliver change - will explode.

3). The outcome of this battle will send a signal to economic and social forces throughout American society, telling them whether they should get onboard the bandwagon of change, or settle in and accommodate themselves to the status quo.
That is true of politicians who know that failure will make change appear to be "bad politics." It is true of business people who will either make investment decisions that seek opportunities in a new economy, or do their best to exploit the inequities of the present order. It is true of everyday voters who want to be with a winner.

The results of this battle will define a narrative about the likelihood of change that will shape millions of individual decisions about career and educational choices, investment opportunities, and votes.

The battle that will happen over the next two months will test the mettle of progressive leaders - in and out of political office. More than anything else it will be a test of wills. It is not appropriate to pull out the big guns for every engagement. You can't go-for-broke on every issue, every day. But this is the time.
  • We must demand that Congress pass a health insurance reform bill that restructures the relations of power in the health care industry by creating a strong, viable public option that will free us all from the stranglehold of the private insurance industry.
  •  We must demand that health care decisions are ripped from the control of Wall Street investment bankers and insurance company bureaucrats, and returned to doctors and their patients.
  • We must do whatever is necessary to assure that we do not miss this historic opportunity to finally make health care a right for all Americans.
    This is an historic opportunity. Of course nothing in history is preordained. It is up to us to make that history by winning this decisive battle and turning this opportunity into a new era of progressive change in America.

    Robert Creamer's ecent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.

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