Hey, Joe! These Are Our Demands

HISTORY on Twitter:

            Progressives and other leftists promise/threaten to pressure/take to the streets to make demands of Joe Biden if/when he falls short of our expectations. We on the left don’t want to be one of those bad bosses who tell you your work isn’t good enough but never say what they expect from you in the first place, so you’re reduced to fumbling around in the dark.

            Because there isn’t a political party or other formation that can credibly speak for a broad base of the American left, and because the left is divided between work-from-inside AOC-Bernie types and street-level activists, no one has defined a clear metric to judge the Biden Administration’s personnel, policy and legislative actions. As we saw under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, vague demands foment the unaccountability that allows Democrats to wiggle away and take us for granted.

            We need a clear set of demands.

          I think our demands should look something like the following, and that if and when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris let us down, we should point out their sins of omission and commission, and protest immediately in the streets, on issues which have a rapidly-ticking clock attached to them; eventually, as the voting cycle dictates, the protests must continue in voting booths.

            Planet Comes First. No other issue matters if the earth and the people on it are dead or the climate crisis has prompted the collapse of human civilization. In any classic trade-off between short-term economic growth and longer-term environmental prosperity, reducing carbon emissions to net zero as close to overnight as possible (2030 is too long) and taking every possible step to reduce air, water and other kinds of pollution must become any responsible political leader’s top priority. Biden’s campaign literature called the Green New Deal a mere “crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” Screw that watered-down pablum. AOC’s Green New Deal should be expanded and broadened, with a radically shortened timeline, and signed into law on January 20, 2021.

            Immediate Relief for COVID’s Economic Victims. No one should suffer economic ruin due to government-ordered lockdowns to stop the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone evicted for nonpayment of rent or whose home was foreclosed upon after March 15, 2020 should be given housing of equal or at higher quality government expense, zero rent, for at least one year. All back rent currently outstanding should be forgiven. All overdue mortgage payments should be forgiven. Banks and landlords should be made whole by applying to a new federal program funded by reductions in the defense budget. Not only should the $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefits that expired on June 30 be renewed, checks for that amount dating back to July 1 should be issued at once. Furthermore, any American who is currently underemployed or unemployed should qualify for those $600-per-week payments regardless of whether they previously used up their time-limited benefits. Going forward, there should be no time limit on collecting unemployment benefits.

            Fully Socialized Medicine. We tried for-profit medicine. It failed even before COVID. It’s time to join the modern world. Hospitals, labs, research centers and clinics should be nationalized into a fully socialized national healthcare system. Doctors and other healthcare workers should become federal employees. Health insurance companies, no longer needed, can shut down.

            Fully Socialized Higher Education. The college and university model no longer works. It doesn’t make sense to require young men and women to take on staggering student loan debt that entry-level salaries will never allow them to repay, much less settle down and buy a house. Private colleges and universities should be nationalized by the federal government, which also has the benefit of being a fair punishment for charging full tuition for virtual online education during COVID-19. State and local colleges and community colleges should be folded into a fully federalized system of higher education that is as free as primary and secondary public schools. After all, employers’ insistence on hypercredentialization has turned the bachelor of arts degree into the new high school diploma. Both should be cost-free.

            Restart the Police. It is painfully obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense that American policing is an engine of oppression rather than protection. That means it needs to be reinvented from the ground up. Reform isn’t enough. Taking away military hardware and training recruits with a guardian rather than a warrior mentality are starts, but systematic racism and the fact that the police view us as threats rather than as employers require starting from scratch. Every policeman — local, state, federal, postal, transit, whatever — should be fired. They should not be allowed to reapply for their old jobs. The police should become like abortions: legal, safe and rare. We need fewer cops. Most should be unarmed. None should be in the business of issuing fines. No one should be rewarded simply because they arrest more people. We shouldn’t be recruiting cops out of the military. Cops should be peace officers, not an occupation force.

            Empty the Prisons. Many inmates represent no threat whatsoever to society. Prison causes deep-seated psychological problems for the prisoners themselves, their friends and families, and society in general. Close down jails and prisons.

            End the Wars. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and international law are clear: the only legitimate casus belli is in self-defense, either to an armed attack or the clear and imminent danger of such an attack, such as an army massing along another nation’s border. Any involvement in armed conflict that does not qualify as one of these must be discontinued. Drone assassinations are immoral and illegal, as are proxy wars like the U.S.-backed conflict in Yemen and wars of choice, like those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

            Throughout the campaign, centrist Democrats told progressives that they should vote for Joe Biden and then push him to the left after he won. They even said that they would march in the streets alongside leftists. Well, Biden won because progressives voted for him. Now it’s time for the centrists to make good on their promises. Pushing for these and other progressive goals would be a good start.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: To Do Next for the #NeverAgain Movement: Settle on a Clear Demand

Image result for march for our lives Notice the signs: where are the exact demands for Congress?

Eight hundred thousand people participated in the March for Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24th, say organizers with the #NeverAgain movement sparked by the Parkland, Florida school massacre. The turnout was impressive — but will it lead to new gun legislation?

History suggests no. But victory is achievable — if rallies are sharpened in focus.

Enthusiasm is necessary to launch a movement. Careful strategizing is required to sustain and grow it. The Million Moms March, also dedicated to curbing gun violence in 2000 drew a similar-sized crowd. Yet the next two decades saw one mass shooting after another, the NRA gaining rather than losing political influence, and a major reversal for the gun-control movement marked by the failure to renew the ban on assault weapons.

Whether it’s the Million Man March to promote unity and family values among African-American men or the 1981 Solidarity Day march to defend unions from Reagan-era attacks against organizations like the air traffic controllers union, there is a century-old tradition of large groups of Americans gathering in Washington, carrying signs, chanting slogans and being ignored by Congress and the president after they go home. To those shattered dreams you can add 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, another leaderless protest that came together and fizzled.

At almost all these events, speakers proclaimed themselves present at the continuation or initiation of a movement. But sustained movements must be organized. These were, like the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, political spasms. Perhaps not theater as farce — but theater at most. At best, some presaged something later, bigger and effective.

Weighing in favor of the #NeverAgain movement’s chances of effecting real change is the role of social media, which can bring large groups of people together quickly. But they also need a simple, coherent, bumper-sticker-ready demand message.

Writing in USA Today, Rick Hampson argues that even the go-to granddaddy of all contemporary marches, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was less effective than advertised: “Even the 1963 civil rights march required so much effort, created so many internal divisions and produced so few immediate results (the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed only after and because of President Kennedy’s assassination) that its leaders vowed never to attempt another.”

Hampson has a point. The 10 printed demands for the March on Washington remind us of American society’s failure to address the needs of the poor and oppressed since 1963. They wanted a $2-per-hour minimum wage, which is at least $15 today. Even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton refused to go over $12 in 2016. Still, they had a clear, coherent set of demands, beginning with: “Comprehensive and effective Civil Rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans: Access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, the right to vote.” And the Civil Rights Act did get passed.

The March 24th March for Our Lives opposed gun violence. The problem is, it failed to articulate a precise demand or set of demands.

“School safety is not a political issue,” read the Mission Statement. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”

Sorry, but those are weasel words.

“Address”?

How?

Should we ban large-capacity magazines?

Would restoring the assault-weapons ban be enough?

Should we, as retired Justice John Paul Stevens suggested recently, repeal the Second Amendment entirely and ban all guns?

Asking Congress to simply “address” an issue is an invitation for more endless debate leading nowhere, or to a compromise so watered down that it undermines the cause. (The ACA is an example of the latter.) A movement must settle on an area of clear focus. Unlike Occupy, which was split between reformists and revolutionaries and talked about everything from restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to eliminating homelessness, #NeverAgain has that part down pat.

An effective movement also has to settle on the solution to a problem. Proposing a path forward does not guarantee success: demonstrators had a clear, straightforward demand in 2002-03: do not invade Iraq. The Bush Administration ignored them. On the other hand, it’s now painfully clear which side was right. That will add to the credibility of antiwar marchers the next time a president tries to start a war of choice.

Settling on a clear solution, as opposed to asking the political class to “address” the issue, entails risk. For #NeverAgain, advocating for a comprehensive gun ban will push away allies who prefer a compromise approach. On the other hand, a more moderate approach will generate less excitement among those in favor of a radical solution (and moderation generally elicits less enthusiasm). But to take a page from gun-toting military folks, it’s better to go into battle with half an army than a whole one riddled with confusion and no idea why they’re fighting.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Wall Street – What Comes Next?

Things Have Changed. Time to Adapt.

The Occupy National Gathering, held July 1-4 in Philadelphia, perfectly captures the current state of Occupy Wall Street.

First, the cops pushed the Occupiers around, refusing them space in Independence Park. They wound up in Franklin Square. (Just like old times. In September 2011 Occupiers found Wall Street blocked off by the NYPD. Zuccotti was ad hoc option two.)

Second, the Philly confab was wimpy and watered-down. When one of your honored guests is Daryl Hall of the 1980s duo “Hall & Oates,” militancy is probably off the menu.

Third, the Occupiers weren’t really Occupiers (though many no doubt didn’t know that they’d been coopted by Democratic Party operatives). ONG was yet the latest attempt by front groups set up by MoveOn.org in order to channel the energies of the OWS movement into the Obama reelection campaign.

“What’s going on with Occupy?” people ask me. “We don’t hear anything about them anymore.” By which they mean, they haven’t seen or read anything about OWS in the corporate media. They also probably haven’t “heard” about the enormous street protests in Montreal, which routinely draw 400,000 to 500,000 people, or about Bill 78, a law passed by Quebec’s parliament that suspends the rights of free speech and assembly, which has transformed the province into a police state, or that the real unemployment rate—the way it was calculated before 1980—is 23 percent.)

When your media is this far gone, you don’t “hear” much.

Some say Occupy is dead. Others disagree. “Occupy Will Be Back,” liberal writer Chris Hedges wrote recently.” It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over.” (I don’t know who this “we” is. As far as I’ve heard, the squishy former New York Times journo’s role at Occupy has been limited to book-shilling.)

As a person who helped plan the event that initially sparked OWS; as one who was thrilled by its instant popularity, potency and potential; as someone who participated in the branch of OWS in my own community through the winter, including direct action confronting the authorities—and as a long-time student of historical crises and revolutionary movements—I think it’s less important to guess whether Occupy has a future than to examine how a movement with widespread public support from left and right alike devolved from nearly 2000 public encampments to its current situation: marginalization and cooption.

That said, this summer offers good opportunities for OWSers to make some noise. Occupiers will protest the two major party conventions later this summer. The longer the campaign goes on without either candidate seriously engaging jobs and the economy—hands down the most important issue in Americans’ minds—in a credible way, the more removed from reality the political horserace and its media carnival barkers become, the longer the suffering goes on (and suffering, we sometimes forget, is cumulative, each pain and setback exponentially building upon the last), the more appealing Occupy, or perhaps some more aggressive successor, will be.

Whether the first major street movement since the 1960s survives, grows or metastasizes, we must learn the lessons of Occupy’s first year.

Like every political system, every movement contains the seeds of its future demise. OWS began with an unsustainable premise: occupy public space, yet remain nonviolent. What happens when the cops show up? You leave peacefully. Game over. Which, with the exception of Occupy Oakland—an interesting exception, insofar that clashes with the police increased popular support—is what happened everywhere from lower Manhattan to City Hall Park in Los Angeles.

Occupy should have permitted resistance, violent and/or nonviolent. That, or it shouldn’t have camped out in parks in the first place. Similar movements, in Spain and Russia for example, operate out of offices and churches and use flash-mob tactics to carry out hit-and-run direct actions against banks and other targets. If you’re going to make an Alamo-like stand, well…make a stand.

As I and just about everyone else pointed out at the time, moreover, camping out in the cold sucks. A dumb tactic for a movement that began in the fall and intended to last indefinitely.

Occupy has been overly inclusive. As a reaction to and rejection of the two big corporate-backed political parties, OWS was inherently radical. Yet for week after week, month after month, General Assemblies all over the country have been disrupted and hijacked by liberals, Democrats, and other traditional partisans who don’t share the OWS ideology of non-partisanship and non-affiliation with Ds or Rs, and militant resistance to their backers, the banksters and other corporate hucksters.

Others have criticized OWS’ unwillingness and/or inability to issue a list of demands. Not me. I have seen how the debates within Occupy have empowered voiceless men and women who used to think politics was for politicians. It was—is—powerful.

Let the oppressors try to guess how we may be mollified, how they might avoid revolution. Demands, we believed, would define us too narrowly and separate us from one another.

But things have changed.

We have been kicked out of our encampments. Occupy groups in numerous cities have split into radical and reformist (liberal and/or Democratic) factions.

There really is no place for the liberals within Occupy. Democratic apologists should go where they belong, to volunteer for Obama, to waste their time and money on the torturer of Guantánamo, the drone murderer of Waziristan, he who golfs while the 99% watch their wages shrink and their homes taken away, he who extended his “good war” against Afghanistan through 2024.

We real Occupiers, we radicals, should come together around a list of demands that define us, and allows the wait-and-see public what we’re about, to understand that we are fighting for them—demands that a somewhat reasonable and responsive government would agree to, but cannot and will not because it would counter their insane, addictive greed, their lust to control and own everything, everywhere, everyone.

They even trademark the germs.

There should be demands for justice: prison sentences and fines for the politicos and corporate executives of those whose behavior was not only reprehensible but illegal, along with the seizure of their companies and their properties for the public good. One would start, naturally, with the President.

There should be demands for redress: payments and other material compensation for those who were the victims of crimes, economic and otherwise. Torture victims need counseling and homes, and deserve punitive and compensatory damages; those who lost their homes to illegal foreclosures need not only their old lives back, but also interest and cash penalties to serve as a deterrent to those tempted to engage in such behavior again; the same goes for those who rotted in prison for non-criminal “crimes” like using drugs.

And there should be demands for systemic changes: opening up ballots to third parties; making it illegal for elected representatives to talk to businesspeople, much less accept contributions from them; rigorously enforcing the constitution, laws and treaty obligations so that, for example, Congress gets back the exclusive right to wage war; expanding the Bill of Rights to include such obvious 21st century necessities as a right to a college education should a citizen desire one, a right to a living wage that doesn’t depend upon the whims of local employers, and a right to be treated for any illness, without charge, just because you’re American and you live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, anywhere.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Flash in the Pan

Pundits criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement for not having any ideas or demands. The same can easily be said for the mainstream political class in Washington and New York, beginning with the Democrats and Republicans.

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