The House Has Spoken
Posted by: eric on November 10, 2009 at 10:25 am
On Saturday November 7, 2009, just before midnight, the House of Representatives passed HR 3962, the Affordable Health Care For America Act on a bipartisan vote of 220-215.
Congress has attempted to “fix” heath care for the last thirty years. The last big generation of political activists, the Baby Boomers of the 1960s, got some things right and some things wrong. One of the things they got right was when they took to the streets in support of their most important goals—claiming civil rights for all Americans (especially African Americans) and ending the war in Vietnam.
Some of the giant demonstrations the Boomers mounted—with support, of course, from people of every generation—were crucial turning points in the evolution of popular opinion. Images of peaceful marchers in the South having fire hoses turned on them and police dogs sicced on them revealed to millions of Americans the brutality of the segregation regime and the need to support the aspirations of Black citizens for freedom. The unforgettable words of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he addressed 300,000 demonstrators during the 1963 March on Washington in his “I Have a Dream” speech have inspired generations of people around the world. The antiwar marches of the 1960s and 1970s, in which moms and dads, college students and homemakers, ministers and nuns, veterans and pacifists, and working men and women of every age participated, gradually convinced the people of America that the cause of peace was a universal one, not just the province of a few “pinkos” or “hippies.”
Of course, marching in the streets isn’t important for its own sake, although there is a value in simply getting people together to recognize and appreciate how large their numbers are and how great their potential power can be. Demonstrations must be smartly planned and creatively executed so as to maximize their publicity value, media appeal, and impact on public opinion. Millions of people around the world participated in protest marches against the impending Iraq War in February 2003, but those marches failed to even slow the rush to war, perhaps in part because the news media dismissed them as “Just business as usual”—the same kinds of marches they’d seen hundreds of times before.
My point is that one of the important challenges for the enormous creativity of Generation We will be to develop new forms of peaceful protest designed to be effective in today’s world of 24-hour saturated news coverage via cable TV and Internet. It won’t take a lot—just two or three people with a bit of media genius who can design events (even “publicity stunts”) that will attract as much interest\ and attention as, say, the latest escapades of Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, and then the mobilization of caring Millennials in support of those events.
Children of the electronic media age, Generation We should use their media wisdom to spread the word about the causes they believe in. And—importantly—they need to remember the lesson taught by Gandhi and King: that an absolute commitment to nonviolence is a prerequisite for any movement that hopes to generate public support for a cause.
We do not condone violence of any nature in this movement. Peace begets peace, and violence creates hatred. We must move past that world of divisiveness to a new world of kindness and togetherness. But never forget—that doesn’t mean passivity in the face of evil. The willingness to take a public stand for what is right is the other essential legacy of Gandhi and King.