Letter From Internet Jail: Embracing HCR Extremism
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.
- MLK, March 1966
From where I sit, HCR is the civil rights issue of our time, closely equivalent to the struggle against Jim Crow. The fact that it has been an uphill, mostly losing fight is not surprising to me in the slightest. What does surprise, and disappoint, me is that lack of urgency and willingness to escalate our collective efforts to achieve what most Americans want and all Americans need.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, observed that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor--in this case, freedom as access to healthcare is being denied by corporatists. Sadly, we haven't really demanded this freedom so much as mildly express our opinion through the passive acts of voting, signing petitions, etc. I suppose it's because the majority of Americans have health coverage, as tenuous and unsatisfactory as it may be, and Tocqueville was correct that they will not rise up against oppression in such an environment.
I admit I'm still not entirely used to having ostensible allies vehemently reject my calls for stepping up our actions. While they're not the only direct actionists out there, Code Pink seems to catch as much flak from "the left" as we do from our natural opponents on the conservative side of the spectrum.
I'm fine with people not engaging in our tactics and happy with their constructively critiquing them and coming up with alternatives--I've enjoyed discussion threads in that vein. The outright attacks, however, are troubling, particularly because they generally are fairly petty and/or come from a position of ignorance. Objections I've seen recently range from complaints about using the color pink, to complaining that "stunts" piss off people and set back the cause, to protests don't even work and we should stop.
Liberals--LIBERALS!--down on active dissent? Shocking.
I have to remind myself that any time one pushes people out of their comfort zone, the reactions will oft be negative. Even Dr King ran into resistance as he strategically used nonviolent tactics to effect change. He addressed this famously in his Letter From Birmingham Jail:
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depth...The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
If I might borrow King's MO and quote some verse: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
This passage, updated slightly for the current context, really spoke to me yesterday when I re-read King's Letter:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with moderates. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that reform's great stumbling block in its stride toward universal healthcare is not the Conservative Republican or the Blue Dog Democrat, but the moderate, who is more devoted to "passing something" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's health; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the activist to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Okay, that's probably a stretch, but certainly how I feel much of the time. King at first took umbrage at being labeled an extremist, then decided it pleased him. Despite my own frustrations, I embrace it as well.
So my family and I will continue fighting for HCR, mostly focusing on efforts at home here in Vermont. We've got at least three different single-payer bills in our Leg and lots of hearings being held. We'll be attending--respectfully--a good bit of the sausage making process, and engaging in other nonviolent tactics that might be considered rude and counterproductive.
There are many approaches we all can bring to bear, and no single one will win us true reform nor set it back. Let's just get to work and create some tension.