by Ralph Nader
The Nader Page, Sept. 23, 2022
September 24, 2022
Long before the Covid pandemic, it was important to ask, where are the mass movements to enact in Congress majoritarian-supported changes and reforms? Another question: Whatever happened to the mass rallies that used to command the attention of our 535 members of Congress to whom we have given our sovereign power?
Let’s start with universal healthcare, which President Harry Truman urged on a recalcitrant Congress in 1945. Proponents, including the labor unions, could not overcome the physicians’ lobby in the form of the American Medical Association. President Lyndon Johnson wanted universal health insurance but had to settle for Medicare, with some limits, for the elderly and Medicaid for some poor families. Opponents cited the expense of the Vietnam War as the reason for such limitations.
Since then, there have been no mass rallies or marches for universal healthcare. Sporadic demonstrations by a few hundred people on the Capitol steps showed insensitive members, who have their own comprehensive health insurance, the decline of civic energy.
With the huge waste, gouging, corruption and preventable casualties documented in today’s health delivery industry, and about 5000 people a week dying in hospitals due to what a peer-reviewed report by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine called “preventable problems” in hospitals, one would think there would be regular marches on Washington to pass Medicare-for-All. The Canadians did this nearly sixty years ago. (See, singlepayeraction.org). Too many people are suffering or ridden with anxiety, dread and fear, without adequate or any health insurance, while too few people are demanding action by Congress.
Senator Bernie Sanders’ insurgent presidential campaign in 2016, sabotaged from victory for the nomination by Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party apparatchiks, could be seen as a mass voter action. However, Sanders has yet to take this huge support and mailing list and convert it into a mass movement. And so, the painful years keep passing.
Other majoritarian reforms and redirections have similarly failed to coalesce into mass movements, as occurred for Civil Rights and environmental protection in the Sixties and early Seventies. Reforms such as living wage, to allowing workers to more easily form unions’ bargaining with big business, ending the student loan gouging and rackets, eliminating the huge tax escapes for the wealthy and corporations, investing in rebuilding communities’ public works all over the country, cracking down on the corporate crooks draining consumers’ pocketbooks, harming their safety and ending the corrosive impact of corporate campaign contributions. All these measures have broad public support.
What are some reasons for a sedentary citizenship in a country? Remember our Constitution starts and ends with “We the People,” not “We the Corporations.” You, the readers, know all the ways powerful forces keep people down, feeling powerless and distracted with 24/7 so-called entertainment, plus everything in between. Many aggrieved people have a hard time just getting through the day.
Imagine if, despite the obstacles to action, just one percent of the citizenry got knowledgeable and mobilized for Congressional reforms that have a quieter, large majority of the people behind them. One percent of adults is about 2.5 million Americans spread throughout 435 Congressional Districts. In the Sixties, it took a lot less than that level of organized and committed people.
Someday, some leaders will emerge in the above-noted fields and other crucial areas of injustice and practice this one percent theory.
I wrote a small book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, to explain how optimistic critical masses throughout American history worked together to improve our society. I described the kinds of changes that one percent of the people could advance to revolutionize politics for the common good and “the pursuit of happiness.” For that to happen, a sufficient number of people have to civically believe in themselves and lock arms together on actions for a change. (See, https://nader.org/breaking-through-power-to-do-list/).
From the archives:
We Have A Violence Problem — Campaign Nonviolence Strives To Solve It, by Rivera Sun
If Democrats Didn’t Suck, by David Swanson
Working Conditions are Getting Worse in the US, by Pete Dolack
Perfidy Meets Putty – Congressional Democrats Betray Voters, by Ralph Nader
We Can Do Better Than Capitalist Formal “Democracy” by Pete Dolack
Corporate Power Prevails When There is Media and Political Exclusion of the Informed and Experienced Civic Community by Ralph Nader
Pingback: That’s What A Congress – With Both Parties Dominated By Corporate Predators, Looks Like, by Ralph Nader – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Ralph Nader: What Medicare for All Saves You! – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Chris Hedges and Ralph Nader: A Postmortem on the 2022 Midterm Elections – Dandelion Salad
Pingback: Ralph Nader: How to Fix Democracy – Dandelion Salad
The article responds to the surface appearance of things from five years ago and is a lament for lost reform while capitalism is in a period of war, austerity and dictatorship.
Why is there is no mention of the mass strike movement?
If the there are no movements and “too many people are suffering …” then why is the US ruling class preparing for fascism? What do they know that that the author doesn’t.
The big problem with the article is that it doesn’t explain why the working class became so atomised. We need to know our enemy. Where is the criticism of the Democratic Party, the “graveyard of social movements”? Where is the criticism of the pseudo-left groups that insist “pressure” for change is only through the Democrats. Sanders was surprised by his popularity but his role was to keep those disaffected within the Democrats. Finally what about the anti-communist trade union leadership that support US capitalism and during the McCarthyite Witch-hunts purged their ranks of all the socialist organisers.
We live in the decade of socialist revolution. Leadership is going to be decisive. Only the working class can change what it happening so that is where we must turn. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/09/24/mdvl-s24.html/
Yes, all good points, John. Thanks for commenting and the link.
John Wilson, that is all well said. I hope you are right in your assertion that “we live in the decade of socialist revolution,” but I am not so certain of it. The future is what we choose to do, and I cannot predict what everyone else will choose to do or not do.
I am not a traditional Marxist. Certainly the organizing of the workplace is a major factor in revolution, but I don’t believe it is the only factor. The ecosystem is nearing collapse, and the likelihood of nuclear war (accidental or conscious) is increasing. Our rulers are not just destroying us workers — they are on the verge of destroying our entire species, including themselves. Those certainly are consequences of capitalism, but they are not directly a consequence of the relation between capital and labor. I think we need to organize, not just as workers, but as human beings. It is not just “the working class,” but “the class for life.”
The working class have been de-educated, dumbed down, drugged up and distracted by the ceaseless stream of soporific sludge that passes for information and news.
There are many theories about what happened to the mass rallies. And there are many points in history that may have been turning points.
The Powell Memorandum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_F._Powell_Jr.#Powell_Memorandum,_1971) was circulated in 1971.
The draft ended in 1975. Perhaps the rebelliousness of the 60s was really motivated by selfishness?
Also in 1975, a report to the Trilateral Commission spoke of an “excess of democracy.”
Sometime around then (I don’t have a precise date), workers’ wages ceased tracking productivity. Productivity and profits continued to rise, but wages did not. Ever since then, the economy has worsened for all but the rich. And people don’t have the time or the awareness to rebel when they are barely holding on. But that can be pushed too far: When people reach rock bottom, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by rebelling, and we may be approaching that point now.
In my mind, Obama’s 2008 campaign was a major turning point. Obama campaigned on “hope” and promised all sorts of progressive “changes.” Just on the basis of those promises, Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the marketer of the year award (https://adage.com/article/moy-2008/obama-wins-ad-age-s-marketer-year/131810). But immediately after being elected, Obama reversed himself on all those promises, and utterly demolished the word “hope” for many of us. Activists today debate over the meaning of even the word “hope” — some describe how it is a motivation for inaction, while others (including myself) define it in a way that makes it a motivation for action (https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/hope/). Still, Obama’s marketing was so effective that even today a great many Democrat voters still believe Obama was and is some sort of progressive.
And yet, even with all these discouragements, PLUS the pandemic, the George Floyd protests in summer 2020 were the largest movement in US history. But those protests did NOT bring change.
What will it take to bring change? Here is my own analysis: Terrible crimes in government will persist as long as a few people profit from them. (For instance, all our many wars are mass murders based on lies to make a few rich men richer. And our government’s inadequate response to global warming is, again, based on lies to make a few rich men richer.) This is an inevitable consequence of CAPITALISM, which cannot be reformed any more than cancer or Satan can be compromised with. But most people do not see that, because the propaganda system perpetuating capitalism is extremely effective. What we need is understanding, an increased AWARENESS of what is really going on all around us. And awareness IS spreading, but I don’t know if it will win its race against global warming. Our habitat is about to crash, far sooner than most people realize, due to feedback loops, tipping points, and cascading failures.
Great commentary, Lefty.