And so that was the refrain, in a chanting cadence, from a few hundred protesters marching from Zuccotti Park to the office building of WellCare on 5th Avenue and 16th Street in New York City. WellCare is a for-profit insurer that administers Medicare Advantage plans and Medicaid, and has been embroiled in a $400-$600 million whistleblower criminal and civil fraud case in 6 states.
It was last Wednesday, early on a crisp, 62-degree evening, that this march occurred, while thousands poured onto the streets from the surrounding buildings, exiting from their jobs for the day. The protesters called for Medicare For All, taxing Wall Street and the right to peaceful assembly to air grievances against our government. Many who spoke out were doctors and victims of the system. Each and every word of the protesters echoed loudly, for all within earshot to hear, and as they began to march, they kept time with a question and answer, "What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!"
There was the young ER doctor who spoke of her parents living without health insurance, and of her ER being unable to render treatment and offer such basics as mammograms, instead being reduced to a band-aid operation, triage on a battlefield. Then there was the paralyzed man in a wheelchair with a breathing tube, briefly removing it so he could join in the refrain for at least a word or two at a time. And the woman who attends as many OWS protests as she can, who now works part time, having lost her full time job. Our founding fathers got it right when they included that peaceful assembly and redress right in the First Amendment to our Constitution.
On this night, two large groups of protesters converged: one marching from Zuccotti Park with a stop at Blue Cross/Blue Shield along the way, and the other staked out in front of WellCare further uptown. They met and took their protest to 12th Street and the site of the now-shuttered St. Vincent's hospital. The West Village community was present, lined up in front of the hospital to greet and applaud the marchers. We had reached out to them in their need and joined in their fight. Off to the side, in front of the deserted hospital, was a table manned by a neighborhood senior, soliciting signatures for a petition to bring a hospital back to their community and to kill the plans of the Rudin Corporation to build a condo on the site. A hospital landmark that stood proudly and served New Yorkers for over 100 years ended its distinguished career in bankruptcy, forced to shut down, its neighbors left rightfully worried about healthcare becoming inaccessible in a population-dense area left with out a hospital.
What struck me was that the protesters were united in both voice and mission. So many strangers came together on this night with a common mission, and I felt privileged to be among them. I can only say that as many as possible across the country should experience an Occupy event. The police presence was small and mainly consisted of community liaison staff to the police department, 2 organizers from OWS and one high-ranking police officer - an odd trio indeed. But this was a peaceful and civil protest, perhaps due to the presence of doctors in white coats and nurses, all carrying signs provided by the National Nurses Union, which represents over 170,000 nurses. Several of its members have set up medical tents in the encampment at Zuccotti Park to provide healthcare to the protesters, as well as treating other Occupiers across the country. The nurses, along with PNHP and Healthcare-now, are all leading advocates for single payer, and all were present in full force, joined by those "ordinary" Americans, the 99%. This, thankfully, was not Oakland or Denver or Nashville, with no tear gas or rubber bullets or raging confrontations and arrests that have occurred in those places and elsewhere.
And so the OWS and its counterparts continue nationwide to protest as the movement grows. The 99% are feeling pretty good about themselves these days, but there is still much work ahead. The OWS has a 20-point platform articulated and drawn up that will be presented to every member of Congress and the President following their National General Assembly that will take place on July 4th, 2012. If these issues are not addressed, they will create another party. Every major issue is included in their platform, affecting all Americans, but while they articulate the problems we face, America needs solutions. As they continue to build the movement and mature, OWS must create and promote an agenda of problem-solving and tangible reform.
I have two suggestions on where they should take their growing movement:
1. Move to create a new Progressive Party, to both combat the extreme Tea Party-governed GOP and replace the GOP-lite "establishment" Dems (or "Republicrats," as I like to call them). The current 2-party system will not change because both the Dem and GOP party apparatuses work in collusion with those special interests, who donate big bucks to their campaigns and now own our nation's capital.
2. Unite to pass an amendment overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and end corporate personhood, while pushing for the public funding of campaigns under the Fair Elections Now Act. That would go a long way in removing the rot and corruption in our politics and help to elect real Progressives to office.
It is obvious that the way the parties are currently structured only feeds the insanity of perpetual fundraising, depriving constituents of access to and attention from their elected officials, especially in the House of Representatives. The big fundraisers in Congress who secure those large donations for their parties are then given plum assignments on key committees, which too often oversee the very businesses and industries in which their big donors operate. In turn, congress members want the prestige of serving on major committees as it helps them to rise in the party -- a vicious cycle. Some egregious examples of this corrupt system include Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a very tepid Dem who chaired the Senate Finance Committee during the ACA debates that wrote much of the legislation for the bill. He is the darling of the health insurance industry, having kept any discussion of single payer out of his hearing room and off the table. This is the same Max Baucus who proposed a $400 billion cut to Medicare, which the infamous Congressional Super Committee has been discussing of late and is supported by the other Dems on the committee. And yes, Max sits on this Committee as well.
Meanwhile, mega-fundraiser Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has been handed the Chair of the DNC, while Nancy Pelosi is expected to raise more than the $25 million dollars that was expected of her in 2008 in this campaign season for the DNC, as well as pay her dues to the DCCC of $800,000. Hoyer, Emanuel and Clyburn, the other 3 leaders in the House in '08, were expected to contribute the same dues as Nancy and raise $2.5 million each for the party. All members of Congress pay dues to their respective chambers, with the dues grading upward according to position in the party and importance of the committee(s) on which they are serving. Of course, seniority has its privileges, as well as its choice assignments. Aspiring candidates for Congress who can't raise $100,000 per quarter aren't even given a second look and receive no assistance from the party, often being actively discouraged from running. As I have previously said, the DNC, DCCC and DSCC need makeovers.
The Democratic party now supports 5 Super PACs, with one in the House and another in the Senate. This was a wrong decision by the leaders of what was supposed to be the "People's" party. Instead, they should have shown some backbone and outrage at Karl Rove's American Crossroads and its clones, and galvanized the American people to call for overturning Citizens United and going to public financing of campaigns. Unfortunately, no such action was called for or taken. Those two decisions alone would sweep the Dems into control in 2012. Instead, they joined the GOP in the swamp and sewer by creating their own Super PACs.
To become a force in 2012 and beyond, the Occupiers must become involved in campaigns, identifying, backing and funding Progressive candidates who run for the right reasons, with core democratic values that will speak to the needs and dreams of the 99%. Right now, our collective future is in the hands of a Congressional Super Committee of 12, equally divided among Republicans and Democrats, who are among the largest fundraisers in their parties. This crowd has collectively raised $592 million since 1990, with half of that amount raised by John Kerry in his presidential run against George. W. Bush in 2004 (www.opensecrets.org). This panel's decisions will reflect the needs of their money supporters, not the rest of us. The safety nets of Social Security and Medicare must be entirely removed from any discussion of cuts in this Committee. These programs warrant a separate study of how to preserve and make them stronger, not how to weaken them to give more money to the rich.
Unfortunately, such courage will not be found in this Congress. It will take a whole different crop of leaders and real public servants, who can work unencumbered by special interest influence, to truly cure what ails our nation.
Are you listening, Occupiers from coast to coast?
-with Jonathan Stone