Features » July 21, 2003
How Badly Do You Want to Win?
Everywhere I go, everywhere every Democrat goes, we hear, “Where are the Democrats?” I take that challenge seriously, and many of us are working day and night to make ourselves heard, putting together a strategy with members who are willing to use tougher language and “creative” tactics in coordination with outside organizations.
Yes, we need more Democrats who believe, as Paul Wellstone said, that “the politics of conviction is a winning politics.” But I challenge you to do the same by asking, “Where are you?” I say that as an activist and organizer myself, and with a great deal of respect for the work that all of you are doing. I acknowledge the magnificent visibility of the antiwar activities, and the Web-based organizing that has generated millions of e-mails to Congress, the work of the Anti-Tax Cut Coalition and others. I say that with enormous respect for the work of organized labor nationally and locally. I know we are all grateful to President John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO and his incredibly effective leadership.
Even so, there have been too few examples of viewpoints, other than those consistent with the administration’s, breaking through to the public. If we are to win, it’s clear we need to do more, do it louder, do it faster, and do it better. And if we don’t, in 2008 we will live in a country and a world far different from the one we have had and the one to which we aspire.
This president is seriously undermining the rule of law, the Constitution of the United States, and our precious civil liberties—and he’s doing it all in the name of patriotism. But where are the lawyers and judges? Why am I not hearing your protests? Where are your e-mails and phone calls, your letters to the editor, your calls to talk radio, your high-profile lawsuits? Privacy is a major concern for average Americans, and Big Brother is mining our most private information as we sit here. I realized how serious this was when a woman asked me how she could get another perspective on the Iraq war and I suggested a few Web sites. She asked me if she went there if she would find herself on a list. In all honesty, I found that I couldn’t say with confidence, “Absolutely no; this is still the United States of America, and you can look at anything you want.”
Lawyers, judges, where are you? Seniors, where are you? I want to see sustained, loud, angry activity. After all, the Republicans still want to privatize Social Security and Medicare and cut Medicaid so they can give tax cuts to their rich friends and destroy those basic programs to boot. It’s a twofer for them.
Even veterans are not immune. Many veterans have to wait 15 months just to get a doctor’s appointment. The drug companies are conducting a $150 million campaign to prevent any move to lower drug prices, allocating $9.5 million to public relations, even $1 million to get rid of the national health care system in Canada. When I was director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, our group was chasing Dan Rostenkowski down the street. Seniors, now is the time to get on your running shoes. You should be chasing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay all over the country.
Environmentalists: Alaska is melting. The journal Nature reports that 90 percent of all large fish such as tuna, marlin, swordfish, cod, and halibut are gone from our oceans; fuel efficiency of our cars is at a 22-year low. It’s now considered patriotic, for crying out loud, to drive a Hummer. So where the hell are you? I want to read about you or even join you protesting at hearings in Washington or Big Oil shareholder meetings. We need the activists and scientists to challenge this aggressively antiscience administration. Some things we may be able to reverse when we wrest power over the planet from their control. But extinct is extinct.
My sisters, where are the demonstrations against the war on women that is being waged every day in every way. Today on the floor is the bill to ban the mythical partial birth abortion, which is a thinly disguised assault on fundamental reproductive rights. On his first day in office, President Bush attacked the poorest, most vulnerable women in the world when he cut U.S. funds to organizations that have the gall to counsel, refer, or—God forbid—perform abortions in countries where it is legal (which it happens to be in ours, by the way).
Our women in the military can’t, with their own funds, have a safe and legal abortion at a military hospital, even if they are in Iraq or Saudi Arabia. A rabidly antichoice man who thinks that women’s health concerns can be cured with prayer now heads up the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs. The Republicans want to eliminate Title IX, equal opportunities for women in education and sports. They’ve done little to help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
We all need to join in the efforts of organized labor on behalf of all working families in this country. This week we may be considering a so-called comp time bill that shreds the basic concept of a day’s pay for a day’s work and makes time-and-a-half pay for overtime a thing of the past. Just picture another four years of a Bush administration unfettered by concerns of re-election. Unions are not in the 2008 picture. In 2008 there may not be any public employees, let alone public-employee unions. Everything will be privatized and contracted out. Private-sector unions will be under siege; a constant barrage of well-financed referenda will be launched in state after state; legal assaults and investigations will take place at every level, and we’ll always be the target of well-financed media campaigns.
I salute the leadership that the religious leaders—clergy and lay people—have shown on the war. Don’t stop now. “God is a Republican” is a guiding principle for this administration. As long as there are congressional resolutions and official days of prayer, the United States can continue to preemptively attack any country it wants. As Senate Leader Bill Frist said at a large gathering I attended, “All you need to know is the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.”
Their God is homophobic and anti-choice. Education Secretary Rod Paige said: “All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community. In a religious environment the value system is set. That’s not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values.” The dangerous destruction of the wall between church and state is well underway. Religious leaders and the faith community need to address this.
Disability rights activists, immigrant advocates, housing advocates, civil rights leaders, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender activists, all warriors for social and economic justice, thank you for what you do. And now we need to do more, do it louder, do it faster and do it better.
Clearly the right has a number of tools at its disposal now that we don’t have.
- Republicans control the White House and are placing ideologues at every level of the administration, the Senate and House, and much of the judiciary.
- The right controls much of the media, which creates a very effective echo chamber for the Republicans’ initiatives and smear campaigns. The June 2 ruling of the Federal Communications Commission lifting most restrictions on consolidation will allow the Foxification and Clear Channelization even more.
- The Republicans have most of the money, and their corporate agenda and tax cuts for the rich ensure that they will continue to do so.
- The Republicans lie with impunity. Let’s face it. They’re liars. They lied about the reason they took our sons and daughters to war. They spend millions of dollars in campaign ads saying they are for a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. They call their dirty air legislation “Clear Skies” and their plan to give the timber companies our trees, “Healthy Forests.” They call their job-killing economic program a “jobs program.” They say they are for peace when they are for war. Millions of children are left behind under their miserly “No Child Left Behind” education bill. They tout a child tax credit and then silently drop it in favor of more tax cuts for millionaires.
- Perhaps most important, the Republicans are unabashed and unapologetic about pushing their right-wing agenda, no matter what. They are always playing offense. I used to think, oh, they can’t be serious about this or that—another huge tax cut, eliminating Title IX, continuing tax breaks for companies that move their offices to Bermuda, locking up immigrants indefinitely without due process, using federal dollars to build churches—it’s just a trial balloon. Forget it. They mean what they say and they don’t give up until they get it. This is where we come in.
The nuns wanted to know what could be done to change the state of affairs. I said I thought someone needed to take voter registration forms to every meeting and demonstration and get people fired up to vote. They said that would be hard. Why? Because people were fed up with the Democrats. I said, then they are going to have to get over it, and you are going to have to help them. Because like it or not, either George W. Bush or the Democratic nominee, whoever he may be, will be our next president.
All of you know who I’m talking about; I may be talking about you. We should, by all means, be working to promote a progressive agenda with each and every candidate and to make the nominee as progressive as possible.
But in the end, we are going to have to dedicate ourselves to electing the Democrat. To do otherwise is a luxury we cannot afford. I look forward to our campaign for a universal health care plan or a real education bill or labor law reform. We cannot even have that conversation now. We are trying to hang on by our fingernails to what we have now. And we are losing.
The good news today is that we have them on the run on several fronts. They were hoping that the conversation this week would be about the flag burning amendment that passed the House yesterday and partial birth abortion. Instead it’s about their decision to cut 6.5 million American families with 12 million children, including families of servicemen and -women, out of their tax relief bill because they jeopardized tax cuts for the rich. Some Senate Republicans realize this level of greed may have been a tad too much for most Americans, but Tom DeLay, God love him, is really steaming that Democrats are demanding action on the issue. He says, “There are a lot of things that are more important than that.” Like more tax cuts for the rich. He indicated that he’d think about it if it were part of a package that permanently repealed the estate tax.
The missing weapons of mass destruction are becoming a real annoyance to them now, and the media is starting to pick it up. More and more members of Congress, even some Republicans, are asking for investigations. Editorial boards are beginning to write about it.
We need to take advantage of these opportunities. The polls tell us that the president is in fact vulnerable. His re-elect numbers are not that great. We have to do with fervor what we already know how to do. We have to register base voters who have left us at least in part because they think we don’t speak to them. And here you have another choice. You can bitch that the Democrats don’t speak to them, or you can speak to them, one on one, door to door, worker to worker, meeting after meeting, neighbor to neighbor. Set a goal for yourself, perhaps to register 100 new Democratic voters between now and Election Day.
Become part of a progressive echo chamber. When the Republicans go after Tom Daschle or Nancy Pelosi for being unpatriotic when they criticize the president, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh begin spinning the same line. We need to push back, writing letters to the editor, calling talk shows, e-mailing Congress, e-mailing Sean Hannity and telling him he’s out of line, calling them un-American for stifling dissent.
When Republicans launch a really bad proposal or Democrats a good one, we need to have coordinated efforts throughout the country. We need to use our think tanks and grassroots and Web-based organizations in increasingly creative ways and coordinate that with activities of the Democrats that are becoming more and more vocal in the Congress.
You can tell the truth. We don’t need to lie. Democrats are better for their health and well-being, their kids’ education and their family budget, and—Republican propaganda notwithstanding—our national security, stopping terrorism, and peace on earth.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) gave this speech at the Campaign for America’s Future conference in Washington on June 4, 2003.