In the past year or two it seems as if I have been signing or getting signed more postcards, letters, and petitions to Congress than at any time in my personal history.
Most likely this was the result of the 2008 election, which put the Democrats completely in power, holding the Presidency, House, and Senate. So it seemed reasonable to pressure them to do all the good things they raised HOPE for as they rallied their base to beat the Republicans.
We sent in postcards for Single Payer Health Care. We signed postcards for the Employee Free Choice Act. We even sent postcards for Single Payer to Richard Trumka, then-President-to-be of the AFL-CIO.
We signed petitions for reforming Railroad Retirement. We sent in letters objecting to Single Employee Crews on the Railroad.
My email inbox was clogged with pleas to send emails on every progressive issue under the sun, from Global Warming to Immigrants Rights.
Time passed. 2008, 2009, now we are at the end of 2010. We now have the benefit of experience and hindsight.
What came of all the postcards, letters, petitions, and emails? By the fall 2010 election, most folks on the left side of the spectrum had come to one inexorable conclusion.
Next to nothing.
No Single Payer Health Care. Single Payer advocates had to get arrested shouting at Congress to get any attention at all.
And so it went with every other remotely progressive issue. A big fat zero for our side.
So when I attended a recent forum on saving and strengthening Social Security, currently threatened by major cuts through Obama’s Deficit Commission, and some of the organizers asked me to sign postcards to Congress, I said, “No, I won’t,” and during the discussion period rose up and said why I wouldn’t.
I pointed out that in the last two years, with the Democrats in power, all our postcards had been in vain. Now with the Republicans taking over Congress, the whole notion struck me as ludicrous, almost a form of insanity. We need instead, to take a page from our brothers and sisters in Europe, who are demonstrating and striking against the new forms of capitalist austerity for workers. To sign a postcard is to actually give credence to the idea that Congress with its bought and sold politicians is a solution, instead of being the problem.
Needless to say this provoked quite a discussion. It was pointed out that postcards are an organizing tool. I can agree that sometimes they are. Our local congressman, part of the panel, responded with some anguished musings on why social solidarity seemed so weak today. I thought I struck a nerve with him, and it was a highlight of the forum to hear him on this subject.
Now of course I am something of a “No Postcards” celebrity among local activists. “Hey Jon, want to sign this postcard? Heh, heh heh.” So be it.
It’s about time for us to discuss what happened — what failed and why — over the last years and to insist on accountability for strategy and tactics. Saying no to postcards can get us started.
|Jon Flanders is a member and former president of IAM LL 1145 and a member of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO.|