Could a Peaceful, Well‐​Organized Protest Movement Help Save Us from Obamacare?

Ordinary people in tough circumstances have changed history before, and it’s possible we could do it again.
November 4, 2013 • Commentary
This article appeared in Forbes​.com on November 4, 2013.

Principled House votes, brave Senate filibusters and aggressive Capitol Hill lobbying have failed to save us from Obamacare, in part because they’re inside‐​the‐​beltway strategies, all wrong for the situation we find ourselves in now — namely, millions of Americans alarmed because, contrary to President Obama’s cynical promises, we cannot keep the health insurance policy we like, we cannot work with the doctor we like, we face astronomical Obamacare premiums, and we fear catastrophic health care costs if we go without insurance.

What could concerned citizens do now?

Well, we already tried staying home and watching TV to see what Washington might do.

The worst option would be to remain passively on the sidelines, hoping for the best, waiting to see whether Republicans will come up with enough compelling candidates and focus on an effective strategy or whether Republicans will become distracted by other issues and self‐​destruct amidst intramural struggles. Sometimes it seems Republicans have a talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Concerned citizens need to consider a more pro‐​active strategy that will generate pressure on members of Congress from both parties to save us from Obamacare. Most people seem to think that means running to Washington, but actually pressure must be generated out in the country where we live, among voters in the 50 states, and pressure must be directed at Washington. The most effective way to change the direction that the wind blows in Washington is to change the direction that the wind blows in states and congressional districts.

Now in pain because of Obamacare, increasing numbers of Americans might be motivated enough to participate in nonviolent nation‐​wide protests, to testify about how their policies were cancelled, how their premiums skyrocketed, how they were denied access to their doctors and how they’re gaining new hope through solidarity.

People who show up for a well‐​organized protest attract more media camera crews than somebody writing a blog. Also, people who take the trouble of showing up someplace tend to be more highly motivated than people who stay at home. So, well‐​organized protests can make a difference.

Ordinary people in tough circumstances have changed history before, and it’s possible we could do it again. Just recall some of the most successful mass movements. None of them developed in a capital where entrenched interests govern. All were started by people nobody heard of.

As we know, the American civil rights movement started in Birmingham back in December 1955 when Rosa Parks, a tailor’s assistant, refused to move to the back of a bus as required by local ordinances supporting compulsory racial segregation. The focus of what became the nonviolent civil rights movement moved from place to place, wherever there were outrageous civil rights violations and large numbers of people who could be mobilized. Although Martin Luther King was the most famous leader, it was a big movement with many capable leaders.

The fabled 1963 March on Washington happened late in the civil rights movement. It was a climax, not a beginning. It attracted the huge crowd that it did, because it came after the movement had mobilized support throughout the country and after civil rights strategists gained a lot of experience organizing protests.

The movement to achieve equal rights for women began in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848, when housewife Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted her Declaration of Rights and Sentiments and gathered like‐​minded people to discuss what they could do next. She focused on equal property rights and, to help secure those, she sought the right to vote. She formed the Woman Suffrage Association of America and served as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She criss‐​crossed the country, giving speeches, as she recalled, “in log cabins, in depots, unfinished school houses, churches, hotels, barns, and in the open air.”

Because Stanton needed to take care of a large family, she teamed up with Susan B. Anthony, a single woman who could remain on the road for longer periods, and Stanton drafted Anthony’s speeches as well as articles and proposed legislation. Incredibly, the nonviolent movement that Stanton and Anthony led kept going for 70 years, until American women had the right to vote.

In 1823, Irish lawyers Daniel O’Connell and Richard Lawler Sheil formed the Catholic Association to challenge English laws that denied Irish people the liberty to own land, attend school, learn a trade, bear arms, hold public office, travel abroad or practice their religion without interference. This was the beginning of the movement that came to be known as Catholic Emancipation. It was funded with dues of a penny per month, an amount Irish peasants could afford.

O’Connell was on the road constantly, speaking in every city and hamlet. He generated so much popular pressure for reform that back in London, on April 10, 1829, Parliament passed the Emancipation bill that reduced or removed many restrictions on Catholics. Then O’Connell started the Repeal Association to generate pressure for eliminating the union with Britain and all the unfair burdens that involved. He staged a succession of “Monster Meetings,” each of which drew as many as 300,000 people. Unfortunately, O’Connell’s health faded. His campaign wasn’t successful, but he set the stage for the mighty struggles that achieved Irish Independence during the 20th century.

On May 22, 1787, Cambridge University student Thomas Clarkson, lawyer Granville Sharp and 10 other men met in a London print shop and began an epic conversation about how to abolish slavery, something no civilization had ever done voluntarily. Because so many people profited from slavery, the men decided to focus initially on the English slave trade, and if they were able to abolish that, then they would try to liberate the approximately 800,000 slaves in England’s Caribbean colonies. The men formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Clarkson’s nonviolent campaign involved travelling around England, establishing anti‐​slavery groups and giving speeches at public meetings run like religious revivals. He denounced the cruelty of slavery and shocked audiences by holding up branding irons, neck collars, leg shackles, handcuffs, thumbscrews and other gruesome devices for enforcing slavery. He displayed diagrams showing how slave ships chained human beings into tiny spaces, awash with excrement. Clarkson arranged for former slaves like Olaudah Equiano to testify about the horrors they experienced. English porcelain manufacturer Josiah Wedgewood contributed his expertise, producing medallions with the poignant image of a chained, kneeling slave and the immortal inscription, “Am I not a man and a brother?” This, the logo for English abolitionism, was later adopted by American abolitionists.

Clarkson bombarded Parliament with about 500 anti‐​slavery petitions signed by more than 400,000 people. Buoyed by this proof of public support, member of Parliament William Wilberforce introduced anti‐​slave trade bills year after year. By 1807, Parliament voted to abolish the slave trade in English ships which dominated the business. Clarkson and Wilberforce subsequently launched a new campaign to abolish slavery itself. Wilberforce had to retire in 1825 because of poor health, but Clarkson and new leaders like Thomas Buxton carried on. They helped establish some 230 anti‐​slavery groups, and they generated more than 700 petitions for emancipation. Parliament gave way to the pressure and passed the Slavery Abolition Act on August 29, 1833. Slavery was dispatched without a civil war.

Today, with Obamacare, we face the biggest peacetime expansion of federal power in more than 70 years, destroying an industry (private health insurance), nationalizing one‐​sixth of the economy and causing massive disruption. Obamacare suppresses our freedom to make some of the most critical choices about our lives. The president has usurped legislative power by unilaterally changing terms in the law without the approval of Congress which alone has legislative power under the Constitution. Skyrocketing Obamacare premiums amount to gigantic tax hikes — hammer blows that destroy jobs. Soaring Obamacare costs are a serious threat to our solvency, since the federal budget in general and entitlements in particular are already out of control. The law attempts to make a vast transfer of resources from young people to older people, in addition to Social Security and Medicare that are transferring vast resources from young people to older people. Whatever good Obamacare might do for some people is offset by the harm done to other people who must pay unfairly high premiums. Politicians who claim to do good should observe the first principle of medicine: First, Do No Harm.

What specifically might be involved in well‐​organized protests to help save us from Obamacare?

Here’s a checklist that could be a starting point for discussion:

  • Consider collaboration with other like‐​minded groups in your area, if that might help achieve a bigger event.
  • Obtain any permits that might be required for a potentially large gathering in a city park, a town green or other suitable location with easy parking.
  • Contact a private security firm or arrange with off‐​duty police to be on the scene just in case troublemakers try to disrupt the event.
  • Make sure to have a good, reliable sound system, so that everybody can easily hear what’s being said, especially if the crowd turns out to be larger than expected, or if there’s likely to be significant background noise.
  • Contact prospective food vendors.
  • Contact prospective vendors with pro‐​liberty bumper stickers and related items
  • Contact providers of portable toilets and waste disposal containers.
  • Arrange for a clean‐​up crew afterwards.
  • A good comedian is very hard to find, and it’s much better to have no comedian than one who bombs, but if there’s a good comedian who can effectively ridicule Obamacare, that would help set up the event and make it more memorable.
  • Another possibility: hire somebody to walk around the event area in a Pinocchio costume and a long nose, holding a sign saying something like YOU CAN KEEP YOUR POLICY & YOUR DOCTOR — BELIEVE IT OR NOT!
  • Hire an appropriate band — with an upbeat rock ‘n’ roll sound or a country sound– to help attract a bigger crowd.

All this, of course, will require funding that will take time to resolve.

Possible theme songs:

A possible program outline –

  1. MC’s opening remarks about the event.
  2. MC asks people to help clean up their stuff afterward, to be a good neighbor.
  3. MC introduces comedian who performs.
  4. MC introduces band that has been playing as people began to arrive.
  5. MC introduces a succession of people offering brief testimony about how their health insurance policies were cancelled, how they cannot keep their doctor, and how they face skyrocketing premiums, because of Obamacare.
  6. MC or guest speaker emphasizes there are alternatives that respect people’s freedom, such as: — (1) let people shop for the best health insurance options anywhere in the country and buy across state lines; (2) give health insurance deductions to individuals rather than employers, and have policies in each person’s name, so policies will be with you wherever you work; (3) let people choose the coverage they want; (4) minimize premiums with high deductibles, and prepare to pay out‐​of‐​pocket costs by making regular contributions to a health savings account.
  7. MC thanks everyone for attending, mentions upcoming events of related interest, encourages people to sign SAVE US FROM OBAMACARE petitions at well‐​marked petition tables and reminds people to pick up all their stuff.

Please share any ideas you might have for peaceful, well‐​organized, nation‐​wide protests to help save us from Obamacare.

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