The defeat of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is a significant victory for the big majority that opposed these efforts. The mood in the country remains sour and discouraged, however, and can only be changed by the creation of a positive program that effectively addresses the country’s core problems. The Democratic Party leadership has taken a modest step in this direction with its advocacy of a $15 minimum wage, a $1 trillion infrastructure program, and a “better deal” for American workers. Although good ideas are welcome from any source, to produce lasting change in our country will require a grass roots movement that unites a majority of the country.
During the Great Depression, the cultural and partisan divides of the 1920s gave way to grass roots movements for jobs, unionization, unemployment insurance, pensions, regulations of predatory corporations, and the election of pro-union progressive candidates. Out of those struggles emerged a majority coalition supporting Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal and led to the creation of a modest social safety net in the U.S. The sense of foreboding in the country today is as great as when the country plummeted into the Great Depression. Out of despair, then, hope arose. We can do that again if we unite.
Who should unite?
* Those who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries because they saw him as an advocate for the economic interests of the majority of people and for addressing the appalling gap between the rich and the majority.
* Those who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries or general election because they saw her as advocating progressive programs to address the nation’s ills.
* Those who voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, because they saw her as an advocate of radical programs to address the country’s economic, social, and environmental problems.
* Working class individuals who sat out the 2016 election because they had little hope that any of the candidates running would address the problems of declining job opportunities and incomes or rising inequality.
* Working people needing better jobs, income, and health care who were unable to vote in 2016 because they were undocumented, had lost their voting rights, or had been illegally removed from voting rolls.
* Those who voted for Donald Trump, despite his misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, and hatred of immigrants, thinking the political system was rigged against them and needed a jolt.
On what should we unite? To:
* Create a single payer health care system. Support House Bill 676, Medicare for All. Ensure that all women have access to all necessary health care, including family planning reproductive services (contraception, abortion, maternity care, prenatal care). Include comprehensive mental health services and addiction treatment in services provided to all.
* Guarantee a living wage for all working people ($15 minimum per hour indexed to inflation).
* Guarantee a job at a living wage for all who want to work.
* Take multiple initiatives for peace including supporting the 2017 UN Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons, meeting U.S. nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1967 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, relaxing tensions with Russia, ending current U.S. wars and military interventions, supporting comprehensive peace agreements in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula, guaranteeing Palestinian rights to independence, ending the blockade of Cuba, and reducing U.S. military spending to the level of other advanced economics.
* Guarantee free liberal arts or technical education to include sufficient funds to cover minimum student living expenses.
* Provide adequate funding for the sciences, humanities, and technical fields.
* Rebuild, repair, and expand the county’s public infrastructure – railroads, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, and other buildings, and parks.
* Build new high quality public housing for the millions of homeless and inadequately housed individuals and families.
* Support public education with adequate funding and empower local communities and unions.
* Restore the right to unionization for all.
* Enact fundamental immigration reform including a path to citizenship and education for the undocumented.
* Tax the wealthy and the corporations at the level of the later years of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and the 1950s.
* Nationalize or break up corporations that monopolize their industries and industries critical to national life.
* End the war on drug addiction and revolutionize police-community relations by empowering communities, improving public health, and democratizing policing.
* Take action to restore strict environmental regulations and to implement the most rigorous science-based plans to address climate change.
* Guarantee a diverse, tolerant, humanistic environment for all by addressing misogyny, racial discrimination, immigrant-bashing, and homophobia.
* Democratize the political system by eliminating private money in elections, providing public funding, and establishing instant-runoff voting.
How shall we unite?
Progressive organizations in every local community should convene town hall meetings to create new local organizations and “Grass Roots Assemblies” to:
* Adopt a program for fundamental change such as that outlined above.
* Publicize the program widely and take direct action to pressure current office-holders to implement the program immediately.
* Support unions, undocumented immigrants, Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights organizations, peace organizations, community organizations aiding the poor and the homeless, environmental organizations, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
* Sponsor, run, and support candidates, especially women, in upcoming elections pledged to implement the program adopted by the Grass Roots Assemblies.
* Join together with other Grass Roots Assemblies at the state and national level to create state and national organizations.
* Monitor and pressure elected officials, including those who endorse the Grass Roots Assembly program.
* Participate in the implementation of the Grass Roots Assembly program.
Martin Halpern is professor emeritus of history at Henderson State University and the author UAW Politics in the Cold War Era and Unions, Radicals, and Democratic Presidents: Seeking Social Change in the Twentieth Century. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a civil rights worker in Tennessee, participated in the movement against the Vietnam War, was an organizer of the Black Action Movement and Graduate Employees Organization strikes at the University of Michigan. He is a member of the Steering Committee of Historians for Peace and Democracy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.