Winning, and What Comes After

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Earlier in this century, when I belonged to a trade union for freelance writers that is a local of the United Auto Workers,  I was part of a group that wanted to restructure our local to make it better able to represent us and more reflective of members’ interests, as opposed to those of its president and the UAW brass with whom he hoped to find a job when his time in office was over. (He didn’t.)

The restructuring campaign had almost all the hallmarks of a nasty political campaign. Missing were the racial and sexual-preference epithets, the spitting, and the encoded calls for assassination that we’re seeing now. But there was viciousness aplenty, a good deal of it aimed a me, because I was visible among the group’s leadership.

What reminded me of this (I make it a habit not to carry bad stuff around with me; it’s not good for my health.)  is an e-mail I received a week or so ago from a man active on the other side who felt called to apologize to me for all the rotten things he said about me then. I don’t remember what he said, if ever I knew, but I recognized his name.  I figured his apology, 8 or 9 years after the fact, was part of his working on AA’s ninth step, or some such thing. And even though offering an apology is not the same as making amends, I wrote back and told him the truth — that I had forgiven him years ago, and that I hoped he would now feel free to forgive himself.

The restructuring issue came to a head in the form of a resolution at the local’s biennial legislative assembly, where we set the operating rules and programs for the coming two years. The presiding officer, who was on the other side and had a personal stake in the outcome, made no attempt to keep the debate fair or civil.

But when it was all over and the votes were counted, we had won. It was close, but not close enough to justify a recount. We on the winning side applauded the result but did not cheer. We didn’t high-five, we didn’t gloat, we didn’t even grin. And we took off our campaign buttons and stowed them in our pockets. We’d agreed beforehand that we wouldn’t rub it in. We really, really wanted to be able to work with the reasonable people on the other side and move our union forward.

I’m thinking about that now because, whatever happens next, we won the big campaign in the health care reform contest. Not that I have word one to say about it where it counts, I’m still thinking about how we should behave now. I still believe there are reasonable Republicans in Congress (please don’t ask me to name names right now) and I really, really want the Democrats to be able to work with them.

So, while the part of me I try to keep hidden from public view gloated through about the first half of this video, by the time it ended, it felt like a bit much.

If you don’t have time to watch this 1:58 video I’ll tell you this: It’s  the old “Yes We Can” Obama video with interspersed cuts of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH8 — and the name is pronounced BAY-ner, not the way it looks) bellowing “Hell no, you can’t,” which he did in his speech in the House Sunday during the great debate. (The context was different, but what’s context when you have a point to make?)

If the Dems plan on using this video in the mid-term election season, I hope they cut it to 30 seconds.  It seems too much like gloating the way it is here.

That brings me to the What Comes After part of this piece. What comes after health care reform is pretty much up to the Congressional leadership, somewhat less, I’m guessing, to the President — although I hope he’ll exercise some leadership on this because, without him, we could see some fighting among progressive Democrats about that.

Case in point #1: While the wing nuts were demonstrating outside one side of the Capitol on Sunday, spitting and calling names and flirting with calls for violence, on the other side a very different kind of demonstration was going on. It was about immigration reform, calling on Obama to fulfill the promises he made during his campaign.  For these people, what comes after must be about humanizing US immigration law, and they have good reason and every right to press for this.

Case in point #2: Today I got e-mail from Repower America with the Subject “We Got Next.” Maybe everybody in the world but me knows what this means, but I had to Bing it (I prefer Bing or Cuil because Google spies on its users and sells what it learns to advertisers. That doesn’t meet my needs.) Turns out that “We Got Next” is street talk for “It’s Our Turn,” and it was the slogan for the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) in its 1997 inaugural season.

This violence done to the English language that I so dearly love makes me want to gag. Repower America wants me to sign a petition to Congress with this as its demand.

To win on clean energy legislation, our movement will need to topple the goliaths of big oil and their starting lineup of high-paid lobbyists. We can’t match their resources, but we can beat them with passion and commitment. Clean energy has been on the sidelines long enough — it’s time to tell Congress that the next game in town is ours.

So join the urgent call for a strong clean energy and climate bill. Sign on to tell your Senators that “We Got Next” — and then forward this email to all your friends. We’ll deliver your signature and comments straight to their offices later this week:

We need to seize this momentum and get our Senators into the game for clean energy — and Repower America has prepared a strong playbook for the upcoming push. We need supporters like you all across the country to write letters, make calls, visit Senate offices and build pressure for the strongest possible clean energy and climate legislation. And it starts right now, with a clear and urgent demand:

We Got Next.

I have to think about this a while, because I’m not sure what should be next.  Nor am I sure it’s an either/or proposition. Why can’t two or more sets of hearings and markups go on at the same time?

And then there’s:

Case in point #3:  From the New York Times

Buoyed by passage of landmark health care legislation, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress said Wednesday that an overhaul of financial regulations was the next legislative priority.

The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Christopher J. Dodd, and Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, after meeting at the White House with President Obama on Thursday.

The legislation appeared to be gaining momentum, as two crucial Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Bob Corker of Tennessee, said they expected the overhaul to pass this year even though they had concerns about some of its provisions.

A Democratic strategy appeared to be emerging: expressing confidence that the measure would pass and urging Republicans to help shape legislation that they could support, rather than trying to block it.

“When we come back from recess, the No. 1 issue for the U.S. Congress will be this bill in the United States Senate,” Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said after meeting at the White House with President Obama.

Something in me finds attractive the idea of devoting maximum energy next to an issue that most Democrats and some Republicans can work on together, something that maybe can get enacted without another bruising fight.

There’s a time-honored technique among salespeople: Ask your prospective customer questions to which they’re sure to say No. If you do this enough times, when you get to the final question — “Shall I write up your order?” — they’re more likely to say Yes.

Maybe this would work with Congressional Republicans — heaven knows they’ve said No enough times already.  Maybe they’re even eager to say Yes. Maybe they’re ready to take capitalism down a peg or two by reining in companies too big to fail, and by protecting us from the worst of the financial industry’s overweening greed.

I don’t know which issue I want to go next. I want them all. They’ve all got to be dealt with. Implementing the best set of options in each of these cases will have a profound impact on the lives of many, some more than others. Choosing well, and executing better than was done with health care reform, may bring us back to the point where we can hear each other, work with each other, and get people to put down their fists, and their guns.

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One Response to “Winning, and What Comes After”

  1. As usual, I could not agree with you more. Except the murdering the English language part. Slang phrases are their own language and while some can be offensive and not particularly grammatical, they have resonance in today’s society. So that We Got Next thing I am willing to accept with a grin.

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