Health Care, Climate and the Progressive Movement

Future Hope column, August 16, 2009

By Ted Glick

The last week or so has been the right-wingers-at-town-meetings moment, and it looks like it’s going to be supplemented by something similar but different: rallies organized by fossil-fuel-supporting corporations in these states: Texas, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida, South Carolina, Alaska, Illinois, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Missouri and Arkansas.

Two days ago Greenpeace released a memo written by the head of the American Petroleum Institute (API) apparently sent to Greenpeace by a less-than-loyal employee of one of the API member companies to whom it was sent. In the memo it referred to a “series of ‘Energy Citizen’ rallies in about 20 states across the country during the last two weeks of Congress’s August recess. . . API will provide the up-front resources to ensure logistical issues do not become a problem. . .Please indicate to your company leadership your strong support for employee participation in the rallies.”

“Energy Citizen,” of course, really means ‘Fossil Fuel Citizen.” Working with groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau, American Conservative Union, FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, you can be sure that the rapidly deepening climate crisis, or the millions of jobs created by a shift to a clean energy economy, or energy independence, or the national security threat of being dependent on Middle East oil—none of these issues will be on the agenda of these particular “energy citizens.”

It would be a good thing—more than that, it is imperative–to have a presence of progressive activists at these events, just as it is important that we are at the town hall meetings focused on health care where the right-wingers are attempting to hijack the debate over how we fix a broken and expensive health care system. We need to show them and show the media that the progressive movement, the climate movement and the health care reform movement are not just sitting back, putting our faith in President Obama and Democratic members of the House and Senate to do the right thing.

And we need to be there to talk face to face with those from the other side. I am certain, based on many experiences doing just this kind of thing, that if we talk to them with respect and patience, a small number will be willing to consider what we have to say and a larger number will begin to have some doubts.

Unfortunately, too many progressive people seem to have the attitude that Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress can take care of things, and they’ve been having it for the last seven months, since Obama took office.

I remember hearing about the low turnout at a national conference of the Campaign for America’s Future, a Democratic think-tank/action center, in early June. The reports that I saw were that there were about half as many people at this event as was true the year before.

Then there were the anti-war demonstrations in D.C. and NYC in March on the 6th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Taken together, there were a maximum of 10,000 people present, and that may be generous.

It is not surprising that after Obama’s historic victory the hundreds of thousands of progressives who worked hard on his campaign would step back from the kind of intense activism many of them engaged in during 2008. This is a normal response when a person’s candidate for President, or any office, wins when it comes to the bulk of campaign volunteers.

It does make you wonder, though, about the effectiveness of the Organizing for America operation that Obama handed over to the Democratic National Committee soon after taking office. A front-page article in yesterday’s New York Times, “Health Debate Fails to Ignite Obama’s Web,” explored this issue and, based upon research done in Iowa, came to the conclusion that there is “a sense of fatigue among volunteers being recruited for [the health care] battle.”

Could this just possibly have something to do with people’s concerns about the power and influence of the Pentagon, the banks, coal companies, health insurance companies and other powerful corporations within the Obama administration and especially within Congress? You betcha, it sure seems to me.

This is why I was pleased to see in my email box today an editorial from the upcoming August 31 issue of The Nation magazine. Entitled “Blue Dog Daze,” it criticized the “conservative” and “Blue Dog” Democrats as “the epitome of a Washington captured by moneyed interests. They aren’t working to ensure that health care reforms are paid for; they are laboring on behalf of insurance companies to protect their obscene profits.”

The editorial goes on to say that “what the country needs—what Obama needs, whether he realizes it or not—is an independent, mobilized, progressive citizen’s movement that takes on the corporate lobbies, from Big Pharma to Big Oil to Wall Street; challenges the legislators who are in their pockets; and demands affordable national healthcare, renewable energy, empowerment of workers, regulation of Wall Street and more. That movement should go after the conservatives and the compromised in both parties—anyone who stands in the way of reform.”

During these “dog days” of August and into September, a good place for independents who agree with this sentiment to start is the town meetings and ‘Energy Citizen’ rallies. We should be present to speak the truth about what we need, to peacefully confront those who lie and obstruct democratic dialogue, and to engage in just that dialogue with those fellow citizens who are willing to talk.

Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network ( His past columns and other information can be found at (