Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The status quo is only what you accept

I seem to be having conversation after conversation lately regarding 'Occupy Wall Street,' and most seem to have a common theme. Stop me if this sounds familiar to either your ears or your mouth:

I just don't see how this is going to accomplish anything.

They are all just kids who are going to give up and go home.

What do they want?

The most this will ever lead to is more empty campaign promises.

This isn't the way to do things.

These are rationed, reasonable concerns from those who have shared intelligent discourse with me. I am excluding the whacko nutjob internet comments of "Scott Olsen got what he deserved!"

I find the idea that there is nothing the OWS people can do to change the status quo to be absolutely absurd. Everything everyone does changes everything that there is every moment...and if you don't believe this, then you're not paying attention.


Barack Obama took office in January of 2009 with a clear mandate from the country, and he decided to spend that political capital on healthcare reform. It's a story we've all heard, and one we have all spent years living with in frustration for one reason or another. I'm not going to that Barack Obama's 'yes we can' campaign slogan is the reflection of OWS, and blah blah blah... Please, keep reading.

Early on in his presidency, Obama met with the lobbyists who would be directly influencing the political process involving healthcare reform. One of those present was Karen Ignangi, chief lobbyist for the insurance agencies. At that meeting, Ms. Ignangi committed to healthcare reform, and in doing so committed the entire political entity which she represented. She committed to helping with reform in a very public way.

What was less public were her demands. The Insurance companies demanded that the public option was eliminated, and that everyone would be required to buy healthcare from the conglomerate that she represented. In addition, she demanded subsidies, tax breaks, and other provisions which would benefit the insurance companies at the expense of the consumer and the taxpayer. She had come out in public to support Obama...if her private demands were not met, she would get to walk away from the table and blame the administration for not accepting her help.

Concessions were made to Karen Ignangi because Obama had a greater problem: The Senate Finance Committee. This committee is concerned with taxation and finance, yes, but has even greater power over healthcare, as they are the governing body for Medicare/Medicaid. At a time when the primary question was how to pay for it all, the answer would come from this select committee.

And, the Chairman of this committee? Max Baucus, D-Montana. Max Baucus is a man whose campaign for Senate was funded by the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to the tune of 2.51 million dollars. In Montana.

In Montana!

I could get a goat elected in Montana for 2.51 million dollars! (No offense to Mr. Baucus.)

So, as is congress, and as is the way, hearing were held by the senate finance committee. At the hearing that took place on May 5, 2009, 41 insurance company and pharmaceutical company lobbyists were asked to testify. NO other lobbying groups were asked to testify. In fact, many asked, and were specifically excluded. One of the groups excluded was 'The Physicians for a National Health Program.'

And, sitting at the table was our insurance company lobbyist friend from before: Karen Ignangi.

Here's where it gets good:

Five people were arrested for disrupting the proceedings by standing up and asking why their voices were not allowed to be heard. Five people threw their bodies on to the gears to try and garner attention to their cause.

One of the five was Margaret Flowers, M.D., head of the above referenced 'Physicians for a National Health Program.'

And, of course..this protest and these arrests had no effect. The hearing was suspended until the chamber could be cleared, and then resumed without interruption. Nothing changed, nothing was altered.

Of course, you have to look deeper than that.

You have to look at the subtle ripples about Max Baucus, the unknown senator from Montana, which were beginning to spring up in the Washington media. Baucus' campaign contributions didn't enter the public consciousness until after a few reporters began to question why this stupid little protest occurred. After a time, Baucus was painted as being biased towards the insurance and pharmaceutical giants. He was criticized for excluding these groups in favor of those like Karen Ignagni.

And this criticism resulted in the loss of political capital.

You have to look at what happened next...and what happened next was a goddamn circus of Tea Partiers, Death Panels, and Joe Wilson. Representative Joe Wilson, if you recall, is the one whose outburst of "You lie!" during the 2009 Presidential Address garnered him much negative publicity from the media.

Well, angry Joe Wilson gave Obama the boost he needed. The public was beginning to realize the level at which republicans were willing to attack him.

With Obama strenghtened, he was able to take advantage of the damage done to Max Baucus by those who protested the exclusion. The Obama administration was able to take the bill, HR 3950, out of committee without the approval of Max Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Finance Comitee, and place it directly under the purview of Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader. Baucus could have stopped this from occurring with a simple objection, but in doing so, it would have played directly into the public persona that was created of him laying in the pockets of Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

And once it was in the Senate Majority Leader's hands, all of Karen Ignagni's demands were cut from the bill. Gone were the huge kick backs to the Insurance companies.

And so, the bill was eventually passed, much to the chagrin of Max Baucus and Karen Ignagni. The bill passed without a safety net insuring the insurance companies would be able to reap and rip profits upon profits off of the tax payers and policy holders.

And it happened this way because five people stood up and protested what they perceived as an injustice.

Could it have happened another way? Of course. Here's the thing, though...this is the way it DID happen. It happened in these slow, small, subtle steps that most people didn't pay attention to.

Will Occupy Wall Street have an effect on anything? I submit that they already have. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, has said that the Occupy Wall Street protest may kinda sorta, in some ways, sorta kinda maybe...have a point.

And if you don't think that is going to change anything, well then, you haven't been paying attention.

Change never occurs the way we expect it. We take our message, cork it in a bottle, and toss it to the seas. We hope our words align with others who feel as we do. Sometimes we are alone, screaming into the abyss, and sometimes our voices are in unison and break like thunder.

And Occupy Wall Street? Occupy Buffalo, Oakland, Austin, Portland, Occupy Everywhere? Remember this: Five people put into motion events which led to the benefit of humans in deference to the benefit of corporations. A small victory, to be sure, but they were five...we are millions.

Everything we do, everything we have ever done, matters.

-Paul Wittmeyer

1 comment:

  1. At some point I realized that most of the songs I had written found me criticizing something - our government, our society, my romantic life - at root I was always complaining. Always about one thing, intensely.

    I decided to give my writing more variety, but the point is that for all of their flaws, the songs did focus on connecting with people who might be dissatisfied with whatever particular thing as well. I can't really say how successful they were in connecting with people, but I think it's reasonable to assume that my chances were better than if I had written songs each containing complaints about, say, 20 different things. All acts have meaning, but that doesn't mean that all plans of action are equal.

    Notice that I don't propose some brilliant solution.