Troublemaker's Journal

What Do We Want from Congress?

Nov 29, 2006 at 2:06 pm

The blue wave that washed over the country has deposited enough Democrats in Washington to give them control of the Congress. However, the Democrats are already seeking not to fight Republicans but to cooperate with them.

Charles Rangel, an African-American representative from Harlem likely to chair the Ways and Means Committee, has promised to work with Republicans to maintain tax cuts on investment income and large estates. Barney Frank from Boston, the first openly gay Congressional representative who will chair the Financial Services Committee, has pledged to support "free trade" at home and abroad, proclaiming the Democrats "liberal internationalists." Don't count on Democrats like these to fight for us. This is the corporate agenda that gave us NAFTA.

We need to ask ourselves, "What do we want of this Congress?" We want to make our existing system more humane, but we also want to push for structural reforms that begin to transform America into a more democratic and egalitarian society. Above all, we must begin to bring corporations under control before they destroy our economy, our environment, and drive us into another war.

· The war: Out now and not another war

The American people made it clear that they want the United States out of Iraq now, and we should press to ensure that that happens.

Now there's talk of more troops and staying longer. Every church, school, university and labor union should put forward a resolution to get out now and send them on to our congressmen. U.S. Labor Against the War, a coalition of local unions, invites all parties to join them Saturday in Cleveland for an anti-war demonstration. Join them (visit

But beyond ending war in Iraq, we should be clear that we will not support the next war against Iran or Syria or another attempt to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or an invasion to take over Cuba when Castro dies. We want to reduce the U.S. military, which today maintains over 750 bases in some 130 countries. American imperialism not only oppresses others and breeds enemies; it also drains our economy and distorts our national priorities.

· Social well-being for all

We want well-being for ourselves, our communities and our nation. Well-being means, above all, a national, single-payer health care system, eventually leading to a system of free public medicine for all. Health care costs are rising too rapidly for employers and workers, and we will never get control of costs if we rely on the market. Bush's drug plan, based on a market model, has proven a failure, confusing consumers, enriching insurance companies and drug companies while failing to provide the medicine needed by our senior citizens. We need a national system that provides free health care, hospitalization and prescriptions for all, a plan that eliminates insurance companies and their profits because it's publicly funded.

· Free education K to Ph.D.

We must end our class-based education system, in which the poorest kids drop out of high school, the low-income kids go to the technical and community colleges, the middle class kids go to the middle-level state colleges and the rich get into the top public and private universities. Education should be free to all to the level they can achieve, and our country — if it is not at war — can afford it.

During the 1950s and 1960s California had a system in which all high school students could automatically — and virtually for free — move on to a community college, state college or public university. Qualified students moved up, still virtually for free, to M.A. and Ph.D. programs. Free higher education laid the basis for California's economic expansion and technological leadership in the latter part of the 20th century. How do you do it? Tax corporations and the very wealthy.

· Social reconstruction and jobs for all

Education means little, however, if there are no jobs. People want and need meaningful work. A man or woman without a job not only loses income and falls into poverty but also loses a sense of purpose and self-worth. Unemployment breeds crime. We need jobs for all and at living wages. Since we now live in a society in which economic growth doesn't create more jobs, our government must become the employer of last resort.

We can provide jobs and income to all of our citizens if we enter into a program of government-led social reconstruction of our society. Building a publicly-owned, national high-speed railway transportation system and many local light-rail systems could employ millions. So could rebuilding inner-city schools, creating community health clinics and constructing public housing for the elderly, the poor and the homeless.

· Control of capital and globalization

Global banks and corporations now rule the world, moving capital from one continent to another, closing a factory in one country and moving it to another, dictating terms to governments and the public. Corporate competition created havoc in the airline industry, destroying families and ruining lives. Corporations today use bankruptcy courts to destroy labor unions, tear up contracts and terminate health and pension plans.

We need to bring the corporations under control through new laws that regulate the movement of capital. We must make corporations open their books to the public and advise local communities, states and the federal government of their investment plans. We need laws that give the government the right to veto corporate decisions that would adversely affect either our citizens or people in other countries. The corporation needs to be brought under the democratic control of society.

Congress responds to pressure, usually to corporate power. We need to build our own power to move Congress. Let's create a citizens' movement here in Cincinnati fighting for a program of peace, health care, education and jobs. The fight begins now over our city budget and its proposed cuts in social services. Write me at [email protected] if you'd like to join with others to organize for these kinds of changes.

Dan La Botz is a writer, teacher and activist. His column appears the fourth issue of each month.