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Monday, November 23, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Aug 18, 2009 6:11 PM PDT

This essay is also dedicated to General Eric Shinseki, who spoke truth to power in the run up to the Iraq debacle and was removed from command by Bush and Rumsfeld. He is now the Secretary of the VA under President Obama.

Now that we have established the goals and general strategy for the war against the corporate interests that control Congress and the fate and fortunes of most ordinary Americans, we have to discuss strategy and tactics. For those of us who avoided studying military science out of a natural aversion to the subject of war, let us begin by defining these terms. 

Strategy refers to the overall sequence of steps we anticipate taking to achieve our objectives. This is where much of the disagreement arises among the leaders of the single payer movement. I have been arguing since becoming involved in the movement that we must adopt the message of the need to abolish corporate personhood into the message that we must create a single payer system of universal health care for both economic and moral reasons. This is integral to the battle plan.

Tactics are the specific actions taken to meet short-term objectives identified in the development of the overall strategy. Discussing tactics tends to be less divisive, but even here there is room for honest disagreement, such as the relative role of direct actions which might inflame the opposition and alienate potential allies.

In general, my battle plan depends on fully understanding that in a functioning society, everybody is in and nobody is out, as we say in the single payer movement. This means that we must gain the support of the most diverse group of advocates that we can persuade. Self-imposed distinctions between those on the "Right" and those on the "Left" should be cast aside so that we can all talk to our neighbors as fellow Americans. 

We must work even harder to reach the average citizen who is too distracted by fear and economic pain to dig for the truth about what is destroying the economic and moral heart and soul of America. We cannot expect people who have been trained to think of such progressive ideas as "socialism" to come to us, nor can we expect those who want and need such help to join us if they remain in despair that we can prevail in Taking Back America.

Confused and fearful citizens do not know where to look to find the facts that would challenge their  often bizarrely inconsistent views of reality. It is up to us to take the message directly to them in town halls, Republican and Democratic central committee meetings, city hall, the local paper's opinion page and talk radio of every persuasion. We must learn to speak in the language of those who consider themselves our opponents if we are ever going to educate them about the citizen's proper role in a functioning democracy. We will not do this by shouting them down, scorning them or otherwise angering them.

As a psychiatrist, I am fully aware that we are generally good people who simply look at the world through different lenses. The way that we view the world is determined by choices in our beliefs that we make so early that they are generally unconscious us as adult.s More often than not, these beliefs are passed on from generation to generation when we fail to question the belief system we are taught as children. 

Many parents are rigid authoritarians who learned to parent this way by the example set for them in their own childhood. They may have been punished for adopting their own beliefs if they conflicted with those of their dictatorial parents who did not understand that they must teach children to think for themselves if they are going to be good citizens. 

When such punishment is physical, the result is fearful, angry and mistrustful adults who more often than not raise their children the same way. The treatment for these psychological handicaps is consistent respect and concern for these often unhappy and angry individuals. This is the only way that we can make them understand that there is a better way to live in the world than the one suggested by Ayn Rand in which each of us fends for ourselves in a hostile world all too real to the victim of such abuse.

How do we learn to talk to each other in the same language?  The key is to frame the discussion in terms of common values. Let me give an example from my own experience. Today I talked to antiabortion protesters about the right to life issue inherent in the single payer movement, pointing out also to this  audience the economic benefits of such a model of health care reform. Once I made the case that such reform is inevitable, it was easy to make the case to these socially and spiritually active  that they have a role to play in  helping determine the outcome of the debate. 

I also encourage reaching out to church leaders and ecumenical association directors to amplify the message that this is the social justice issue of our time. Among others, the national association of United Church of Christ congregations passed a resolution at their 2009 synod in support of a single payer universal health care system. Let us hope that it was not the fear of “guilt” by association that drove Obama from this church and into the Episcopalian church in Washington that is traditionally favored by Presidents.

We cannot afford to leave the spiritually and socially motivated members of more conservative religions to the tender mercies of self-serving megachurch preachers or to the nonsense repeated by their hellfire-snorting pastors quoting more from Rush Limbaugh than the Bible. We need to go where they live and speak to them in their own language. 

This means working at least as hard in the rural areas as in the cities. Rural voters are much more likely to be engaged in their communities and are generally more conservative. in outlook than their urban counterparts. They constitute half or more of the population in many states so are critical in building a strong majority to pass a Constitutional amendment. There is ready access to the local media in rural areas, where there is much less competition for the attention of the citizenry. The biggest town halls I have attended were not in Portland but in my home town and even smaller towns in more isolated areas of Oregon.

Remember, we are all in this together and no one gets out of this alive. We can all be friends if we follow the advice my daughter received from her pastor: Every day and everywhere you go, practice feeling empathy and love for everyone you encounter. If you let someone make you angry, realize that that is YOUR problem and not theirs. Anger is the enemy of reason, and accomplishes nothing. It is the worst possible strategy in a peaceful war to take back America for all the people.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

In the air between Chicago and Portland, OR

1 comment:

  1. The points raised in this essay need no real elaboration, but I would add that war itself is a traumatizing experience not only to the individual who experiences combat but for society at large.

    Vietnam traumatized an entire generation, whose children suffered as a result. We are now left with a society that is largeley convinced that we cannot restore democracy to America or end war.

    Our job is to change the consencus reality in such a way that war is no longer regarded as unavoidable but as unthinkable. That is the ultimate mission of Soldiers For Peace International.


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