We do not talk much about human rights in our current public discourse. We reference them when we are scolding some murderous oppressive dictator, but we rarely speak about them when speaking about our own policy goals. Speaking about human rights is a revolutionary act, and far too many politicians and pundits shy away from revolutionary ideas because such ideas threaten the status quo.

I say: Let the next election be a revolutionary election. Our struggle for a progressive political agenda is a revolutionary act.

When people start to understand that there are certain rights that are due to people because they are human, the next step is to demand those rights. Governments exist to secure human rights, and when they do not, they ought to be altered or abolished. Thomas Jefferson said this eloquently in the Declaration of Independence. It is a document that not only belongs to the history of the United States; it is a document that belongs to all of humankind. Jefferson writes:

“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Thus, it is our duty – the duty of the electorate – to put human rights front and center in the public debate and change our governing ideologies through the ballot.

Now that the Supreme Court of the United State (SCOTUS) has ruled that the Affordable Care Act (ACA a.k.a. Obamacare) is constitutional, the political conversation has shifted to whether the mandate to purchase health insurance is a tax or a penalty. Supporters of the law say that the personal responsibility assessment that the government imposes on those who can afford to buy health insurance but do not is a penalty collected by the Internal Revenue Service through the tax code. The mandate is thus constitutional under the congressional power of taxation. Those opposed to the law argue that if the law is constitutional on the ground of the Congressional power to levy taxes, then the mandate is a tax.

Tax or penalty, the real issue is that the law establishes the principle of universal health coverage in the United States. Our country is exceptional among other wealthy industrialized nations in that we do not already have universal health coverage. While the ACA takes us a long way toward that goal, it still falls short. The only viable alternative of the ACA that will get us closer to universal coverage is Medicare for all. Congressional opponents of the law have nothing that comes anywhere near universal coverage.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that health care is a human right. Article 25 Section (1) says:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

The ACA is constitutional. Now those of us who support it – even though it falls short of Medicare for all – ought to support it vigorously on the moral ground that health care is a human right. It is imperative for the elected officials who voted in favor of the law to defend it with a passion that equals or surpasses that of those opposed to the law. Half-hearted, tepid, let’s move on to something else defensiveness regarding the ACA is not powerful enough to defeat the wild lies and distortions that the law’s opponents deploy against it. This is the lesson of the 2010 elections.

Some of the golden oldies from that election are tall tales about cuts in Medicare that will affect patient care. Not true. The cuts are to Medicare Advantage Plans, a supplementary program. The ACA provides free preventive care for seniors.

Another is that the ACA puts government between patient and doctor. Again, not true. You choose a plan from the insurance exchanges, choose a doctor and get the care that s/he prescribes. Now, insurance companies stand between patient and doctor. See: http://www.factcheck.org/2010/10/health-care-spin-again/

And somebody please resist the lie that the mandate itself is a new tax on the middle class. Only those who can afford to buy health insurance and choose not to buy it will pay a penalty/tax. (http://factcheck.org/2012/06/romney-obama-uphold-health-care-falsehoods/)

But the most important thing to remember about this debate and ALL the policy debates that voters will adjudicate in the November elections is that people who need health care, employment, decent housing, education, and child care will never receive these things from our government unless we demand them.

Frederick Douglass, a 19th century abolitionist famously says in an 1857 speech – “If There is No Struggle, There is No Progress”:

“Power conceded nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue til they are resisted with either words or blows or both.”

I work in the non-violent tradition of Jesus and of Martin Luther King, Jr., so I do not advocate violence. But I do agree with Douglass that struggle is essential to progress. Billionaires are poised to spend millions to affect the outcomes of elections on every level of government. They want something for the money. Are they buying continued tax advantages, or an end to environmental regulations or laws that reign in speculation on Wall Street or union busting in the name of “right-to work”, or an end to the ACA so that workers stay chained to a job because they or someone in their family needs health insurance?

The SCOTUS has said that money equals speech. But billionaires only have one vote and one body. The uninsured, unemployed, underemployed, homeless, hungry, middle class workers whose wages are stagnant, un-unionized workers, college graduates carrying a staggering burden of debt, people who are underwater on their mortgages outnumber the few billionaires who can spend unlimited amounts of money on advertising.

The billionaires may be able to buy a demonstration or two.
They cannot, however, buy a passion for justice. They cannot purchase the spirit and the ideals embodied in the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, or the Eight-fold Path of Buddhism. Money cannot break the unalterable link between act and consequence.

Only justice can quench the human thirst for justice. Advertising that distorts the truth aired over and over and over ad nauseam will never satisfy righteous demands for human rights.

However, this does not mean that those of us who believe in the importance of human rights can rest. Douglass instructs us:

“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

For a moment, it seemed as if the #Occupy Movement could be the catalyst for a revolutionary energy. Time will tell whether or not it can carry elections.

What is certain is that those of us who care about human rights, who want to see progress toward liberty and justice for all, who intend to challenge a plutocratic status quo that is more concerned with giving advantages to the richest among us will have to struggle for the progress we want to see. We will have to allow our goals to inspire us. One man’s rhetoric is not enough. We ought to challenge both political parties. We will have to know in our hearts, brains, breath, bones and blood that voting for a policy agenda that promotes human rights is a revolutionary act.


Bookmark and Share