It’s no wonder that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s latest stand—after she was silenced on the Senate floor for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King—has caught fire.
The words that Mitch McConnell hurled at Warren became an instant motto for the resistance to Donald Trump and the whole Republican wrecking crew: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Progressive persistence abounded this week. It included pink-clad protesters at the Capitol building in far away Madison, Wisconsin, protesting a state-level assault on Planned Parenthood and women’s rights. They carried signs with the slogan, “Nevertheless She Persisted.” It was everywhere.
The same evening that McConnell was shushing Warren for reading the words of a civil rights icon, Bernie Sanders was debating Ted Cruz on CNN on the subject of the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act.
Here, too, Republican arrogance was laid bare before a nervous public.
Audience members with cancer, with multiple sclerosis, and with a small child who received life-saving medical treatment thanks to the Affordable Care Act, asked Cruz again and again: Can the Republicans promise they won’t lose their coverage?
Cruz responded by quoting Ronald Reagan, exalting “freedom,” excoriating socialism, and denouncing government-provided health care as an attack on individual rights.
In other words, as Sanders pointed out, the answer was no—the Republicans cannot promise that people who rely on the Affordable Care Act won’t lose their coverage when the Republicans repeal the law.
As worried constituents mob Republican Congressional offices, stale talking points attacking government-run health care sound more out of touch than ever.
It was remarkable to see Cruz try out those talking points on Americans who are desperately worried about losing their health care. Sanders destroyed him.
Cruz suggested that people don’t have a right to health care, but that the Republicans will protect everyone’s right to health-care “access.”
“You have access right now,” Bernie said, turning to a woman in the audience who had said she can’t afford insurance. "Go out and get a really great health insurance program. Oh, you can't do it because you can't afford it? That's what he is saying. . . . Access doesn’t mean a damn thing!"
There is no reason, Sanders argued, that the United States can’t provide single-payer, universal health care coverage just like France and other industrialized countries.
“It is obscene that we are having this debate in the richest country in the history of the world,” he persisted.
And yet, it is a debate we are having, as it becomes increasingly clear that the Republicans, despite their controlling majority in Washington, are losing in the court of public opinion.
As grim as the news has been, as the Republicans roll out their campaign of destruction and contempt for the public, there is a persistent rebellion across the land. And that rebellion is being led by progressives.
“I see myself as the legislative arm of the resistance,” Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters in a briefing at his district office this week.
Pocan, like many other members of Congress, has been deluged with calls from constituents appalled by the anti-democratic Trump agenda. Many are asking him how the huge marches and protests against the Trump Administration compare to the 2011 uprising in Wisconsin against Scott Walker.
“I think the Wisconsin experience is going to help us,” Pocan told reporters. The biggest difference he sees between the two uprisings is that, while the one in Wisconsin focused mainly on Walker’s attack on public employees’ collective bargaining rights, people today are fighting against a multipronged attack on every aspect of civil society. With so many different groups organized to resist Trump, Pocan said, “We can really build a movement instead of just having a moment.”
That means keeping the pressure on.
“I think the Wisconsin experience is going to help us. We can really build a movement instead of just having a moment.”
One lesson of Wisconsin, where the energy of the protests lagged in the run-up to a failed recall election, is that “we have to keep giving people something to do,” Pocan said. “We have to make sure they don’t get discouraged.”
Persistent protests, legal challenges, and nonstop resistance on every front is key. The fact that several Republican legislators have cancelled town halls or stayed away from their offices, which are mobbed by constituents worried about the Obamacare repeal, is a good sign, he says.
But Pocan rejects comparisons between the resistance to Trump and the Tea Party, which once mobbed congressional offices to oppose the Affordable Care Act.
“I think we have to make sure we don’t have a Tea Party movement of the left,” he said. “I want people realize that the people are America, that they are the government, and not be about inaction.”
The Tea Party, after all, is largely responsible for the mess the nation is in, with congressional Republicans dedicated to not governing. “I don’t want that,” Pocan said. “I want legislators to be responsive to their constituents.”
By holding Cabinet appointees accountable, rooting out corruption and conflict of interest, and championing a government that serves the interests of all the people, not just the very rich, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Mark Pocan are championing fundamental progressive values.
Pocan gives Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer credit for putting Warren and Sanders in leadership positions, and for supporting Keith Ellison, another member of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, for party chair.
On issues like fair trade, raising the minimum wage, and regulating the banks, Democrats must learn the lesson of the last election. “I grew up in Kenosha,” said Pocan—a blue-collar, former manufacturing hub. “Those are the voters we lost that we never should have lost.”
Returning the Democratic Party to its core progressive values, Pocan says, is the key to turning things around. That, plus a lot of persistence.
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Here is Senator Warren livestreaming on her Facebook page, February 7th, at 9:52pm just outside the Senate floor: