Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Last Chants for Health Care Reform

Within the whimsical title lies the mission of the previous weekend: a stroll with another 699 or so hardy souls across the Brooklyn Bridge.

That we were culled from the rolls of Obama supporters was a cinch. Who else would stage a protest in mid-February over the span of the windy East River? I would not rule out Tea Baggers, except that most of their activities seem to be confined to optimum climate conditions and never without adequate press coverage (meaning: Fox News). As much as memory serves that there were some official-type cameras out there, but the only one I recollect as being part of some media was the live webcast of the guy behind me carrying his iBook open to the built-in lens as his buddy carried a sign saying "KEEP IT ON THE CHEEP" written in copper paint and more significantly (and photogenically, I might add) while wearing what might be a classic Yves Saint Laurent grey twill suit, his jacket liberally coated with shiny pennies.

Ok. So I lied. It wasn't that cold. It was actually very nice. After gathering at the North end of Cadman Plaza under the eyes and prodigious muttonchops of the bust of some NYC mayor from 1910 (whose name escapes me), there was some attempt made to stage manage the presentation. First, it was important to get the health care professionals up front behind their banner, and it was ok to not wear a white lab coat either, as long as you were one. (Honor system.) Second, a variety of placards were distributed; some pre-printed, some homemade. Some people (like the above) brought their own banners like, "Upper West Side Baby Boomers for the Public Option" or affixed their own slogans to paint stirrers or a pizza box. (Liked that one--so American.) What impressed most about this melange was how random it was: the only homogenity was (probably) geniality. This is pretty much EXACTLY what I saw in the campaign: old, young, black, white, asian, dumpy and dowdy, sleek and chic, athletic and last legs. A common purpose, yes, but that defining factor as well: not just to talk the talk--a desire to walk the walk...literally.

That is not the subject of this, however. You want to read about the whole thing, I understand the Daily Kos has some mention of it. It is one thing to go on at length about the experience and its minutae; it is another to add the critique from that perspective.

The reason for the cutesy-pie play-on-words title is that the quibble here really is with one of the whole activities behind ANY march: that is--to protest, to RAISE A HUE AND CRY! (Ok. One aside: Without looking, I'd venture that the "Hue" part comes down to something like "Show your colors" or such. Any bets?) They spent a few bucks, most likely from the DNC, on the placards. But zero on the actual function of the whole thing.

That is: to raise your voice. To be heard above the din. To stand out from the noise.

That is: to chant, too.

Having been in a few of these in the past, experience teaches that a bunch of people carrying signs are a lot more effective at attracting attention when they speak with one voice. Or at least one snappy rhyme.

So, to wit: this.

Point ONE: Not enough megaphones. For even 700 people you need one at either end and one in the middle. Battery-powered bullhorns are cheap; hardware stores carry them for probably no more than $20 bucks. If you want to unite people somebody's got to lead and keep time, and fill in the gaps when weaker, meeker folk fall faint. These are people for whom volume is unnatural (sans sporting event).

Point TWO: Iambic pentameter. This is obvious--don't make it too rhythmically complicated.

Point THREE: If you ARE going to have more than one, you need to pass out cheat sheets...and rehearse!

Below are the ones from the cheat sheet I got when they were to be got. Comments are between the brackets.

Two four six eight
Time to reconciliate!

[Everyone knows the first line. The second is a chore, and a word few people outside of the Office of Budget ever use.]

President Obama, Senator Reid,
the public option is what we need

[Too many syllables! No way to gauge the stresses on vowels!]

Hey, Congress, you've got health care!
Don't you know it's nice to share?

[This asks people to do not only a CONTRACTION! BUT! to add an inflection to make it a question! Much too subtle.]

Hey hey, ho ho
pre-existing conditions have got to go

[Too many fucking syllables!]

Two four six eight
health reform cannot wait
Anthem Wellpoint is raising rates

[Too obscure. Also as this whole thing was organized--by MoveOn.org at least partially--to protest the aforementioned insurance monster jacking up rates in California by 39%, it makes a fine speech...but becomes utter nonsense in an exhortation.]

Get it done, do it now!
You bailed out Wall Street, HEALTH CARE NOW!

[Confusing the message, and, as if it matters, repeating the rhyme word.]

We need health care across the nation --
Time for reconciliation!

[See the first here.]

As for the rest? Just read.

Pass the bill, don't pass the buck!

We didn't vote for the status quo
Health care obstacles have to go!

Let's finish Teddy's fight:
Health Care is a Human Right!

Health care for people,
Not for profits!

Health reform for people,
Not the special interests!

If special interests win,
We the people lose!

and finally...

What do we want?
Healthcare! (Change!) (Public Option!)
When do we want it? NOW!

The last here is the only one that managed to get anything going. Period. Part of the problem is, as well, the Doppler Effect. As the Yell King (to borrow from collegiate rah-rah, pep rally terminology) went down the line, people DID pick it up...but at different points. This produced the smear effect of having some sections in sync and others way off, turning an aggressive statement of position into something approximating LaMonte Young's Harmonic Series or "I Am Sitting In A Room" by Alvin Lucier: canceling out the frequencies over time.

The singular charm of this last one is that it is the only one with a call-&-response format. This was good enough to come out of black churches in the South and have the SCLC bring segregationists to heel, its good enough for the present. So, yeah--good structure, easy to remember, easy to know your part. And then there's the other side: do NOT give Democrats (or liberals for that matter) too many choices. They will argue about anything as much as Republicans follow a party line like baby ducks. The only way to deal with Democrats is to LEAD THEM (you listening, Barack?) and they will follow, reluctantly, but eventually.

How do I know? Because I did. Having seen enough "boot camp" sections of war movies, the beauty of cadence count was not lost on me. One strong, well-nigh monotonous shouter can do the same to a bunch of raw recruits as it can for disaffected-but-disgruntled New Yawkuhs. So, I basically blew out my pipes on the Brooklyn Bridge. Sonny Rollins did the same on the Williamsburg a few blocks North. He made great music and I got a bunch of raw recruits to make a tempo.

Nice day for a stroll, anyways.