First, a little clarification on the “Light Brigade.” This term originally referred to a British military unit of light (as in not heavy) cavalry that engaged with the Russians (the enemy in this story) during the Crimean War, in October, 1854. The brigade, made up of Light Dragoons, Lancers, and Hussars, was tasked to take over some territory from which Turkish (not the enemy) troops had been vanquished, in order to prevent the Russians from recovering artillery pieces left there. But somehow, there was a miscommunication, and the Light Brigade was sent to attack a well fortified and entrenched enemy unit that they had no business dealing with. This assault gained no ground and 110 of about 670 troops were killed, 161 wounded.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.
But in the western suburbs of Minnesota, in part of Congressional District 3 represented by Republican Erik Paulsen, it has a different meaning. The Light Brigade is a group of activists affiliated with Indivisible MN03. As shown here, they dress up somehow as giant letters and make words or phrases across overpasses over major highways, in order to get people thinking about certain political issues.
Recent events in Minnesota politics made me think about the Light Brigade as a metaphor for something very good, and possibly (but I Hope not) for something very bad as well.
I don’t know how many activists it takes to make a light-bulb into a sentence, because I have yet to join any of the Light Brigade’s actions (though I hope to eventually). But I imagine it takes at least one person per letter, and a few others to make the letters and organize the whole thing. “THIS IS TAX WARFARE” has 16 letters in it. So lets assume that some 22 people including organizers and sign makers were involved in that action.
One of the big issue on people’s minds in this area, and across the country, is health insurance. In fact, it was the Republican Party, under Trump, attempting to dismantle Obamacare that made Indivisible emerge as a group, and that caused all those angry town meetings. It isn’t just that the Republicans have a different view of health insurance. We are not stupid. We know that Trump fomented a racist theme of hatred of America’s first black president, and that Republicans are exploiting this to take and hold power, and part of that means dismantling a health insurance system that is almost identical to one proposed years ago by Republicans as an alternative to the one proposed then by Hillary Clinton. People are rightfully mad at the Republicans (though Indivisible is in theory “no partisan”) and at Trump, and Ryan and the rest of them.
So, let’s look at health insurance for a moment. There are two major views on what to do about it, at least around these parts. Everybody wants universal coverage, and ultimately, people might be OK with single payer, but there are two distinct opinions. One is to go for single payer health care immediately. The other is to not do so, to take several years to get to that point. One of the arguments for the latter is that across the country, and especially in Minnesota (we have lots of health care, health insurance, and insurance interests here) there are thousands and thousands of people who work in the health insurance industry who would lose their jobs. Many are in insurance, others work for hospitals or care providers handling that end of the vast plethora of paperwork that accompanies our current Byzantine system. Many want to see a slower change so those people and companies can transition out of the business. People who want to see an immediate transition understand that these folks will lose their jobs, and are willing to have the transition somehow address that problem with help of some kind.
I believe that the people who are currently very active in politics in this area, including the community that repeatedly sends our version of the Light Brigade into battle (but with more success and less bloodshed than the original one!), fall perhaps evenly across these two beliefs. I think the single-payer-now may be a majority, but if so, not by much. I also have seen some pretty serious vitriol over this issue. The two positions are not that far apart: universal coverage very soon, single payer either very soon or eventually but not too long. These two positions are almost identical to the positions held by Senator Sanders (now) and Secretary Clinton (incrementally) during the rather heated primary battle last year, and that important but not extreme difference cleaved many a good relationship back in the day, and may do so again.
So, now we get to the point of the matter. Look at that bridge with “THIS IS TAX WARFARE” emblazoned across it in carefully arranged arrays of LEDs. Now, ask all the people, the 16 holding the lights, to think for a moment if they are on the universal-single-payer-now bandwagon, or the universal-not-single-payer-now bandwagon. Now, everybody, all at once, who is in the former camp, move to the left side of the bridge, all those who are in the latter camp, move to the right side of the bridge.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must, indeed, all spell correctly, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Take any group of 20-24 citizens and they can do something important. There are groups in our area now writing post cards to potential voters hoping to increase voting turnout. There are people meeting to discuss issues, getting fired up, then going off to write letters to local papers. There is a group that organizes a presence at local parades and farmers markets. And, there is the Indivisible Light Brigade.
Now, imagine that each of these groups divided over the two different health care issues, and refused to work with each other. Not only do they do that, but they divert some of their activist energy into hating on the other group in the usual venues of social media.
Now, further imagine that we look at other issues. Are you pro nuke, or anti nuke? Do you think we should or should not build that composting facility up in Anoka? Should we borrow money to fix up the old bridge over the highway, and how do you sand on bond issues? Charter schools? Raising the minimum wage?
The truth is, that for many of these issues, most of the activists I have in mind mostly agree. But for each of these issues, there is a person here or a person here that doesn’t. Should those individuals be identified and driven into the swamp? One problem with that strategy is that when we look across all the issues, we can find that there is a subset of people who buck the trend on each, but they are not all the same people. We’re gonna need a larger swamp.
Let me put this another way. Think of issues from the perspective of oneself. Identify your own position on each of the issues. Now, create an archetype, a perfect theoretical entity that is exactly you. Now, expect all other individuals to fit that model, and if they don’t….
There probably are issues that really do divide people. The Republican party relies on abortion (against) and free access to firearms by anyone (for) to divide people. Democrats tend to pitch a bigger tent and include all sorts, but of late, Democrats have become very granular in their intensity. You don’t like my version of health care? Then you are untrustworthy and not worthy of my favor. I heard about your position on nuclear power. Satan, I name thee!!!! That sort of thing.
The latest is Al Franken. A lot of Minnesota Democrats are, I think rightfully, unhappy to lose Franken in the Senate, and I have to say, there is a good argument for at least, having seen the recent process through to the ethics committee conclusion. That’s what I think, anyway. But if you think something different, that’s fine with me. Franken’s alleged transgressions, even if all true, are not Harvey Weinbergian, and he is a man who underwent a major transition in life, going from being show people to being politician, and people can change. There is a wide range of reasonable opinions only one or two of which a given individual is going to agree on.
I decided weeks ago to not hold anyone’s opinion on this matter against them. I do not want to see my own community broken into tiny slices over issue after issue. If that is how we are going to behave, we might as well give up now, because that is no way to run a resistance.
Viva la resistance. Down with the tyranny of granular hatred. All you people up on the bridge, get over it and get back in line, we need you!
By the way, I don’t think the original charge of the Light Brigade is a very good metaphor for anything happening in my local activist community. Yet. Be vigilant!