When the freedom-loving people march; when the farmers have an opportunity to buy land at reasonable prices and to sell the produce of their land through their own organizations, when workers have the opportunity to form unions and bargain through them collectively, and when the children of all the people have an opportunity to attend schools which teach them truths of the real world in which they live — when these opportunities are open to everyone, then the world moves straight ahead.
—Henry A. Wallace, Century of the Common Man
The past few days have seen a small uprising. An odious public figure who has used his megaphone to defame and denigrate anyone who disagrees with him has been taken to task. He's been knocked back on his heels, bewildered, not knowing how what has worked for him over and over has now been overturned. Sponsors are abandoning him, one after another, in a constant drip of advertiser water torture. His vitriol has finally led to a possibly terminal comeuppance, a slashing of the outsized power he holds over an entire political faction in this country. By the end of all this, Rush Limbaugh may wish that he had never uttered the word "slut", nor demanded sex tapes from sexually active women as the price for "government funded" contraception.
And who has brought such a torrent down on Mr. Limbaugh's head? No one special, on the face of it. Sandra Fluke is a law student at Georgetown University. She's been heavily involved in issues of women's health and rights; that's no surprise; she's a law student, and law students by nature are involved in various causes, on the Left and the Right. In part, such involvement informs why they choose to pursue a career in law, in order to have more of an effect on the causes they hold dear.
But, when you scratch the surface, Ms. Fluke is an ordinary law student, a private citizen who testified, based on her experience, on the need for women's health issues to be addressed by employer-provided insurance under ACA. She's as common as you or I, invited to give her opinion by members of a Congressional committee on an issue that had suddenly bloomed into political prominence.
However, her testimony was unwelcome by the man who runs that committee. If she had known her place, that would've been that; she would've gone back to her flat in Georgetown and pondered on the silliness of taking on a congressional committee.
But she did know her place. She knew it very well. And she took it, relating her life experience before a panel of Democrats as potent witness as to why women's health issues had to be part of any discussion of insurance in this country, not to be shunted off to the side when it proved inconvenient. She had the effrontery, the sheer gall, to not remain silent, to take the forum afforded her to make an argument for her beliefs. If Chairman Issa had simply allowed her to testify before the full committee, her testimony would've been subsumed by all the other witnesses. By denying her a chance to speak, by turning her eventual testimony into an event, he won the battle but lost the war. Her testimony became news, in a way it wouldn't have been if she'd been allowed her day in front of the full committee.
That strategic blunder was then compounded by Mr. Limbaugh's full frontal assault on her. Here was the public face of modern conservatism, with a daily audience "estimated" to be 20 million listeners—although the veracity of that number is highly in doubt—launching an attack on a woman who could be someone's daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend, even wife. It was the most blatant form of bullying, of public shaming. It would have been bad enough if he had attacked her based on her actual testimony; but he lied about it, claiming to his audience that she was demanding their tax money to finance contraception for her sex life. It was vile, it was misogynistic, it was pornographic. Mr. Limbaugh unleashed the threatened conservative white male id against this common, ordinary woman, trying to assert a threatened masculinity. A woman's place is to accept whatever a man allows her to have; demanding anything else is an affront to the natural order, like gays marrying, immigrants making lives of dignity, or a black man occupying the highest office in the land. It could not stand.
That world, though, has already ended. If it ever existed, its death was warranted. It's a fantasy they want, where common people knew their place and didn't rise above it.
The past four years since Barack Obama's election have proven one thing: the common people are no longer going to shut up and take it. In Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Iran, the common people, uncowed by state violence, have risen up against entrenched power, sometimes winning, sometimes pushed back for a moment. But the direction is clear: forwards, not backwards. In Russia, the common people are rising up to say no to another Tsar, even if he's an "elected" one. Nothing besides full freedom will do for them. China, the monolith of the East, is showing cracks in its facade, its free market economics increasingly becoming incompatible with a heavy-handed political system. The upcoming generation will want something besides a car and an apartment in a highrise in Shanghai; it'll want to have a say in its future, whether or not the Politburo agrees.
And in this country, with every voter who makes his voice heard, with every brave woman who defies the powers of the moment to bear witness to her truth, with every volunteer who commits to a movement that is bigger than himself, aimed at bringing the most good to the most people, the common people are marching. 2010 was an unfortunate lapse; 2012 is shaping up to be another mass march of the ordinary, saying yes to hope, yes to the future; and saying no to division, no to things as usual, no to bigotry and hatred and vilification. This is a long battle, with many more skirmishes until the war is won. But today, right now, victory is in sight. A lot of work, keeping an eye on the goal, never wavering, seeing the forest and not the trees: those will see us through to the final victory. Nothing else is acceptable; defeat means that Mr. Limbaugh wins, that Mitt Romney wins, that forces of privilege win. That will create an America and a world no one would want to live in, at least no one with a shred of decent feeling.
The future isn't in the hands of the Koch Brothers; it's in ours. We only have to grab it.