The People's Agenda in Washington

Just arrived at the Washington Hilton in DC for Realizing The Promise:  A Forum on Community, Faith & Democracy.  More than 2000 community organizers and leaders from across the country are here to talk with our elected officials including 2 senior members of Obama's transition team. st

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Obama must deliver on health care

I don't expect to get everything I want from Democratic politicians in power. Probably liberals like me will have plenty of disappointments in the coming years. But if Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress only follow through on one big campaign promise, I hope it's health care.

The many injustices of our current health care system have been thoroughly documented by nyceve, among others, but I want to add my two cents after the jump.

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How Not to Blow It

It's hard to overstate the transformative moment that we're in as a nation and, particularly, as progressives. In just a few years, we've gone from the high point of conservative power to a stunning rejection of conservative federal leadership and the historic election of a progressive African-American president.

But the electoral sea change is just part of the extraordinary national moment. The financial meltdown and slide toward deep recession have crystallized Americans' anger over deteriorating economic security, stagnant mobility, growing inequality, and policies of isolation instead of connection. Americans are ready for a new social compact and a transformed relationship between the people and our government. They are calling for a new era of big ideas and different values than we've seen over most of the past three decades.

The electorate has shown an unprecedented willingness to overcome racial and ethnic barriers to take on daunting shared challenges. Young people, people of color, and low-income people turned out to register and vote in unprecedented numbers that bode well for a far more participatory and egalitarian democracy going forward.

Even before this year's remarkable events, opinion research showed a historic, progressive shift in Americans' views on issues that (not coincidentally) were barely mentioned in the election. Perhaps most striking is the shift on criminal justice and problems of addiction, where the U.S. public has moved broadly to support rehabilitation and treatment over incarceration and retribution, as well as assistance and integration for people emerging from prison.

But an unprecedented opportunity for progressive values and ideas is not the same as victory for a progressive social and policy vision. The stark challenges of rising inequality, faltering security, and broken systems of health care, immigration, and criminal justice are the same on November 5 as they were on November 4. What's changed is only the chance for transformative change.

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Health: A Big Week For Equality

It's been a big week for equality, as Congress has passed two major pieces of legislation that move the country in the direction of equal access for all Americans regardless of disability.

The major headline which you have probably heard about is the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments. These amendments restore the spirit of the original Americans with Disabilities Act, which had come under fire from Supreme Court rulings that put people with disabilities in a Catch-22 situation. As explained by Cristóbal Joshua Alex of the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights:

In one case after another, the Supreme Court whittled away at the landmark Americans with Disabilities Actby ignoring Congressional intent and narrowly interpreting the definition of disability. [. . .] This created a Catch-22 situation: if a person is able to limit the effect of having a disability, say by taking medication or using a medical device, that person would no longer be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and employers were free to discriminate at will. The result has been devastating. Plaintiffs lose 97% of employment-related cases under the ADA.

The absurdity played out in courtrooms across the country where judges, following the Supreme Court precedent, ruled that people with epilepsy, cancer, muscular dystrophy, mental retardation and even
blindness were not "disabled" under the ADA. But, as the bill's sponsor, Congressman Steny Hoyer points out, the ADA is not about disability, it's about the prevention of wrongful and unlawful discrimination.

The Amendments passed by an almost unheard of unanimous voice vote in both the House and the Senate. The impressive victory was a result of all stakeholders in the process, business, labor, and advocates for people with disabilities, recognizing that they were all part of the same community and could find common ground to restore the anti-discrimination protections of the law. When we unite around common American Values such as fairness and dignity, we can find commonalities with those who we might usually think of as our adversaries.

More good news came yesterday with the news that the Congress has also passed a long sought-after mental health parity bill that requires health insurers to treat mental health coverage on equal terms with physical health coverage.  The legislation passed in the Senate as part of a larger renewable energy bill by a vote of 93-2, and in the House by a vote of 376-47.  In the words of some of the Senators key to the passage of the legislation:

"This bill provides mental health parity for about 113 million Americans who work for employers with 50 employees or more," said Mr. Domenici, who has a daughter with schizophrenia.
"No longer will people with mental illness have their mental health coverage treated differently than their coverage for other illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

With this bill, said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, "we are eliminating the stigma and affirming the dignity" of people with mental illness.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, said, "Mental illness will no longer take a back seat to physical illness."

Mental health parity was one of the signature issues of the late progressive champion, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died tragically in a small plane crash while campaigning for re-election in 2002. His work, and those who have continued it, demonstrate that equality, opportunity, and dignity are American, not partisan, goals.

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Community Service out viral video in

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I wasn't surprised of that repugs had disdain for community service, because we all know repugs have little love for people and communities especially poor ones, they pay lip service to the churches that are the foundations for these communities. (But when it comes down to it, the church is just a speed bump to power. I say speed bump because most of the repugs weren't religious be any means just act religious.) What I was amazed at was that the GOP felt confident enough to  go back to their old play back of people hate...and say these things out loud to a large viewing audience. Especially with the publics low opinion of them to start with. Will it work this time?? I don't know. But look at this video clip.

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