This shutdown needs to end, and the citizenry needs to apply pressure en masse to force the hands of Trump & McConnell. But what kind of pressure?
Marches and large-scale demonstrations make a statement about the passion and size of the Resistance, but the movement doesn’t need to simply make a statement right now. It needs to disrupt. Such demonstrations would have to be sustained over time, and to be honest – sad as it is – I don’t believe the American public has the will to do so.
The idea of a general strike has been floating around social media: pick a day and everyone stays home. Of course this would be a direct sign of solidarity with the 800,000 Federal employees who are working without pay or furloughed. But the problem with a general strike is how many people would not be able to participate: Republicans have successfully eroded the power of the American worker for the past few decades. In reality, many workers don’t have the option to miss a day of work. This is another problem we must fix as a nation.
This country has a long, honorable history of non-violent protest and civil disobedience that can be tapped for insight. The problem with civil disobedience in this age is that Republicans don’t care for civil rights, civility or even for civilians generally. They don’t speak the language of compassion or share a belief in universal human rights. How do you influence people like that?
America needs to speak in a language that the GOP can understand: The dialect of capitalism. The vernacular of profit-making. The jargon of the market.
If there is one thing this Republican Party has shown compassion toward, it is corporate profit and stock market success. They care about companies, and worship at the feet of the business community. If the Republicans who control Congress can’t comprehend peoples’ demands for an end to the shutdown, perhaps they’ll respond if the public switches to a capitalist dialect and organizes an economic walkout. Not civil disobedience, but economic disobedience.
In an economic walkout, demonstrators wouldn’t have to attend an event or proactively do anything at all. Instead, they would withdraw from commerce, holding their money, and refusing to participate for a time. The goal would be for as many people to adopt an “essentials-only” spending ethos, in solidarity with government workers who are having to severely restrict spending during this time.
An economic walkout would be a more just solution than a general strike, because the effort would occur on a sliding-scale, with the greatest sacrifices being made by more affluent Americans. Those who are barely scraping by economically would not be expected to make major sacrifices, because they are already at the point of “essentials only” spending. In a general strike, the greatest sacrifices would be shouldered by the working-class, where the penalty for striking would be heftier: job loss, or the sacrifice of very limited vacation or sick time (if they even have any).
The threat of a coordinated, timed boycott of the economy by millions would send a clear warning shot to Republicans that we are formidable and we mean business. If you, Congress, continue to be complicit in holding our country hostage for a useless border wall that nobody wants, then we, the American public, will withhold the fuel that powers our economic system. The walkout would occur if McConnell and Trump fail to do their job prior to a given date. There would be but one demand:
Re-open government. Then negotiate about border security.
In reality, this isn’t something we should have to demand. But the President and the bulk of the GOP in Congress don’t hold civil servants or the work they do on our behalf in high regard. They don’t care.
What Would an Economic Walkout Look Like?
A large-scale, coordinated withdrawal from the economy could occur for a day, multiple days, a week or even longer. A menu of rules would guide participation, akin to those below. Participants would be encouraged to engage as deeply as their life circumstances would allow:
- Cut purchasing. Forego extravagance. If you must purchase to sustain yourself, purchase only what is necessary, go minimalist, and shop at local stores that sell locally produced products/food if possible. There can’t be pre-buying or post-buying supplies, or the effect will be diluted. This is meant to be a sacrifice.
- Limit web traffic outside of what is required for basic life functionality. Media sites in particular must be avoided so that they get the message about what we expect them to cover, and what questions we expect them to ask. Clicks deliver revenue, so no clicks.
- No TV. Advertisers need to be mobilized and feel the pinch.
- Only drive when and where absolutely necessary. Don’t support the fossil fuel industry.
- Give amply to charities and volunteer locally during the walkout.
People will respond to this idea with a smattering of reservations and equivocations: Can I skip the TV one? What about impact on businesses? Isn’t this a bit extreme? Shouldn’t we just do a coordinated letter writing campaign?
I hear you. But a reminder of a now-familiar refrain: this situation is NOT NORMAL.
An economic walkout would be a just, proportional and strategic response to the Republican shutdown. And, the hope would be that the walkout would never have to come to full fruition – even the threat of a scheduled walkout may apply the necessary pressure to McConnell and the Congressional GOP.
How Would This Whole Thing Work?
For maximal impact, large Resistance organizations should coalesce around this strategy and release a joint statement notifying Congress of their intent to support an economic walkout on a given day. Ensuing pressure from business groups and constituents may help Congressional Republicans “realize” that it’s in the best interest of the country to end the shutdown.
While waiting for a response, participating organizations would prepare and organize, mobilizing the public for the first in a potential series of walkouts. A single petition shared and disseminated by all organizations would allow would-be protesters to declare their intent to participate in the walkout, a ballooning tally that would signal to Congress the potential impact as they deliberate the request.
An initial walkout could be a three-day affair, perhaps a Friday-to-Sunday, as data show people tend to spend on the weekends. I recommend February 1st through 3rd as a target for an initial economic walkout if Congress fails to re-open government. If the public sees fit and if people have the ability, Friday could also include a national call-in-sick day. This initial walkout would be followed by a reset where commerce returns and Congress can re-consider their position, under the threat of continued walkouts so long as Congress keeps failing to do its job.