Bethany and I watched Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko” the other day, and I have to say I was impressed with his balanced approach to this one (as opposed to the G.W. Bush hate-fest that Fahrenheit 9/11 was). Aside from my appreciation of Moore’s sarcastic wit and the powerful stories of suffering persons in Sicko, the most insightful and important part of the movie, in my opinion, was Moore’s conversation with former member of Parliament Tony Benn. I went ahead and transcribed it word for word, and I’ll bold what I thought were the most important insights by Tony. I found a shorter Youtube video that has a fragment of the interview as well. His thoughts on democracy and the power of the people to effect change are incredible, and really show how cynical and lazy Americans are in comparison to other places in the world when it comes to working for social change.
Benn: It all began with democracy. (Before) if you had money, you could get health care, education, look after yourself when you were old, and what democracy did was to give the poor the vote and it moved power from the marketplace to the polling station, from the wallet to the ballot.
And what people said was very simple, “In the 1930s we had mass unemployment, but we didn’t have unemployment during the War. If you can have full employment by killing Germans, we can have full employment by building hospitals, by building schools, recruiting nurses, recruiting teachers. If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.
This leaflet that was issued in 1948 is very straightforward;
“Your new national health service begins on the 5th of July. What is it and how do you get it? It will provide you with all medical, dental, and nursing care, everyone rich or poor, man or child, can use it or part of it, there are no charges except for a few exceptional items, there are no insurance qualifications, but it is not a charity. You are paying for it mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in times of illness.”
Somehow the few words sum the whole thing up. Even Margaret Thatcher said, “It’s safe in our hands.” It’s as non-controversial as votes for women. Nobody could come along now and say, “Why should women vote?” People wouldn’t have it, and they wouldn’t accept the deterioration or destruction of the National Health Service.
Moore: “If Thatcher or Blair said, ‘I’m going to dismantle the National Health Service?’”
Benn: There would be a revolution, yep…
I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world. Far more revolutionary than socialist ideas or anyone else’s ideas. If you have power, you use it to meet the needs of you and your community. And this idea of choice, which capitalism talks about all the time, ‘You’ve gotta have a choice,’ choice depends on the freedom to choose, and if you’re shackled with debt, you don’t have the freedom to choose.
Moore: It seems like it benefits the system if the average working person is shackled with debt
Benn: Yes, people in debt become hopeless and hopeless people don’t vote. So people say, “Well, everyone should vote.” I say that if the poor in Britain and the United States turned out and voted for people who represented their interests, it would be a real democratic revolution. They (the system) don’t want that to happen, so (they’re) keeping people hopeless and pessimistic.
I think there are two ways people are controlled. First, they are frightened people, and secondly, demoralized. An educated, healthy, and confident nation is harder to govern, and I think there’s an element of thinking in some people, “We don’t want people to be educated, healthy, and confident, because they would get out of control.
The top 1% of the world’s population own 80% of the world’s wealth. It’s incredible that people put up with it! But, they’re poor, they’re demoralized, they’re frightened, and therefore think perhaps the safest thing to do is to take orders and hope for the best.