How Americans can end the shutdown in one day: Call for a strike

How Americans can end the shutdown in one day: Call for a strike
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Thursday’s failed Senate votes demonstrate that Congress and the White House still can’t resolve their budget impasse; therefore, some brave Americans must take the ball away from President Donald Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Poll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOn The Money: Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump emergency declaration | Banks made billion in extra profits thanks to GOP tax law | IRS analyst charged with leaking Cohen's financial records Coast Guard lieutenant accused of planning domestic terrorism denied bail Inviting Kim Jong Un to Washington MORE (D-Calif.), and end the federal government’s partial shutdown.

In one day, most likely.

If under-appreciated, currently unpaid air traffic controllers and TSA agents, or concerned pilots or flight attendants through their unions, would simply go on strike or coordinate a massive "sick out," they could quickly bring the economy and the country — and then, Washington — to its knees.

And why shouldn't they? 

Teachers in Los Angeles just went on strike over school supplies.

Teachers in West Virginia, in Arizona and other places have gone on strike over pay.

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In 1934, longshoremen in San Francisco nearly shut down the country for 83 days over working conditions. As recently as 2002, a 10-day lockout by shipping companies was so destructive to the American economy that President George W. Bush had to invoke federal law to have the courts end it.

As we all know, virtually everyone in European and many other countries uses "citizen power" in these ways on a regular basis, even when 800,000 innocent citizens are not being furloughed or forced to work without any pay whatsoever.

Citizens have far more clout than we give ourselves credit for, and I would argue that it is our obligation as citizens to step in when our government is wrong or dysfunctional.

Today, it is both.

It is downright cruel, too. How in the world can anyone justify putting workers out of work or, worse still, requiring them to work without pay? Seems to me that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlaws such actions by government.

But perhaps even more than a personal crisis for workers, this is a rapidly escalating public-safety emergency.

Patricia Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers union and a controller herself for 21 years, shared her concern with me: "Our members are being very professional but they are starting to be frantic as we approach a second missed paycheck ... Their concentration — that needs to be 100 percent on the job — is now distracted by the fact that they do not know when they will see another paycheck or how they will be able to meet their financial obligations. And fatigue is starting to set in."

In today's highly automated world, aren't air traffic controllers as non-essential to flight operations as a driver sitting in a self-driving car? Well, no. Here's how Ms. Gilbert explains it: "It is a human being that gives instructions to pilots to turn, ‘climb below’ or ‘descend above,’ to protect them from hitting other aircraft."

So, it's time for this shutdown to end — and it's within our power to do so.

Imagine what would happen, even after just the announcement of a strike.

Businesspeople who need to travel, including high-dollar political campaign donors from every state, would flood the White House and congressional offices with calls. Every big business across the country would stand to lose billions of dollars. Every country that relies on commerce with or in the United States would take to the phones and mobilize their ambassadors in Washington.

Businesses and the entire world would almost instantly ensure that we do what we seem unable to do ourselves, and create a compelling, unmistakable, uncomfortable and unignorable "intervention."

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The air traffic controllers have taken to the courts to fix this, filing a request for a temporary restraining order to force the government to pay its members for work they are performing, but a D.C. district judge ruled against the union. Air traffic controllers, as well as TSA workers, are federal employees and are prohibited, by federal law, from striking or even threatening to strike, so it would be a heroic, extremely risky act for them to do so.

But airline pilots and flight attendants have no such restrictions. If airlines stood by their pilots or flight attendants in striking (and even if they didn't), that could be the intervention that generates a national emergency far outweighing the one that President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE sees on our southern border.

Sara Nelson, international president of the flight attendants’ association, believes "we are days, maybe a week, away from people not showing up for work."

"The system is unraveling," she told me. "All of the safety mechanisms put in place have been shut down." And, she added, "I am now aware that when I get on an airplane, I am less safe."

Sadly, if our elected officials can’t find a way out of the mess they’ve created, that responsibility must fall on the American people, writ large, and particularly on pilots, flight attendants, brave air traffic controllers and TSA agents — those who are so essential to American commerce and safety.

"Citizen Power" may be our only hope to protect our skies, right our economy, and stop Washington's craziness.

Richard Greene is an author, columnist, radio host, political communications strategist and public speaker. Known as “The Civics Dean,” he is a former fellow at the Constitutional Rights Foundation, a former attorney, and the founder of 279 for Change, which advocates a new approach to engaging in politics. Follow him on Twitter @TheCivicsDean.