fresh voices from the front lines of change







There’s a march and demonstration taking place tomorrow (Wednesday, June 20) to protest money’s corrupting influence in our political process. We’ll be marching on the headquarters of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS organization in Washington DC to protest the corrupting, debasing, and anti-democratic influence of money in politics.

I’ll be there, and you should be too. Why?

I’m glad you asked.

Hey, I marched when I was in junior high school. Like many other people, I thought those days were over. Maybe you did did too. News flash: They’re not. Maybe you’re like me and rediscovered the power of protest by joining the Occupy movement. Or maybe you’re still sitting on the fence.

If you’ve got doubts about whether or not to join us, here are twenty questions (and answers) that should help you make up your mind.

1. March? Really? On foot? That’s so retro, so sixties! Weren’t demonstrations just something that was fashionable when guys wore Nehru jackets and women wore granny skirts?

Actually, no. Public demonstrations for “redress of grievances” are as old as the Republic itself – older, in fact. Nonviolent demonstrations defeated the British Empire in India. They triggered the American Revolution. They gave working people their rights, created the middle class, and led to the greatest prosperity in our history during the 20th Century.

More recently, public demonstrations helped bring down the Iron Curtain and sparked the Arab Spring, a fight that’s still underway but which has already changed the political landscape of the Middle East.

Protest marches are a pure form of democracy in action. That’s something that never goes out of fashion.

2. But don’t we do all of that political stuff on the Internet now?

Blogging and social media are great tools for political change. But there’s no substitute for the physical presence of human beings as they make their presence felt to those they oppose. Human proximity creates a different kind of social momentum. (And hopefully to more news coverage, too.)

Occupy Wall Street reminded us all of the power of human presence.

Here’s another way to put it: Being in the same physical space as lots of other people is – well, it’s the new Internet. A big crowd is still the best form of “social media” ever invented.

3. Don’t you ever feel stupid when you’re protesting?

To be honest, I used to. Then I read an anecdote in Paul Loeb’s book Soul of a Citizen (or it might have been his other one, The Impossible Will Take a Little Longer) about the ’60s antiwar movement. One of that movement’s most influential leaders was Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose book on baby and child care was on almost every parents’ bookshelf back then.

Dr. Spock’s conversion to the antiwar cause helped make being a “peacenik” socially acceptable and increased pressure to end the Vietnam war.

Paul’s book includes the account of an early antiwar protester who stood outside the White House in 1963 or 1964 with a few other “Mothers for Peace.” There were only three or four other people there, and she talked about feeling very silly standing in the snow with a sign. She wondered what she was doing there.

Later, after he had become an influential leader, Dr. Spock was asked how he got involved. He said he had been invited to lunch at the White House, and on his way inside he saw three or four women standing in the snow. And he got to wondering why they felt so strongly …

That protester felt silly, but that one afternoon’s protest had an enormous impact. You never knew when or how, but your actions may make all the difference in the world.

4. Mitt Romney says it’s “envy” when you criticize rich people or their influence in politics.

Hey, they robbed us! That’s like stealing your wallet and then calling you “envious” when you ask for it back.

It’s true that, once he’s robbed you, the pickpocket has a wallet and you don’t. But acting to get it back isn’t “envy.” It’s justice.

5. If they robbed us, why aren’t they going to jail?

Look at the testimony of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon before the Senate Banking Committee. How are you going to grill, much less prosecute, somebody who’s been giving you money – and whose money you’re going to need to get if you want to be reelected?

6. Why was the House’s questioning of Dimon this week ever-so-slightly rougher than the Senate’s?

Members of the House don’t need as much money for their elections campaigns as Senators do – at least not yet. The difference between the House’s treatment of Dimon and the Senate’s is no coincidence.

Like they used to say: Follow the money.

6. Hasn’t there always been money in politics?

Sure, but not like this. As Dave Gilson pointed out in Mother Jones, “Barack Obama spent $730 million getting to the White House in 2008—twice as much as George W. Bush spent 4 years earlier and more than 260 times what Abraham Lincoln spent in his first election (as measured in 2011 dollars).”

Senate elections, especially in the bigger states, went up exponentially too. And the cost of Congressional elections is beginning to soar too.

7. Does the Citizens United ruling really mean that rich people and corporations can spend as much as they want to spend on elections?


8. How can they justify that?

The corporate-funded far right had a long-term plan to capture a lot of judgeships and impose a bizarre theory called “corporate personhood.” It says that corporations have the same rights as people – but none of the penalties or obligations.

Then they said that corporate “people” use money as their “speech,” so it’s un-Constitutional to deny them their “right.”

9. Wow, that theory is completely bizarre. And thanks to the Supreme Court, it’s now the law of the land. That’s just … insane.

I’m sorry, but I can’t respond to that. Our format today is kinda like Jeopardy. Even if you think you have an answer, your answer must be given in the form of a question. If it isn’t you will hear the sound of this buzzer.

10. Okay, here’s my question: Is that the weirdest legal theory ever, or what?

It gets even weirder: Right now it’s not clear that campaigns (or closely related SuperPACs) are obliged to disclose who corporate and wealthy individual donors even are. And the Right is fighting the DISCLOSE Act, which let people know who’s contributing to political campaigns, at the national and state levels.

By their logic, corporate speech is real speech – but it’s the only kind in which the speaker is allowed to exercise its “right of speech” without ever being heard.

No, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t have to. Judges just have to declare that it does.

11. The bankers and big corporations are incredibly powerful. They have the media, their ad campaigns, and billions of dollars. How can we possibly stop them? They can’t be defeated.

They said that about the Soviet Union, too. And apartheid. They said that about the British Empire and the Axis powers. They said that in this country in the 19th Century, when the robber barons owned everything. They always say that.

Sure, it’s going to be tough. Victory is never guaranteed. But unless we act, defeat is guaranteed.

12. You’re marching on Rove, but aren’t Democrats part of the problem too?

Some of them are. The worst symptom of money’s corrupting influence usually comes bearing the “bipartisan” label.

A good example of this bought-and-paid-for “bipartisanship” is the new venture between former Republican Party official Michael Steele and Lanny Davis, a former Clinton White House official whose pandering work for dictators has made him the symbol of everything venal about today’s insider political process.

I think they’re going to call it “Purple Nation Solutions” or something, supposedly because red for “red states” and blue for “blue states” would make purple if they were mixed together. But purple is also the color of royalty, people who rule without democratic process.

So remember: Look for the “purple” label. And when you see it, Protest!

13. If there are big-money Democrats, why aren’t you marching on the Democratic equivalent of Crossroads GPS?

Because it doesn’t exist. And while the Dems have their big-money donors, frankly they’re pretty small potatoes when compared to the deep-pocketed, un-American, anti-Democratic funders of the GOP like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

At least these executives have made some good movies. And when Bill Maher’s funny, it’s on purpose. What’ve the Koch Brothers and Adelson done except take your money at their casinos and rape the environment?

Those GOP contributors want carte blanche from the government, in the form of deregulation, so they can break the law, or the rules of fair play, and harm the rest of us. What rules do the entertainment types want to break – the rule against expository dialogue? The three-act screenplay format? Sure, they’ll expect help on intellectual property issues, but that’s about it. Agree with them or not, they’re mostly spending the money because of their beliefs. They’re certainly not out to undermine democracy like the big-money guys are.

Besides, it all comes down to dollars. Katzenberg, Maher and their peers have given contributions in the $1 million to $2 million range. Adelson? $70 million to $100 million. There’s no contest.

The Republicans and their corporate backers have gone absolutely crazy, not just in buying elections but in pushing a multi-pronged strategy to undermine democracy that includes: 1) appointing more radical judges to overthrow democracy until corporations have the rights of people, but people don’t; 2) cooking the books by throwing legitimate voters off the role if they belong to groups (minorities, students, etc.) that traditionally vote democratic; 3) rigging the electoral process – and on and on and on … That makes the GOP and its corporate sponsors the logical first targets for demonstrations like these.

We can slam the Democrats when they pander to big-money interests. (I do, often.) But we can’t criticize them for trying to please big-money donors if that’s the only way anybody can win an election. The system will be corrupt until we get big money out of it.

On the other hand: If you ever organize a demonstration at Lanny Davis’ place, count me in.

14. What else can we do?

We can push back against companies who use their money to distort our politics, the way Target did. Citizen action forced Target to back down. It also forced Coca-Cola and many other corporate sponsors to withdraw their support for ALEC.

We can also support Sen. Menendez’ “Shareholder Protection Act,” which would require a vote of shareholders for any political contributions over $50,000 and would also force the company to publicly disclose its expenditures.

15. I’m in. What day does the march take place?

Today. (Wednesday, June 20.)

16. Where?

We meet at the Take Back the American Dream Conference, which will conclude at 12:45 pm. That’s at the Washington DC Hilton (1919 Connecticut Ave NW.)

17. Where will it end?

At the headquarters of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, 1401 New York Avenue NW, Washington DC.

18. When?

1 pm.

19. What will happen there?

A demonstration. We’ll be doing everything we can to make our voices heard – peacefully and democratically.

20. Last question: If this is part of a great struggle to reclaim our democracy, how long will it take us to win?

It could be a long, tough road. We could be marching for a while. But as the old saying says: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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