This Is What #MyDemocracy Looks Like

Chris Shelton
4 min readApr 7, 2016

When I started working for New York Telephone, the first thing I did was become a member of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

I’m living the American Dream because I was lucky enough to have a union job, a CWA job. And it gave me a real education because I learned that when the people unite, we are a powerful check on corporate greed.

Today, that solidarity is vital for restoring our democracy.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — the idea that corporations are people and that money equals free speech — is a cruel joke. The Koch brothers and their big business allies’ quest to purchase influence is literally killing our democracy — drowning it in an ocean of mega contributions. Wall Street’s deregulated, anti-union, trickle-down, 1-percent economics are being propped up by out-of-control campaign donations to our elected officials. Big money is skewing the voice of the people, as a handful of lobbyists block important reforms and public policy solutions supported by majorities of Americans.

This makes our work at the bargaining table so much more difficult. The wealthy elite are pouring cash into a variety of efforts to help corporations pad their bottom lines — at the expense of our wages, our benefits, and our retirement security. For instance, the Employee Free Choice Act would have created a fairer path for workers to organize unions, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and lobbying to kill the bill; like so many pro-worker bills, it passed the House of Representatives but was filibustered in the Senate. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association protects, at least for now, the right of public workers to engage in meaningful collective bargaining, but it doesn’t stop the millionaire financiers behind the case from backing another campaign to weaken and destroy workers’ bargaining rights. Those same big money interests are dumping unprecedented donations into the campaign war chests of state lawmakers to block laws that would safeguard the right to a voice on the job, dragging out contract bargaining, and making a sham of the rights workers are promised under the National Labor Relations Act and other labor laws.

This assault also extends to the ballot box, where big money is undermining the voting rights of minorities, students, seniors, immigrants and low-income workers. From 2011 to 2015, giant campaign contributions helped convince legislators to introduce 395 new voting restrictions in 49 states. Ordinary Americans now face a variety of tactics to prevent them from casting their ballots, from arbitrary voter ID requirements at the polls to eliminating polling places in lower-income neighborhoods to limited weekend voting. The goal, in the words of a new Democracy Initiative report, is to keep “large numbers of voters who tend to favor pro-worker, pro-civil rights policies and a government that helps those in need away from the polls in order to maintain the power of wealthy special interests.”

It boils down to this: the voices of working people will never be heard until we stand together and stop the flood of corporate cash.

We know that CWA or the labor movement, standing alone, cannot restore workers’ rights or win the financial reform we need to put working families back on track.

The same is true for the critical issues of environmental groups, consumer organizations, civil rights and justice groups, and so many more. We share their goals of economic and social justice. But we know that none of us can accomplish our goals by ourselves.

When we join together, as we have in past fights, we can move our democracy forward. We know this. When every progressive organization makes restoring our democracy at least its second most important issue, we can succeed.

That’s why I and hundreds of CWAers will be at Democracy Awakening in Washington, D.C., on the weekend of April 16–18, part of the broad coalition of groups representing the labor, peace, environmental, student, racial justice, civil rights, and money in politics reform movements. We share a firm belief that we will not win on the full range of policy issues we all care about until we awaken a democracy that is accessible to all and is not beholden to big money interests.

Will you join us?



Chris Shelton

President, Communications Workers of America. Are you ready to stand up? Are you ready to stand together? Are you ready to fight? Are you ready to win?