Social Justice & Big Money
We must eliminate Big Money’s influence to optimize our Social Justice efforts
I am a concerned global citizen and Unitarian Universalist who wants to make the greatest impact, do the most good, and get meaningfully involved in Social Justice in 2016. But, all too often, I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of issues that are all clearly deserving of my time and commitment. There are so many important causes, and so little time to effect positive change for each.
I find myself at times paralyzed by the indecision that is common nowadays amongst many of the millennial generation. Perhaps it’s also present in the younger and older generations too.
I care about homelessness, women’s reproductive rights, affordable housing, mental health and gun safety reform, immigration, terrorism, BlackLivesMatter, DC statehood, voter rights, infrastructure, foreign policy, and climate change. I also care about my own well being, so I know I can’t sustainably put time into each issue every day, or even every month. However, I recently realized there is one thing all these issues have in common: All are being legislatively handled or prioritized in a way that runs counter to the will of the people. In other words, progress is stymied by the stranglehold that big money’s influence has on politics.
These are issues that I and my fellow citizens deserve a say in. However right now, you, I, and our fellow citizens don’t have an equal say (and sometimes no say) in how or if our elected officials legislate solutions to these issues.
In most cases we are not heard at all due to a deepening addiction our elected officials have for raising money. A congressmen can spend up to 70% of their day “dialing for dollars” with call sheets provided from their party containing direct lines to their wealthiest contributors. This gives those wealthy contributors a voice that commands the undivided attention of that elected official, who may not even be a constituent in that representative’s congressional district! They should be spending that 70% talking to constituents — a job that is currently relegated to low-level staffers and interns who respond with a form email when one of us lower 99% reach out to express our needs and opinions. No congressman has ever reached out to you or me to ask what we have to say.
Right now, our country has a major issue with big money and it’s negative impact on our democracy and politics. It has always been an issue, but ever since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, people with ever-larger amounts of disposable income (thanks in large part to the Reagan tax reforms in the 1980’s) have become a force in politics that has tilted the economic and political balance in favor of their interests. On the right, it’s tax breaks of business and greed-related pursuits, on the left it’s sometimes, but not always, a bit more altruistic. Regardless, it’s the few fellow Americans with lots of money that get to speak louder and whose words carry the weight and produce a decibel level of a hefty campaign contribution. And it’s our voices that they drown out. The current way in which a congressman or woman raises money to get elected not only marginalizes us, the 99% of voters, but all the things we care about.
We call it by many names: Political Equality, Citizen Equality, Fix Democracy First, Get Money Out, Overturn Citizens United, but ultimately we all want the same result: Equal say for each citizen in our government, not only equal opportunity and access to the ballot box, but equal importance, consideration, and assurance that our voices will be heard by our elected officials. We don’t just want our vote to count, but we want it to matter.
On a related topic, last year I heard bio-ethicist Peter Singer speak about his new book “The Most Good You Can Do”. After hearing his approach to optimizing the good you can do, it becomes clear to me that I could apply the principles he laid out for picking the most effective use of my time in my social justice work.
So, where can I do the most good? Fixing Democracy First and neutralizing big money’s influence in politics.
It became clear to me that if my issues likes homelessness, BlackLivesMatter, mental health, and gun control are metaphorical fish swimming upstream. They will be spending a great deal of energy individually fighting the strong opposing current of a rushing river. However, if a dam could be built to slow the current, then all would have an easier time getting to their destination. (Note: Those with environmental and wildlife concerns with building dams, I apologize for the analogy and in no way would literally advocate for a dam. And it’s important to note that your issues too would receive more attention if we broke politicians of their addiction to large donors and big money’s influence)
Building that metaphorical dam to hold back all the money-related influence in politics would leave us with the ability to make real and unimpeded progress on the issues we care about. The damage that big money has caused just in the last five years is one that makes some feel as if there’s very little they can do to turn the tide and and makes some give up swimming against the current altogether.
I believe true Citizen Equality is an inevitability and is the next logical step toward a founder-intended democracy that is honestly of the people, by the people, and for the people. However, we must devote our efforts, time, and attention to accelerating this inevitability. The longer it takes, the more good we’re doing on our individual causes where we are just taking two steps forward, just to find big money’s influence directly or indirectly forcing our progress two steps back. This leads to many of our fellow citizens to reach the conclusion that President Obama spoke of last night in his State of the Union:
“What I’m asking for is hard. It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.”
So that’s why I am focusing my Social Justice efforts in 2016 where I believe the most good can be done for all the issues we all care about. I believe that there’s no more effective place to start than Political Equality, Citizen Equality, and getting big money’s influence out of our politics.
How I Plan to Take Action
There are organizations in place that are fighting this fight already, but they need help: Demos, 99Rise, Democracy Spring, Represent.Us, DemocracyIsForPeople. Additionally, a democrat was running for president: Lawrence Lessig. He had to drop out because he was boxed out of debates by the ironically-named Democratic National Committee.
Three things I believe would help level the political playing field:
- Overturn Citizens United or/by amending the Constitution to make all contributions to campaigns tied to the national minimum wage. The most an individual could contribute is 100 times the minimum wage.
- Implement a check on the top 1%. Reform the tax code to take — without exception — 70% of all income over $1 million. This additional revenue will make the first $30,000 tax-free for every American and their basic needs. (Did you know that the highest tax bracket in 1981 was 70% for any income over $273,000?!)
- Recruit younger, uncorrupted candidates to run small budget, publicly-financed campaigns based on a true desire to do the will of the constituents, not the contributors. They will demonstrate that a congressman that spends his full time in Washington DC legislating and none of it fundraising can still win because their work will speak for itself! (and if it doesn’t, then they shouldn’t be re-elected!)
Have you ever read Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who? It’s time to combine our collective voices in the same way that those from Whoville did. We must send a clear and amplified message that resonates through the halls of Congress and with our fellow citizens. We need to let everyone know that we’re tired of fighting our way upstream with each important issue. We must empower one another and demonstrate we are capable of working together to Fix Democracy First, so we can make it easier on ourselves to accomplish more for each cause close to our hearts. If we can collectively eliminate the countervailing effect of big money, there’s no telling what we can accomplish from there.
More excerpts from President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address
“We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections — and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution. We’ve got to make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now.”
“But I can’t do these things on my own. Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It will depend on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.”
It’s time to raise our voices collectively.
Come join me this April in Washington, DC for Democracy Spring:
It’s time to take mass nonviolent action on a historic scale to save our democracy. Spring is coming. April 2016. Washington DC.
Grassroots network of organizers building the movement to end corruption & win real democracy thru nonviolent civil resistance.
A national campaign to fix our corrupt political system by passing Anti-Corruption Acts in cities & states. Beat corruption nationally — take the fight local.
A public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.