Fix Democracy, First
What follows is the text for my 7m (or so) speech at the #UNRIG conference in New Orleans at the beginning of the month. What is above is the video. Still struggling to do this well. Responses requested and accepted with gratitude.
None of us want to be here.
I don’t mean literally. This is New Orleans, and I’m sharing a stage with Jennifer Lawrence, and my hero, Buddy Roemer, so don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty happy to be here.
But none of us want to have to be here.
None of us want to be living in a democracy where our first fight has got to be about that democracy.
Because all of us believe that there are real things, important things, substantive things that this democracy must do. But can’t do now.
Some of us want it to address climate change. Finally.
Some of us want it to fight the inequality shot through our society — from the hopelessness of steelworkers in Ohio and Michigan, to the mother barely able to provide for her kids while working two jobs, every single day. This is America, and that just is not right.
Some of us want it to kickstart an economy stuck in stall — where middle class wages just hover, they don’t rise, while productivity and corporate profits just rise and rise and rise. For two generations, 50% of Americans have seen no growth in their income. Last year, 1% of Americans captured 82% of the wealth that this economy created.
Whatever the issue, what we know — what we, who are here know — is that we won’t address any of those issues, or a million others issues, sensibly, until we fix this democracy first.
This we all know.
What we don’t know is how to do it. I don’t mean what changes we need to make. We know that. We’re pretty good about that. I mean: how do we get America to take up the fight to take back our democracy?
That begins by speaking an obvious truth: They don’t represent us.
When congressmen spend 30 to 70 percent of their time sucking up to no more than 100k rich people, they don’t represent us. They represent them.
When safe-seat gerrymandering makes congressmen care only about the fringes from their own party — because only an even more extreme Democrat or extreme Republican could ever challenge them — they don’t represent us. They represent them.
When the President gets elected with a system that concentrates campaigns in a dozen battlegrounds states — states that represent just 35% of America, and an America that is older and whiter than America as a whole — we know that president can’t represent us. We know that he represents them.
They don’t represent us. And that’s true whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, whether you are from Montana or North Carolina, whether you’re old or not yet old, whatever your race. Whatever your sex. Whatever, whatever, whatever: They don’t represent us.
That truth is step one.
Step two is to use that truth — a truth already believed by practically every American — to build a different kind of political movement. A political movement that steps to the side and above partisan politics.
All across America there are thousands who have been inspired by Reverend Barber and the Moral Monday Movement. Those thousands — tens of thousands — go from community to community, and say, how could we possibly disagree. Black citizens travel to KKK country, and sitting at the kitchen tables of men whose fathers burned crosses, they ask, “how could we possibly disagree?” And from that question — a question with only one answer — the Moral Monday Movement is building a movement that will knit America together. Not again. But for the first time ever—just maybe.
We need a moral movement here too. We need a movement that doesn’t just hang in DC, but like Granny D, gets citizens to walk with citizens, and to see that on this, we are not divided. We are united.
And then step three: We must turn those citizens to our leaders — to the people we elect to represent us — and tell them, if you want our leaders, you must commit to fixing this, first.
Because at some point, we must draw a line of integrity across the ground that stands before us, and ask, on which side do you stand?
It’s fine to talk about single payer health care. But it’s just not serious unless you show us how you will fix this democracy first.
It’s wonderful to rail against corporate welfare — as conservatives and libertarians call it. But it is just not serious unless you explain how you’re going to fix this democracy first.
They dupe us with our own dreams — with promises of the policies we want our government to enact. As if we’re stupid. We’re not stupid. We know their words mean nothing unless they have a plan to fix this democracy. First.
We’ve been patient for way too long. We have been way too polite for way too long. We must feel our entitlement — we are citizens, and this is a democracy — and use that power, a moral power, to make this change happen now.
Because we can’t afford to be hanging around in conferences like this. We can’t afford a democracy that still needs to fix itself. There is too much to be done. There is too much that a moral America — the only great America that I can imagine — a moral America must do.
Let us, like Reverend Barber, bring America to its feet. Let us, like Granny D, get America to walk. And in those walks, as Dr. King asked us, let us dream again. Dream of the greatness a democracy in America could give.
If we could finally sing in unison to everyone who wants our vote: I will stand with you if you will say to me: I will fix this democracy, first.