We now have a political system that is blatantly manipulated by a jaw-dropping amount of cash from both corporate, and to a lesser extent, organized labor. Thanks to the Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited amounts of special interest money to be poured into political advertising and political action committees (and with no accountability), the power of ordinary citizens–of the individual, the foundation of a healthy democratic political system–to participate in the democratic process is now alarmingly eroded. Combine Citizens United with the fact that a coalition of corporate interests called The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has designed and lobbiedlegislation on the state level that is in the process of disenfranchising millions of voters under the guise of “voter fraud,” and it’s abundantly clear that the end of the American democratic experiment is very much within sight. In fact, it may already be too late.
Resistance, however, is alive and well in the United States. Just ask Alexa O’ Brien (@carwinb), an organizer for the grassroots organization US Day of Rage (@USDayofRage). I caught up with her via email last week, and we discussed this budding political movement which partly draws inspiration from the Arab Spring, but just as much from what she witnessed in the Wisconsin labor battle:
“USDOR began the night of March 10, 2011 when I created the twitter profile @USDayofRage. I was watching coverage of events in Wisconsin. I had been covering the ‘Days of Rage’ – people’s non violent protests from Egypt into Europe for several months by then, watching those events unfold on Twitter and Facebook.
What I saw that night in Wisconsin was a dangerous level of cynicism towards government.
Every institutional underpinning that upholds the principles of our democratic republic is buckling under the weight of entrenched interests and outdated ideas about the world we live in and the challenges our nation faces.”
The idea behind this new movement is simple: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” In other words, it’s time to return the democratic process to the hands of those for which it was originally intended: the American people.
“Special influence corrupts our political parties, our elections, and the institutions of government. Bought by hard and soft dollars, disloyal, incompetent, and wasteful special interests have usurped our nation’s civil and military power, spawning a host of threats to liberty and our national security. The problem is not a left or right issue, it’s an American issue.”
And this entails fighting back against special interests–both on the left (unions, etc) and the right (corporations, etc), it must be emphasized–to create truly “free and fair elections.”
“Free and fair elections inspire good citizenship and public service, because they engage the intelligence and genuine good will of the American people. They produce the kind of stewardship our nation desperately needs, because they ensure that citizens can influence their destiny, and make genuine contributions to society. Free and fair elections remedy the myriad ills and abuses of a corrupt and illegitimate government, which preys on the resources and spirits of citizens.” [Emphasis mine.]
I asked O’Brien what kinds of tactics US Day of Rage planned to use:
“[The planning committee] started off with a broad state-by-state strategy. Building local and state associations or assemblies of people, not parties around our mission: ‘One citizen. One dollar. One vote,’ and around four principles…
2.) Principles before Party.
“We are an idea, not a political party. We place principles and our objectives before any party or personality. Therefore, US Day of Rage will never endorse, finance, or lend our name to any candidate or party. We support a citizens right to so affiliate, and we understand that individuals and groups participating in the US Day of Rage may be so affiliated.”
“Every US Day of Rage organizational committee on the state, city, and federal level should be entirely self-supporting, declining outside contributions from any political party, association, or candidate. US Day of Rage is not a money making operation. We are volunteers. No treasury should be kept. We do this lest problems of money, property, or prestige divert us from our primary aim, reforming our elections. Our logo and content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License, unless otherwise noted. Use it, just don’t abuse it.”
4.) Autonomous Except in Matters Affecting the Whole
“Individual city, state, and federal assemblies, organizations, and demonstrations are autonomous, except in matters affecting the whole. We do not support, for example, violations to our principle of non-violence. USDayofRage.org is here to help facilitate city and state level organization, and to organize the federal protest at the US Capitol.”
“Our purpose is to reform election law at the state level, and then turn our attention towards Washington. We encourage people to engage in state level strategies for referendums, citizen lobbying, and non-violent civil disobedience.” [Emphasis mine.]
And state-level organizers have indeed begun planning in 13 states and three cities, which will start with protests in Idaho on Sept 16. Then on September 17th an endorsed call to action to #occupywallstreet, an occupation of America’s financial nerve center by “an independent public NYC assembly to camp on Wall Street,”according to O’Brien.
All of this planning by US Day of Rage and the NYC grassroots assembly of Occupy Wall Street conjures up memories of Egypt’s own Day of Rage and their historic stand at Tahrir Square. And recently, Al Gore called for a Tahrir Square moment in America. I asked O’Brien if she thought the U.S. was approaching such a moment, and if she was concerned that Americans are too complacent:
“I see an American moment coming to America. It’s not that Tahrir isn’t inspiring. People all over the world are facing tremendous challenges in the face of globalization, increased institutional complexity, and ancient problems of just and stable governance. But our nation’s problems are our responsibility to fix. Either we face up to that fact, or our nation will perish from the earth.”
She added later that she doesn’t think Americans are complacent, only demoralized and disengaged from the political process.
The non-violent struggle to reclaim our democracy from powerfully-entrenched special interests will indeed be an uphill one, and will almost assuredly be fraught with setbacks. Yet not acting to save this country from the corruption that holds us all hostage simply isn’t an option. Not only do we have a moral imperative to try and change the system for the legacy our ancestors created for us, but for future generations as well. Those future generations will look back at our struggles and hopefully gain inspiration and resolve to continue the fight where we left off, if we fail.
“…our nation’s problems are our responsibility to fix. Either we face up to that fact, or our nation will perish from the earth.”
One citizen. One dollar. One vote.
Dustin M. Slaughter is the Founder of The David and Goliath Project.