Let’s Stop Supporting Corrupt Government

More and more people of late are recognizing that government at all levels but particularly the federal government is becoming increasingly distant and unaccountable with respect to the average citizen, a long-term trend independent of which party is in power. Elected officials and their appointees have become increasingly wedded to the big money that supports their campaigns then lobbies for special treatment, essentially producing a plutocratic government that primarily represents corporations and the wealthy. 

Examples of the many ways in which government is now largely unaccountable and unresponsive to average people include failure to: reform campaign finance; to regulate business to prevent such things as the financial meltdown that produced this Great Recession; to help workers receive living wages; to protect labor unions and attempts to unionize; to close numerous tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy; to act on climate change and other environmental threats; to ensure fair and equal voting rights; the list goes on and on. The underlying root cause of these failures is the dominance of big money in politics. 

These are extremely serious deficiencies that have undermined or destroyed the nation’s democratic institutions. Many historians and social scientists are comparing this era to the Gilded Age, that earlier time in our nation’s history when big money ruled. 

What’s ironic today is that most citizens continue to unwittingly support the existing plutocratic power structure in a variety of ways. This implicit support is done most notably by: buying endlessly from the corporations that use their great wealth to dominate campaigns and government policy; by paying taxes to support governments that are unaccountable and unresponsive to the needs of the people; by voting for elitist, corrupted candidates from the two major establishment parties that inhibit democratic change; and simply by going on with business as usual, working and spending as if everything is alright. 

Granted not much can be done about paying taxes, though I would support a tax revolt if we could get enough people to participate. And you might say that little can be done to stop the billions in consumer spending that puts the dollars in corporate pockets which are then used to corrupt politicians, though here too I would add a qualification-- that consumers could steer their spending toward more responsible businesses, beginning with those that respect and protect the environment while paying living wages to their workers. While I think this is a great idea, even to the extent of targeted boycotts, it’s doubtful that enough people could be enlisted to have a noticeable impact. 

So, the chief ways in which citizens can regain democracy from the plutocratic power structure seem to be by voting for candidates for change, and by stopping business as usual in some meaningful way. 

It’s likely that simply voting for change would at best be a slow and partial road back to democracy. The current system is just so rigged to support only candidates with ties to big money. It’s the very rare individual who can work for real change within this corrupt system, the way, for example, a Bernie Sanders does. He’s nearly unique, and unfortunately, he has limited success what with the entrenched powers opposed to change. Voting for change is important, even necessary, but it’s not enough. 

What then might it look like to stop business as usual, which the existing power structure requires to continue its reign? This could take a number of forms. Social movements for democratic change in the U.S. and around the world are on a significant upswing, as evidenced by the increasing number of protests and demonstrations supported by growing numbers of people. 

The last protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington, DC was attended by a record 50,000 people (despite the coldest, windiest weather I’ve endured in a long time). A recent protest in North Carolina following the Moral Monday theme drew some 80,000.  And large numbers of concerned people across the country are preparing for action if the Supreme Court rules in favor of allowing yet more money in politics in the McCutcheon decision. 

The Occupy Wall Street protests that occurred in numerous cities have evolved into different, less visible forms that nonetheless work for radical change-- Popular Resistance, Represent Us, Move On, Sum of Us, The Other 99%, Reclaim Democracy, Public Citizen, Popular Uprising, and countless other organizations around the world.  What’s striking is that these organizations are supported largely by growing numbers of mainstream, middle class people, often baby-boomers who now have the time in retirement to drive the change they have long sought. 

Protest movements often resort to nonviolent civil disobedience when the voices for change aren’t heard. This may be increasingly necessary. At the same time, it’s important to note that for every person out there protesting, there typically are many, many more who support the cause, often quietly. History shows that it doesn’t require anything approaching a majority to take action, or millions necessarily, in order for action to be effective. What’s important is that the movement be widely accepted as right and just. 

A recent study found that the number of democratic protests worldwide has increased substantially year by year over the past eight years. The last time this occurred was the late 1960’s, when significant social and political change occurred. 

It looks like we are once again on the threshold of that kind of change and I believe change is inevitable. The problem is it can take a long time. The more people who participate in actions, who refuse to accept the status quo, the sooner change will happen. And when highly influential allies join the cause-- such as the Pope of all people!— you begin to sense that change is well within reach. 

 --Tony Giordano is a supporter of the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20). 

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