Grassroots Campaigns: Restoring Democracy

Everyone tends to scoff at the idea of a grassroots campaign, at least at the federal level. After all, ‘corporations are people’. Money is speech. Unlimited money can be poured into elections. Huge financial entities have the same rights as individuals. Many big donations can be anonymous. Sounds like Orwellian ‘double speak’ doesn’t it? But these things are the law of the land in our democracy/republic. And not everyone is happy about it. Corporation are. Rich folks with a political axe to grind are.

We the people, of limited means, are not exactly delighted as we find our democracy turning into a corporatocracy, worse, a kakistocracy. We find our puny personal budgets unable to contribute enough to political campaigns to ever exert any kind of individual pressure on policy. We find ourselves losing ground in the policy wars. Tax cuts favor the wealthy. We see that people with money are avid to cut programs that benefit less fortunate Americans. People who need food stamps must prove they are working. Medicaid is always on the chopping block. Trump’s new budget suggest cuts to SSDI. Small wonder people are becoming tribal. There is power in numbers.

The mentality that has been trending for quite a while is that the safety net is being used by a bunch of deadbeats. Since the courts keep assisting these people in getting benefits so that the government cannot find the takers, indiscriminate cuts will please those Americans who insist they are being ripped off. The problem is that cuts to SSDI will probably end up hurting honest disabled folks who need help most.

Bending over backwards to protect the rights of giant corporations has given us a government that panders to giant corporations. As long as the Citizens United decision allows rich folks to dominate our democracy, we the people find that federal money is not making its way into our communities. Our corporations no longer act as benefactors. Although infrastructure is a recurring topic, nothing is happening to improve the aging infrastructure in our towns, villages, cities. Working parents find their wages stagnant, and they get no help with child care. Our medical system is still too random and does not help everyone. Medical bills are sending far too many families into bankruptcy. Many seniors cannot afford all the care they actually need. Corporate money has influenced state governments to bust unions that used to fight for citizen’s rights.

It often seems that corporations, who have abandoned America in droves, have more rights than citizens do. They have aggregate rights equivalent to their dollar value and their political contributions and their lobbying. How can we the people compete?

This is why I see great value in the current push by Democrats to fund candidates for 2020 with grassroots money. Overturning a court decision can be very difficult. It could take many years to reform the whole ‘corporations are people’ routine which brought us to Citizens United, a very bad ruling for we the people. Ignoring the ruling, blithely going about the business of a major election without big money donations would not be at all illegal and could take all the air out of a common complaint that ‘there is too much money in politics’.

Using grassroots funding is a brave thing to do, an act that is revolutionary in spirit but does not break any laws. If every Democrat agrees to run on a level playing field it could work. Joe Biden is clearly not willing to stake his presidential run on small money donations. He is asking for big money donations. If even one Democrat goes against the grassroots campaign model will that make the whole issue moot? Does it give Joe Biden an edge in the race or will it work against him? Are the Democrats who are running grassroots races being too unrealistic to compete against Republicans who have no compunctions about tapping big donors and who don’t mind promising favors in return. Didn’t we always find quid pro quo pretty shady? There seems to be a lot of shade around lately.

We do live in interesting times and I find myself admiring the steel of the new Democrats who are taking the party out of the corporate sphere and back into the domain of the American people. It will be interesting to see if showing some ethical backbone will be a winning stance for the Democrats to take and if it will begin to restore some perspective in a society that has come to believe that money is all and that a good economy is enough to give us the democratic society our forefathers dreamed up. Hint: it’s not.

Hillary Clinton: Also a Revolutionary

Hillaryandrevolution

In some ways Hillary Clinton is more of a revolutionary than Bernie Sanders. At least she is if you are a woman and/or you have children. Many women spend their lives helping women make ends meet financially, or helping women find ways to feed their children, or helping families get health care, or day care, or care for a disabled child or a child in trouble. These women (and, of course, some men) are social workers. They work hard, they see many sad things, they often have at least a master’s degree, and they are not very well paid for all they do hooking up people in need with the services that offer assistance. Sometimes they must face the fact that there are situations for which there is no assistance and they must live with a sense of failure, sorrow, and guilt. I’m sure there are times when they help people who are demanding and not particularly nice or cooperative and that is also frustrating and stressful.

Hillary Clinton has lived a life of social service despite the fact that she had a law degree and could have had a high-powered law career. But she came of age in a time of activism, a time when wrongs were being righted and that spirit of activism which she found on her college campus has continued to animate her throughout her career, even during her years as first lady. Like other “social workers” she often made considerably less money in order to work on behalf of women and children (even teenagers). Of course, once she married, money was not likely an issue for her as it has been for many of us, but she did not stop and become a lady of leisure, or an empty-headed social butterfly. She always has worked to make life better for all Americans. And even when she became Secretary of State and her world was the whole planet she just simply widened her sphere of activism to include women and children around the globe.

I don’t believe that most of us held on to our activist natures as we aged. Many of us had to work to live and our work place employers did not necessary love activism, although charity was quite acceptable. It became difficult in our adult years to be crusaders because we were either keeping our heads above water and focused on having some independence in our old age or we were sometimes close to or falling over the edge and needed some of the very services that social work provided.

But Hillary Clinton was wealthy enough and stayed independent enough to continue to be an activist almost all of her life. Are female revolutionaries different from men who tend to be more like disrupters? Are their activities perhaps more subtle and not as expansive and cult-like? Perhaps gender helps explain why Hillary’s activism may just be dismissed as women’s work. I don’t know if the same sexism operates here as in other parts of our culture. At least attend for a minute to this list of her accomplishments and although this list is from a left wing media source, the Daily Kos, you will find that it is merely a factual list in which every item has been and can be fact-checked.

  • First ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley College.
    •President of the Wellesley Young Republicans
    •Intern at the House Republican Conference
    •Distinguished graduate of Yale Law School
    •Editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action
    •Appointed to Senator Walter Mondale’s Subcommittee on Migratory Labor.
    •Co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
    •Staff attorney for Children’s Defense Fund
    •Faculty member in the School of Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
    •Former Director of the Arkansas Legal Aid Clinic.
    •First female chair of the Legal Services Corporation
    •First female partner at Rose Law Firm.
    •Former civil litigation attorney.
    •Former Law Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
    •twice listed by The National Law Journal as one of the hundred most influential lawyers in America
    •Former First Lady of Arkansas.
    •Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983
    •Chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession
    •twice named by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America
    •created Arkansas’s Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth
    •led a task force that reformed Arkansas’s education system
    •Board of directors of Wal-Mart and several other corporations
    •Instrumental in passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
    •Promoted nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses
    •Successfully sought to increase research funding for prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institutes of Health
    •Worked to investigate reports of an illness that affected veterans of the Gulf War (now recognized as Gulf War Syndrome)
    •Helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice
    •Initiated and shepherded the Adoption and Safe Families Act
    •First FLOTUS in US History to hold a postgraduate degree
    •Traveled to 79 countries during time as FLOTUS
    •Helped create Vital Voices, an international initiative to promote the participation of women in the political processes of their countries.
    •Served on five Senate committees:
    -Committee on Budget (2001–2002)
    -Committee on Armed Services (2003–2009)
    -Committee on Environment and Public Works (2001–2009)
    -Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (2001–2009)
    -Special Committee on Aging.
    •Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
    •Instrumental in securing $21 billion in funding for the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment
    •Leading role in investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders.
    •In the aftermath of September 11th, she worked closely with her senior Senate counterpart from New York, Sen. Charles Schumer, on securing $21.4 billion in funding for the World Trade Center redevelopment.
    • Middle East ceasefire. In November 2012, Secretary of State Clinton brokered a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.
    •Introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, intended to protect children from inappropriate content found in video games.
    •First ex-FLOTUS in US History to be elected to the United States Senate (and re-elected)
    •Two-term New York Senator
    -(senate stats here: https://www.govtrack.us/…)
    -(voting record here: http://votesmart.org/…)
    •Former US Secretary of State
    •GRAMMY Award Winner
    •Author

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/9/17/1422403/-Hillary-Clinton-s-Record-of-Accomplishments

This comparison of Hillary vs Bernie  is perhaps a bit unfair because I don’t have at hand a list of Bernie’s accomplishments, although I will eventually do a search for this. But I will say, that although Bernie’s “revolution” is not only directed at women and children, although he would like to make the economy of America work differently and be fairer in the way money is distributed, I don’t have the sense that Bernie has gotten his hands right into the dough, so to speak, and helped make the pizza. Until recently Bernie served in peaceful anonymity in the ranks of the US Congress and, although he had a consistent point of view, he was not able to impose much of it on the dialogue or make many laws that brought any significant changes for the American people.

Bernie Sanders seems to be in a carpe diem (seize the day) moment and now suddenly at the age of 74 he is grabbing for that powerful seat that he hopes will let him put a new stamp on America. He will turn America from the oligarchy it is becoming back into the democracy it is supposed to be. He will put his hands into the pockets of those who have made themselves wealthy at the people’s expense and he will take some of the filthy lucre back and put it to work giving all of us better lives.

I admit that this sounds pretty good. Yay for revolution. But there are so many questions. Will he have to disband Congress to make this happen, Congress which is at least half full of millionaires? What will the “new” economy be like? Will it be like the “old” economy only fairer? Will Wall Street be gone or will it just be less cutthroat and greedy? If the financiers on Wall Street lose their edge will the American economy still be competitive in the wide world? How much chaos will it take to replace the “Capitalists” in Congress with people who will be determined to keep money out of politics? What will happen if he wins the Presidency and he loses the revolution?

Hillary is a revolutionary who stays within the system, tries to change it from within, fights for fairness through social programs and human services and the education and empowerment of women. Bernie is a revolutionary who wants to blow up the system, to change it to something perhaps unrecognizable. It might be much better than what we have; it might be worse. We are not clear about exactly what he wants to do, what steps he wants to take, what the end product will look like and feel like.

With Hillary we get a passion for people, with Bernie we get a passion for “real” democracy. I may be choosing Hillary because I am a chicken, too chicken to want systemic change. Or I may be choosing Hillary because she will work within the system and try to bring everyone along with her and the system will remain the America we recognize. Perhaps Hillary will not be able to accomplish any of her goals to make life better for average Americans. Perhaps blowing up government or as the Republicans want to do shutting down government are the only choices we are left with. Perhaps we should give one more try to the old way where our elected representatives knuckle down and hammer out laws that truly reflect the needs of the people they serve. But to not elect Hillary Clinton because she is not authentic and not a true activist is to be uninformed about her life and her career.

By Nancy Brisson