Tag Archives: corruption

The Commodification of America

Artwork by Banksy. Photo by Chris Muniz.

Editor’s note: Guest writer John T. Marohn (@johntmarohn) was kind enough to allow the Project to republish this excellent piece on the commodification of America, wherein he asks the crucial question: “Is America for sale?”

Mr. Marohn is a retired college teacher, a freelance writer, novelist, poet, socio-political commentator, international film critic, and recovering alcoholic. John currently lives in Buffalo, New York. Please visit his website: Against the Grain.

“Business — that’s easily defined: it’s other people’s money.”
- Peter Drucker

“The social responsibility of Business is to increase profits.”
- Milton Friedman

“First amendment never shows why freedom of speech…did not include the freedom to speak in association with other individuals, including association in the corporate form.”
- Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission

There it is folks. The American way: Profits. Corporate free speech. Other people’s money.

There is little doubt that America has become the global symbol for upward mobility, profits, and economic success. But we have also become the global capital of commodification in all of its forms, including prisons, education, health care, and, more cruelly, in our political arenas.

There are few institutional venues in the United States that aren’t, in some way, touched—some would say tainted—by the profit motive. Politicians curry favor with the wealthy who contribute to their campaigns. The health care system continues to be driven by ever increasing profits. The national defense budget has become so entrenched with defense contracts that it would be safe to say that United States Defense is an industry in and of itself.

And some of the top universities are run as corporations with heavy endowments, investments in the stock market, and huge government grants. Not to mention the sports industry that dominates the budgets of many very wealthy universities and colleges throughout the United States.

Who would have thought that we could have moved from an innocent laissez-faire economic model that still works well in the small local merchant world to a sprawling octopus of big-business and global corporatism running through every artery of our society.

Is America really for sale? It seems so.

I live in a small urban area in Western New York. Almost every day, I stop at one particular intersection that has a long wait at the traffic signal (there are at least six or seven traffic lanes the traffic light has to accommodate). If I’m in the south lane of traffic, I get a chance to see one billboard, conveniently placed on top of a two-story building.

It is always an ad about a particular hospital. The latest ad makes the claim that the hospital successfully treated more strokes than any other hospital. I wasn’t sure whether the hospital meant that stat to apply to the whole world, in Western New York, in the state, or throughout the United States.

I was not comforted by the fact that the hospital is scheduled to close within a year. I could only assume that, before the hospital goes down, it wanted to make one last foxhole effort to redeem itself from anonymity.

I also suppose that if I felt a stroke coming on, I would quickly flash back to my intersection stop, the billboard sign would pop up in my Pavlovian mind’s eye, I would call 911 and have the ambulance take me to the hospital’s emergency room. Ah, the power of advertising.

It is impossible to escape ads on television. The pharmaceutical and health-care industries are two of the many blatant users of the television ad industry. Marketing, of course, is the name of the game.

Image courtesy of semissourian.com

And marketing is not so much about “actual” competence as it is about the “image” of competence. Americans are supposed to believe, in theory anyway, that if an ad, especially a big billboard ad, says a health-care provider is good, then it must be true.

My point here is that the commodification of the health care industry is not just about health insurance premiums, deductibles, copays (all business terms, by the way); it is also engaged in the pro-active marketing industry.

And the commodification of health insurance is so widespread that Americans begin to believe that the privatization model is the only model that has any credibility. It becomes extremely anxious about even discussing Medicare-for-all paradigm because the health insurance industry controls the narratives in employer-sponsored health insurance policies, in the group plans strategy, in television and other media advertising, and in the lobbying halls of Congress.

More tragically, the health insurance industry completely dominates the “language” of health insurance with all the business panoply of words that have crept into the American vocabulary—premiums, deductibles, plans, copays. One can easily say, that the health insurance industry, through its control of the health insurance language, has made it almost impossible to think outside the box.

Americans have bought the insurance model for health care, not just because it is necessarily better model, but because, in theory, it is supposed to “insure” the patient that they won’t be saddled with a financial medical burden. That is the purpose of insurance: to protect a consumer from financial ruin by having an insurance plan. And the insurer hopes that not everyone in the plan needs to cash in at the same time.

However, “insurance” is a business. Businesses need to make a profit. Profits cannot take a back seat to expensive medical procedures that have the potential to put them out of business. So, you can be sure, a profit-driven company is going to do everything it can to scrutinize, stop, or delay a payment to a doctor or a hospital, especially if a procedure does not appear to be “cost-effective.”

Insurance, as Americans have come to know, is definitely a business. It is very much like having a debit card. A customer puts money into the premium. The premium is stored with other customer premiums. And the insurer holding those premiums pays a doctor or a hospital from those premiums after reviewing the doctor or hospital’s bill for a procedure, an office visit, an operation, or a test.

Cartoon by Daryl Cagle and the Salt Lake Tribune.

Now credit, on the other hand, is another model that a consumer can use to pay off a medical bill with a credit card, if they don’t have the cash or their insurance deductible is too high, or they don’t have any insurance. Of course, a credit card is also a very expensive way to pay off a medical bill because of the monthly interest charges

Credit, the more sophisticated capitalist term for money that’s available to borrow, has also crept into the higher ed business. Students generally take out loans from the federal government or a bank. The total amount of those loans has begun to rise in the US and graduating students are now confronted with a jobless work environment and a student loan to pay off.

What about politics? Well, the evidence, to most Americans is pretty well known. Lobbyists spend an awful lot of money in Washington to plead their cases. And the corporate world has now won a victory with the Citizens United case which allows corporations, unions,and non-profit political fronts to pour unrestricted amounts of money into media advertising. This, of course, is a variation of buying influence. After all, campaign money is not just about supporting a candidate; it is also a way of trying to convince a candidate to vote a particular way.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Occupy Wall Street protests are all about a capitalist/corporate/business-model system that is out of control. When politicians can be bought, when health care has become a very expensive business, when our college education system has become burdened with rising student debt, when some of our prisons can be owned by shareholders, when the business model of running a country has seeped into the country’s pores, on all levels, this younger, very articulate group of protesters are beginning to see how deep and wide the cracks in capitalism really are.

Let us hope that we can find alternative ways to vote on public policy in America, to educate our youth, and to give reasonable health care.


No Time for Sound Bytes Now: #OccupyWallStreet is its Own Message

At Liberty Plaza, New York City (CC BY SA Carwil Bjork-James)

A formidable NYPD presence holds one side of the exit ramp while an equally-large throng of soaked, defiant youth face them on the other side. I’m heading back towards the ramp after witnessing a white-shirted police supervisor commandeer a public bus, ordering the passengers off and instructing the driver to turn around and head back to the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge has been shut down for over an hour now. When the bus arrives, hundreds upon hundreds will be arrested and boarded onto the bus, as well as police vans. Meanwhile, the protesters on the street begin chanting to the police: “We pay YOU! We pay YOU!” and “It’s OUR bridge. It’s OUR bridge!” as a cold, driving rain fails to dampen their spirits.

Police square off against protesters. Photograph: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Arriving four days earlier, I had hoped for, and was greatly disappointed when, a short list of demands never materialized from the occupation’s General Assembly. Repeal corporate personhood. Remove special interest money from elections. Something. Yet by the fourth day, standing at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge with this standoff, it was clear to me that the Occupy Wall Street movement had evolved.

The occupation at Liberty Plaza may outwardly appear to be just a large encampment of hundreds of tired, exuberant, unwashed people. But it’s an incredibly subversive idea. What the occupation has managed to do thus far is set up a center for agitation on Wall Street’s doorstep, while simultaneously stand up to the most militarized police force in America. In that brave act of defiance, they’ve begun the process of recapturing public space to assemble and foment resistance against a corrupt system, a public space lost to us after 9/11 (with the introduction of “free speech zones”) and just as importantly, begin to remedy the fear and cynicism so many Americans have been feeling for well over a decade now under the hand of a police state and a domestic intelligence apparatus unparalleled in American history. The Founders clearly understood that the right to assemble was of key importance to those who wanted to correct wrongs done by their government. If they could not assemble, they could not achieve their goals. Liberty Plaza is a long-overdue civics lesson.

The protesters have collectively said, simply by holding the plaza: This is OUR square, the PEOPLE’S square, and we have a right to assemble and organize a campaign against the economic and civil injustices perpetrated by the plutocrats and their tax payer-funded security service, the NYPD.

They’ve managed to pull back the curtain and expose the police state which works to protect the ruling elite’s interests at the expense of the citizens they originally took an oath to serve: CIA-trained NYPD counterintelligence squads; videotaping the faces of peaceful protesters to feed into a facial recognition database; commandeering public buses for mass arrests; entrapment; kettling and pepper spray. And perhaps the most audacious: A $4.6 million bribe, ostensibly for new laptops, given by JP Morgan to the NYPD. All of this against peaceful citizens who are the living embodiment of a wildly-popular sentiment in America since 2008: the rich and powerful in this country have gotten away with too much. When Americans demand fundamental change and refuse to rely on or even trust a thoroughly-corrupt system to achieve that change, they must begin at the root of their oppression, and it’s as simple an idea as occupying public space in the face of police intimidation.

This movement is only getting started, with many, many cities developing their own occupations. Maybe I’m wrong, but perhaps it’s time to just let this people-powered movement grow on its own, because you can’t package an idea whose time has come into one or two pithy sound bytes. As one protester told me: “It’s bigger than one or two issues because it’s not about reforming the hopelessly corrupt system we have. This is about creating a new system entirely.”

If you would like to donate to #OccupyWallStreet, visit the New York City General Assembly website.

The Project is leaving Wall Street to report on the Boston occupation, and then to Washington D.C. for the major October 6th occupation in our nation’s capital, but we can’t do it without your help. If you enjoy my work and would like to help me cover expenses such as travel, food and gear, please consider donating to the David and Goliath Project’s #Occupy Media Fund.


To Liberty Plaza’s Patriots: “Change the Hearts of the Oppressed” (with video)

Photograph: John Stuttle/guardian.co.uk

“…but far more important was the effort to change the hearts of the oppressed. They needed to become unwilling to continue accepting their oppression, and to become determined to build a better society.”
– “Tapping the Roots of Power” from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp

Something important is happening at Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The encampment that began there on Saturday, September 17th, is a vocal and stark reminder of growing American youth discontent. Banks and other corporations are sitting on record profits and CEO salaries continue to climb at an unprecedented rate, while students and the average American worker face an anemic job market and growing economic disparity. The occupation in Lower Manhattan may be the start of a sea-change in so-called American democracy. But if it is a true change (and other organizing efforts in cities like Chicago and Atlanta, including an ongoing one in San Francisco suggest that it may be), certain things must change in order for this nonviolent revolution to be sustained and really have an effect. More on that in a moment.

I was fortunate enough to spend four days at the camp. In many ways, the camp is a world unto itself: very self-sustaining, with its own media center, food area, trash committees, etc. It’s a shining example of a cooperative community. The protesters are very open to pedestrians, quite willing to engage them in conversation, and often invite the homeless to eat the seemingly-endless supply of pizza that continues to flow in from supporters across the country. The sense that the camp’s inhabitants are making history, and that they’re fighting for a fairer, more equitable system is palpable and infectious. The NYPD is increasingly using tactical intimidation in the form of brutal harassment to quell the spirit of the protesters, as this video below shows:

There have also been unconfirmed reports of alleged agent provocateurs (not uncommon considering increased counter-terrorism activity with the help of the CIA) and ordering tents and tarps be taken down during rain storms. The resolve and courage of the protesters only seems to strengthen, however: Immediately after a police raid, for instance, a march is organized as a show of strength. The marches to “the belly of the beast,” as many protesters call Wall Street, are dismissed by outlets like CNBC, who just this morning said that the occupation will fizzle out by week’s end. Presumptions like this come off as naive because they underestimate the passion, energy and commitment these young people have for their mission.

But this begs the question: what exactly IS the mission? What exactly are the demands that Liberty Plaza wants met?

Since getting back to Philadelphia last night, I’ve been able to catch up on media stories about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some outlets capture the youth energy and thirst for change accurately, while some it seems go out of their way to downplay the significance of what’s happening in Lower Manhattan. Almost none can really zero-in on one specific demand, however. As friends and family (many of whom share this anger towards Wall Street) have told me: “I still don’t know what they want.” And that may be the most accurate part of this story thus far. Watching news reports and reading eyewitness accounts, we see brave young people marching and facing ramped-up police intimidation, but the average American watching these reports can’t latch on to one specific message.

Photograph: John Stuttle/guardian.co.uk

Growing a movement means bringing others from different segments of society together. It quite often starts with the radical left (intellectuals and the youth), as the Egyptian revolution this year and the student-started revolution in Poland that eventually brought down the Soviet Union show us. But in order to sustain these movements, one demand or even a short list of demands must be crafted to appeal to larger segments of society. While the people in Tahrir square had a long list of grievances, from high food prices to political oppression, eventually one solid demand emerged: oust Mubarak.

As the picture above illustrates, there are a whole host of grievances at Liberty Plaza, and nearly all of them are legitimate. There is great anger at Wall Street, hence the reason for camping out mere blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange. But the connection between grievances such as “Forgive student loan debt,” or “End the wars,” or even “End corporate personhood,” is lost because there is no coherent narrative to connect those demands. A sustained campaign of civil disobedience and highly-visible public marches on Wall Street is crucial and is coalescing well at the moment. If these demonstrations get bigger, however (and there is currently great momentum) one loud and clear demand to feed to the media–and to broadcast as an invitation to Americans of all stripes to join the demonstrations–can only strengthen the movement, because when whole sections of society refuse to participate or be complicit in a corrupt system, they take away the ability of rulers to exercise their power. Hence the power of a general strike, for instance.

“The internal stability of rulers can be measured by the ratio of the strength of the social forces that they control and the strength of the social forces that oppose them.”
–”Tapping the Roots of Power” from Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp

So, permit me to make a suggestion: “One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” Getting special interest money out of politics changes the whole game, and addresses a myriad of concerns expressed by not just the Liberty Plaza occupiers, but an overwhelming majority of Americans. For example:

1) Student loan debt is astronomically high in large part because of special interest money (i.e. Wall Street banks) influencing political decisions in Washington, D.C. It’s so powerful, in fact, that chronic gamblers can discharge their debt, but graduates are unable to discharge their debt. Period.

2) Our country is in a perpetual state of war due largely to the military-industrial complex (Wall Street) occupying the halls of power.

3) Corporations are allowed to pour unaccountable and unlimited amounts of money into elections because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Clarence Thomas and the Koch Brothers, anybody?

4) The state-by-state campaign to break the backs of public sector workers’ right to collectively bargain, or to disenfranchise Democratic voters? Big-moneyed (Wall Street) interests under ALEC have literally been crafting legislation in every state to perpetuate such injustices.

Monsanto at the FDA. Oil companies and climate change legislation. The list goes on and on.

“One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” It’s a demand that speaks to all Americans. My libertarian father, myself (a democratic socialist) and my Republican friends firmly agree on the need to get money out of politics. Special interest corruption of our democratic processes IS our Mubarak. And Wall Street is a clear-cut example of the power of special interests. It’s a perfect focal point for popular rage and misery at our broken economy.

It’s time to start organizing nonviolent civil disobedience, petitions, and other efforts in order to galvanize our country into a concerted effort to make “One citizen, one dollar, one vote” not just a slogan, but a mainstay of our democracy. Some suggest legislation. Some suggest a Constitutional amendment. Whatever the solution, we need to start that conversation. Liberty Plaza, with the world watching them and support growing, is in a perfect position to push the national conversation on corruption in our government into the spotlight. I hope they do so. To learn more about how to organize this campaign in your community, visit US Day of Rage.

If you want to help those at Liberty Plaza, you can donate here.

For the latest news and analysis on what’s happening with the protests and life at the camp, visit the excellent Waging Nonviolence.


The Security State is Watching, but the Peaceful Revolution Must Continue.

Department of Homeland Security Police at a peaceful San Francisco BART protest on August 29th, 2011..

When nonviolent demonstrations (like occupying a public sidewalk) and online civil disobedience (like crashing a website) against Wall Street’s crimes and the hijacking of American democracy by big-moneyed interests strike fear into the U.S. security state, it only makes those demonstrations more relevant and necessary. The mere act of challenging institutional corruption and the security apparatus which protects that corruption, shines a light on that which needs changing, and creates possibilities for reform.

The Department of Homeland Security (@DHSJournal) issued a bulletin this month:

The bulletin, issued by the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), warns financial services companies especially to be on the lookout for attempts by Anonymous to “solicit ideologically dissatisfied, sympathetic employees” to their cause…The DHS alert also warns of three cyber attacks and civil protests it says are planned by Anonymous and affiliated groups.

The bulletin shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the same security bureaucracy that was ostensibly created to protect us from terrorists has, over the years, crept into other areas of American life. This is a natural phenomenon of any police state, a sort of “mission creep,” if you will. Here are some examples, and by no means is this list exhaustive:

1) The CIA has been actively working with the NYPD (via US Day of Rage, et al.):

Citizens have been prevented from exercising their right to peaceable assembly in New York City because the force established to serve and protect civil society, the NYPD, has become a counter-intel paramilitary force. CIA training has turned their operations into one of the “most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies”. Just last week the New York’s police commissioner confirmed that a CIA officer is even working out of police headquarters.”

2) The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring protests against Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), an organization that video has captured committing egregious acts of police brutality and, with the help of telecom companies, had shut down cell communication of activists there.

3) The Justice Department has been arresting and prosecuting members of Anonymous for what some call a form of online civil disobedience, but has failed to start even one investigation into Wall Street’s criminal activity. Any alleged crimes Anonymous may have committed pale in comparison to the havoc wreaked on America in 2008 by casino capitalism.

4) The security state goes far beyond just the FBI, DHS and CIA, however:

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security [emphasis mine] and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

According to the DHS and other agencies, Anonymous and US Day of Rage now fall under the auspices of “homeland security.” Where does this “mission creep” end? Habeus corpus has effectively been eradicated for anyone deemed a “security threat.” Think about that.

The demonstrations planned for September 17th represent nothing less than the first direct, unflinching challenge to the hijacking of American democracy in recent memory. Remember that Wall Street’s power over this country’s politics has largely gone unchecked. No prosecutions of the Street’s criminal class have occurred. Indeed, they’ve corrupted institutions like the SEC, which was created to monitor and regulate the financial sector. And to make matters worse, the Obama administration is going out of its way to avoid investigations into Wall Street malfeasance. Large corporations are now able to pour unaccounted amounts of money into elections, effectively drowning out the voices of everyday Americans. The writing is on the wall: We are rapidly losing our democracy to corporations and other special interests, and they are being aided and abetted by a sprawling security state that protects the elite while limiting dissent.

“One citizen. One dollar. One vote.” That is US Day of Rage’s simple demand. And it is this crucially important idea that has the U.S. security state sending out bulletins to the very criminal class that has, until now, gotten away with barely a slap on the wrist. It is because of this that the peaceful revolution to restore power to We the People must continue. September 17th, 2011 isn’t just about Wall Street. It’s about challenging an utterly dysfunctional, corrupt system, a system with a security apparatus which seeks to protect the real threat to national security: the Too Big to Fail banks and financial institutions in Lower Manhattan that brought down the American economy.

For more information on the alarming expansion of the U.S. security state, visit: Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the “Homeland”, a comprehensive collection of investigative journalism by Truthout in cooperation with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

For the latest updates on US Day of Rage’s peaceful occupation strategy for September 17th, 2011, visit here.

Please subscribe to The Project to stay up to date on the latest developments concerning the September 17th occupation, including on the ground coverage of the event that weekend. Videographers who would like to commit to recording and producing a short film of any of the actions taking place across the country, please contact the Project.


Will Occupying Wall Street be America’s Tahrir Square Moment?

A year or so ago, the notion that Americans would descend on lower Manhattan to set up peaceful barricades, outdoor kitchens and attempt to camp out for a couple of months would seem unlikely, if not laughable.

But on September 17th, 2011, that’s just what’s going to be attempted.

Maybe this isn’t so surprising, though. After all, it has become abundantly clear that a prolonged occupation of America’s financial nerve center is absolutely necessary. As The Project and others have stated before, traditional parliamentary avenues to remediate grievances have been corrupted by powerful interests, not the least of which is Wall Street:

1) Big banks are pushing hard to walk away from mortgage fraud with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and the Obama administration is perfectly fine with that, even going so far as to remove proponents of a thorough investigation into Wall Street malfeasance.

2) Wall Street influence has infected the highest levels of the SEC, the very agency that’s supposed to regulate the market.

3) Unfavorable opinion of Wall Street is at an all-time high, Bloomberg finds:

“Most people interviewed in the Bloomberg National Poll say they don’t like Wall Street, banks or insurance companies and favor letting the government punish bankers who helped cause the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

4) And yet, not a single prosecution has come down from the U.S. Department of Justice for any of Wall Street’s casino capitalists.

When government becomes unresponsive to the needs of the people and fails to punish the very criminals that were bailed out by the American taxpayer, the people must (as our ancestors did for labor and civil rights) organize nonviolently to take matters into their own hands.

The Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStreet) movement will demand an end to “the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” The organizers state: “The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America”[emphasis mine]. By attempting this occupation, the organizers hope to strengthen and amplify their message to D.C. that politicians must begin addressing the problem of special interests’ influence on government.

People from across the country “have stepped up to organize this event, such as the people of the NYC General Assembly and US Day of Rage” (an interview with the latter organization can be found here.) The hacker group known as Anonymous, which has recently been organizing protests against the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), has now joined the movement as well.

How successful will this effort be? Things could get sticky. An occupation of the Street has never been attempted before. Wall Street has a strong security presence, especially after September 11th, 2001. And it’s not clear, with heavy NYPD interference quite likely, just how many people will end up staying past the weekend. The true test of this movement, then, will be its commitment to persistence, and also how much media attention it receives. A movement truly fails only after it gives up.

During a Project interview with Alexa O’Brien (@carwinb), an organizer with US Day of Rage, she said of the influence Tahrir Square is having on reclaiming democracy here in the U.S.:

“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.”

I think that’s an excellent place to start from when organizing nonviolent resistance against the American oligarchy, don’t you?

Subscribe to the Project to stay up to date on this and other upcoming actions. We will be on the ground covering #OccupyWallStreet. Please contact us if you would like to participate in covering this event as either a journalist, photographer, or filmmaker.


Covering Up Wall Street Crimes: Matt Taibbi Exposes How SEC Shredded Thousands of Investigations

Amy Goodman: “Senator Grassley said the files include “important cases such as the investigation of [Bernard] Madoff, Goldman Sachs trading in AIG credit default swaps in 2009, financial fraud at Wells Fargo and Bank of America in 2007 and 2008, and insider trading investigations at Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers, [and] SAC Capital.”

It is glaringly clear that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the government agency charged with policing Wall Street malfeasance, has a deeply corrupt agency culture. According to Matt Taibbi, the SEC is made up of two basic factions: the career investigators–”they’re more like cops,” says Taibbi. “And the guys on the upper level are more like political appointees who come from all these high-priced Wall Street banks, and they’re rejecting a lot of these important cases.”

After a brave SEC whistleblower named Darcy Flynn came forward with the evidence destruction charge, the SEC has apparently ended the practice, but the Wall Street sympathizers who now head the SEC are still in charge. How can the SEC be trusted to police the same forces that caused the ’08 collapse when their sympathizers are running the show?


America’s Day of Rage Is Coming, and It’s Just the Beginning

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 lobbied legislation 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…

1.) Non-Violence

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.”

3.) Volunteer.

“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.

Subscribe to The David and Goliath Project for updates within the next few weeks on US Day of Rage, plus other news.


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