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Jul 02

Enough Abuse! Mobilizing For Real Democracy in the US

Whether it’s a secret trade agreement, Detroit’s water woes, or action in Iraq, democracy has taken several hits in this country.

1rrBy Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

Originally published in Alternet

Each week, the American people are confronted with new abusive anti-democratic actions by the corporate-run government. The underlying cause is the rule of money which is now documented to have a greater effect on policy than the desires and needs of the public.

This situation is not unique to the US. The assault on democracy is happening around the world, in some cases with the aid of the US government. In response, Americans have joined the global movement for real democracy in which people have greater participation in the decisions that affect their lives.

There are active efforts in the US to both protest the illegitimacy of plutocratic rule and to build new democratic systems. We report on those efforts and the upcoming wave of nationwide actions – the Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy.

Recent Anti-Democratic Abuses

Here are some examples of recent assaults on democracy:

Wikileaks leaked another trade agreement being negotiated in secret that could have a devastating impact on the US economy by further empowering the big banks and aiding the privatization of basic services like water and electricity. The draft text of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) involving 50 countries and being promoted by the United States and the European Union is in its sixth round of negotiations and would cover a wide range of service industries among them finance and telecommunications, transportation and even local utilities such as water.

The Obama administration continues to push other secretly-negotiated trade agreements, the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic “TAFTA,” forward despite widespread public opposition. The Democrats are preparing to push some type of trade authority, known as Fast Track, which would allow the agreements to be signed without a democratic and transparent process in Congress to review their potential impact. We stopped Baucus’ Fast Track bill earlier this year through public awareness and pressure on Congress, and we will need to do that again.

If there is any question which side the Obama administration is on when it comes to the rights of transnational corporations versus the rights of people that was answered this week. The United Nation Human Rights Council voted by a majority in favor of a legally-binding treaty to prevent transnational corporations from violating human rights. And the US promptly stated that it would not cooperate and would urge other countries to do the same.

The slippery slope to another Iraq war began this week with President Obama sending 500 soldiers to Iraq to protect US “interests” and work with the Iraqi military, thereby doubling the military presence in Iraq. He also increased intelligence activity in the area which may be preparation for drone attacks. Obama decided to ignore the constitutional requirement that Congress authorize military action. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) is the first senator to highlight that the constitution requires Congress to act and Members of Congress are also urging the president to seek authorization for the use of military force, echoing comments we made as soon as the drum beat for military action began. Thankfully, a bi-partisan group in Congress is circulating a letter to Obama for sign-on.

Obama is taking this action in Iraq, with Secretary of State Kerry promising even more military support, despite widespread public opposition to another Iraq war. Obama seems very comfortable ignoring the Constitution and the people – if he continues on this path he may find his final years in office enmeshed in impeachment proceedings.

This week we learned that an amazing near universal consensus has grown in the United States around genetically modified foods. A Consumers Union poll found that 92% believe GE food should be labeled, 92% think GE food should meet government safety standards before being sold, and 92% demand the government label GE salmon. In addition, a multi-faceted food justice movement has developed around GMOs, organic gardening, community-supported agriculture and fair wages for agricultural workers. While this movement is winning important victories, do you hear any federal leadership on these issues? The Obama administration’s food czar is still a former Monsanto executive and if anything the federal government seems to be trying to find ways to undermine progress being made on the local level.

There are frequent examples of corporate-government attacks on the environment. This week we learned the Pennsylvania government ordered health workers not to tell the people how fracking could adversely affect their health. Two retired state employees described how they were told not to return the calls of residents reporting health problems that could be related to fracking and employees were not allowed to attend community meetings, for fear they would discuss adverse health effects from fracking. Pennsylvania has 6,000 fracked gas wells, and is one of the states with the most fracking.

The highest court in Utah refused to consider the substance of serious claims against tar sands excavation in the state finding that the complaint was filed more than 30 days after the decision. The problem for the environmentalists was that the decision was issued in secret without any notice to the public so they could not sue within 30 days.

We learned this week that the Obama administration has been announcing to the public what sounds like steps in the right direction on coal, while behind the scenes, it is acting to weaken standards for coal plants.

And, the United Nations responded to complaints from Detroit residents regarding the city shutting off water to tens of thousands of residents. The water was not shut off to major corporations that were behind in their bills. The UN weighed in on the actions of a truly undemocratic city – the city of Detroit where elected officials have been replaced by a city manager appointed by the governor. The United Nations found that the action of cutting off water supplies “constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.” This is one of many attacks on Detroiters.

The Supreme Court also continues down the path of undermining democracy and legalizing bribery under the spurious legal concepts that money equals speech and that corporations have human rights. Now academic research is showing that the legitimacy of US democracy is in question. As we wrote two weeks ago:

“Recently there have been reports about how government no longer represents the people but represents a small minority of the wealthy (see these three reports herehere and here). Academics are beginning to describe the United States as an oligarchy, plutocracy or managed democracy. We have highlighted how representative democracy often does the opposite of what super-majorities of the people want (and this and this). The people see this lack of representation and turn off — half do not register to vote and in most elections tiny minorities of registered voters bother to vote.”

Americans Are Rising Up For Real Democracy In Multiple Ways

Rather than being disheartened by the reality of the serious shortcomings of US democracy, people are using Supreme Court decisions like McCutcheon and Citizens United as well as the anti-democratic actions of the Congress and president as rallying cries to work for real democracy. Even some plutocrats see how the unfair economy, corrupt government and wealth divide are leading to a revolt and warning that “the pitchforks are coming.”

One project we are working with is the Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy. The rallying cry of the effort is: “From corporations claiming unalienable rights as ‘corporate persons’ to billionaires manipulating elections with their wealth – our federal democracy is corrupt to the core. It is time to tap into the United States’ revolutionary roots and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence instigate a second American Revolution against oligarchic rule.”

The Rolling Rebellion actions are the beginning of an ongoing multi-year campaign to create real democracy in the United States.  A dozen actions are currently listed we urge you to create your own if one does not exist in your community. Join the Rolling Rebellion and “like” and share the Facebook page. This is an opportunity to start building a core group of democracy activists in your community so you have a foundation on which to build this movement locally. Rolling Rebellion provides ideas for actions and tools to carry them out.

Move to Amend, which is also working with the Rolling Rebellion, began in 2009 in an effort to organize people to end corporate rule and empower the people. They write:

Move to Amend is a coalition of hundreds of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule, and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.

We are calling for an amendment to the US Constitution to unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns.

Another group that has inspired people is the New Hampshire Rebellion a project of Rootstrikers.  During the coldest month of the year from January 11 to January 24 they marched across New Hampshire to seek fundamental reform of the way the United States funds electoral campaigns. This approach has been emulated by others as we saw this week with a march from Los Angeles to Sacramento. The New Hampshire Rebellion is continuing their efforts with a march on July 5along the New Hampshire Seacoast.

Larry Lessig, who is spearheading the New Hampshire Rebellion, is also trying to defeat money in politics, with money in politics. This election year will be a pilot program to see if the issue of fundamental reform of how elections are funded, combined with a little bit of election money, can put into office candidates who support changing the US electoral system.  They are planning an even bigger effort in 2016.

Economic Democracy Grows In Parallel to the Democracy Movement

There is a rising democracy movement that we have been reporting on and participating in atPopular Resistance. This movement also works for changes in the economic system which operates in tandem with the political system.

This week, historian Gabriel Kolko, who in the 1963 book, The Triumph of Conservatism, coined the phrase “political capitalism” died. He used the phrase to describe “the functional unity of major political and business leaders,” writing, “The business and political elites knew each other, went to the same schools, belonged to the same clubs, married into the same families, shared the same values—in reality, formed that phenomenon which has lately been dubbed The Establishment.”

To fight The Establishment, a large undercurrent of people is seizing its power and is putting in place new democratic economic institutions that shift ownership and wealth from the few to the many.

In Wisconsin this week when Enbridge decided to hold a public relations meeting over a new tar sands pipeline, the people rejected the phony meeting format and turned it into a real town hall where the people could ask the corporate representatives tough questions. To the dismay of Enbridge, the people rearranged the room and made it clear that they wanted protection of the environment in their community to come before Enbridge’s profits.

In Utah, climate justice activists are not going to let the state ram through a massive tar sands excavation. Despite the failure of the regulatory agencies and courts to take the environment seriously, the people are doing so. Activists announced a “permanent protest vigil” after three years of fighting with state agencies and in the courts. The blockade continues and they need your support to stop a giant tar sands mine the size of Florida from being started in the US.

This week, Gar Alperovitz, a dean of the economic democracy movement, wrote  about work being done to create a new democratic economy that shifts wealth. He notes how Thomas Piketty “documented long-running trends that have turned over ever-increasing shares of national income to the owners of capital at the expense of the vast majority” and that we are not going to correct this trend with traditional solutions, like progressive taxes, taxes on corporations or even a tax on financial transaction. Alperovitz does not oppose those changes, but sees the political environment as unlikely to be able to enact them. It is more important for people to think of actions they can take to democratize capital, i.e. to shift ownership. He concludes that experiments all over the country in economic democracy mean that Piketty’s capital-concentrating trends are not a foregone conclusion for the future.

John Duda of the Democracy Collaborative provides specific examples in urban areas across the country of local governments supporting the economic democracy movement.  He describes how new policies to encourage cooperatives and build community wealth bring together community activists, philanthropists and policy makers to create policies that change ownership structures and build wealth in the community. They issued a report for Jacksonville, FL, where a round table was held involving multiple cities, to discuss these issues.

In addition to who owns the capital is the issue of who decides how public capital is used. Participatory budgeting is used around the world and with increasing frequency in the US. The first youth-led participatory budgeting process just concluded successfully in Boston. Residents aged 12 to 25 decided how to spend $1 million of city dollars.

Economic democratization moving forward in tandem with efforts to democratize the political system is consistent with the overall strategy for how the movement for social, economic and environmental justice can succeed. Our two track approach of protest and creation, i.e. “Stop the Machine, Create a New World,” is the way the movement will build economic and political power that will lead to the transformation to a more just and sustainable society.

Join the Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy. Visit the Facebook page and “like” it and share it widely.