1. In your opinion, what is the Great American political challenge and how can the “average Joe or Jane” stand up to it?
The challenge is: Can the American people come together, aggressively confront Big Money’s dominance of our government and put the control of the government in the hands of the people, where it belongs in a democracy. And, can we do it before it’s too late. That is, before our government becomes a full-blown plutocracy run by and for the benefit of the very rich. Time is running out. A good argument can be made that the United States is already a full-blown plutocracy.
As for standing up to the challenge, first, the average Joe and Jane need to understand the negative impact Big Money has on their lives as well as on our country. Second, they need to actively get involved locally in a democracy movement organization working to eliminate Big Money’s grip on America. And, third, they need to spread the word, and get their friends and neighbors involved in this effort.
2. How did you become interested in this subject?
I’ve always been interested in government and politics. I majored in government at Cornell University back in the sixties. Then, I was protesting against the Vietnam War. In law school in NYC, my focus continued to be on public interest issues and law. In the 1970s, I lived in western Mass, worked for Western Mass Legal Services, and helped start a grassroots party, the Community Union. In the 80s in Santa Fe, I formed a non-profit organization, The Trinity Forum, which brought together politicians, government officials, community organizers and academicians of different political views to find common ground and develop broad-based solutions to regional and national issues.
More recently, I’ve seen how Big Money has manipulated our government to serve its agenda to the detriment of most Americans. For example, there’s lots of credible evidence that the big oil companies led by oil man turned Vice President Dick Cheney manipulated the government to initiate the Iraq War so they could gain control of Iraq’s huge oil and gas reserves. Today, we see it with the gun lobby, the oil industry, the healthcare and insurance business, and the Wall Street bankers, among others. Wherever you turn, Big Money is making the rules for all of us by, in effect, bribing our political representatives.
As I note in my book, it really hit home for me personally in 2008, during the Great Recession, when I lost all the equity in a rental property that I was using as my daughter’s college fund. Our government bailed out the big banks that were mostly responsible for the crash, but it didn’t help me and the millions of other Americans who had lost their homes or jobs. As a student of American history, I know that a grassroots movement of millions of Americans from across the political spectrum has the power to change our broken political system.
3. What are the main points of your book?
A. Our political system is broken due mainly to the tremendous influence of money in politics. Political officials are bought or strongly persuaded by extremely wealthy donors, big corporations and labor unions. Consequently, the needs and desires of average Americans are not represented by our senators and congressional representatives.
B. Politicians will not fix the system unless we the people force them to. (Refer to FDR story about his meeting with labor leaders in my book.)
C. American history demonstrates that mass movements are what make real change in this country. We need to form a Democracy Movement to revive democracy in our country.
D. I outline a six-point plan to change our political system in order to level the playing field:
1. Establish mandatory public financing of all congressional and presidential elections.
2. Enact a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, and McCutcheon v. FEC decisions finding that money is speech, corporations are people, and restrictions on campaign contributions violate the freedom of speech.
3. Reform and strictly regulate lobbying so that all Americans have equal access to their elected officials regardless of their income, corporate position, or labor affiliation.
4. Eliminate the gerrymandering of congressional districts so that each state’s delegation to the House of Representatives is proportionate to the votes each party receives in that state’s elections for Congress.
5. Enact a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College so that every citizen’s vote for president carries the same weight and the president is elected solely on the basis of the national popular vote.
6. Establish a national Bill of Voters’ Rights guaranteeing all citizens of the United States an equal opportunity to vote and eliminating restrictive voter ID requirements and other efforts obstructing people’s right to vote.
E. Even though the American people are the underdog in this effort, history shows that underdogs can overcome great odds and win more than 60% of the time.
F. It is up to ‘we, the people,’ if we are to reverse our country’s fast track to becoming a plutocracy, which many would argue, it already is, and revive our democracy.
4. Why should the average American care? How can readers get involved and make a difference?
Because, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren notes, the system is rigged and the average American is being cheated out of his or her fair share of the wealth in this country. CEOs in big corporations make 200 to 700x what the average worker makes. But, without those workers, the company couldn’t make the goods and services that provide the profits that pay the CEO’s exorbitant salary. Everyone who works and contributes should make a living wage.
On top of that, corporations use some of the money that consumers pay for products to lobby Congress for tax breaks they don’t need or regulations/laws that are against the interests of most Americans.
- U.S. government is forbidden by law to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare. Those laws were written by Big PhRMA’s lobbyists.
- Gun lobby prevents universal background checks.
- Oil industry prevents greater pollution controls and renewable energy policies. And, on and on.
5. Do you really believe a movement such as you describe in your book can have an impact? Why?
Yes, because the history of mass movements in our country proves it: women’s suffrage, labor, civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, Gay and Lesbian Rights. They all overcame great odds and made a big difference.
6. Several groups have been working on the issues you discuss in your book, what makes your call for a movement better than what’s already happening?
What’s happening currently is too fragmented. There are so many groups and too many issues competing for the same money from donors and the same people to support them. There is power in numbers. We need to come together. Moreover, people need to realize that as long as Big Money is calling the shots in Washington and in our state capitols, they have little or no chance of getting their issue — be it climate change, homeland security, immigration, income inequality , etc. — resolved to their satisfaction. That is why the basic political system needs to be fixed first.
7. How does your book play into the 2016 elections? What do you think will happen after the 2016 elections regarding the issues you raise?
The key is local, grassroots organizing. In my book, I recommend cities and towns across the country organize DOCs (Democracy Organizing Committees) made up of people from across the political spectrum. DOCs would include business people, civic and social organizations, professionals, union people, students, all of whom want to break Big Money’s grip on our government, so that average Americans have an equal voice in elections and the legislative process.
So, these local groups need to educate their fellow citizens and recruit and support candidates who will make political equality their top issue. This won’t happen over night. Therefore, while some progress can happen in the 2016 elections, people will have to continue organizing DOCs after the election and recruiting candidates for the 2018 election. We need to make this a priority issue, if not the issue, across the country in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
8. Isn’t this really a partisan issue? The Republicans seem to get a lot of support from Big Money. Why would they support the ideas in your book?
No, in my opinion it’s not a partisan issue. Democrats get a lot of support from Big Money as well. Five of Obama’s top campaign donors were Wall Street firms. Polls show that 75% of Americans, not the Democratic and Republican parties, want to substantially reduce the influence of money in politics. People know this is bad for them. They just feel helpless to do anything about it.
As I point out in my book, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans did anything to reign in Wall St. banks after the Great Recession, even though the banks were largely responsible for the financial collapse, because both parties wanted to continue collecting big contributions from those banks.
9. What caused politics to go the way of big money in your opinion?
It has always been this way. The very wealthy have always been trying to control the country, buy politicians and legislation. The ‘robber barons’ in the late 1800s is a good example. It has just gotten worse and worse in the last 35 – 40 years as big corporations have grown more powerful and the Supreme Court has also given them more power. It all comes down to greed and power. America has always been a ‘me’ country, rather than a ‘we’ country. We have this pioneer or self-made millionaire spirit. We glorify Warren Buffett or the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame.
10. If so many millennials aren’t even registered to vote and show only disenchantment (and disgust) with the current system, how does your book show them that they can get past feelings of despair? After all, promises have been made for centuries with nothing to show. Why should anyone believe things could be any different now?
As I mentioned earlier, American history has shown that when people come together in mass grassroots movements, they can make real change in the country: Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement for example. Also, the fact that political outsiders are, as of this writing, leading in both the Republican Democratic races for president indicates that people are tired of this system and want real change. Trump and Sanders are getting the biggest crowds.
The very fact of people coming together also provides support for the individuals in the movement. The civil rights, labor, and the gay and lesbian rights movements are good examples were the shared spirit and deeply held beliefs those people had in their causes gave them strength to keep on fighting for what they knew in their hearts was right. And, people need to understand that change takes time. It took the women’s suffrage movement 70 years to get the vote.
Yes, it can be frustrating and despairing, but it’s not hopeless. Look at the South Africans eliminating apartheid; the break up of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. If the people of those countries can make such huge changes in their governments, so can we Americans.
11. Who are some of the politicians who best reflect your ideas currently?
I guess the best examples on the Democratic side are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT).
On the Republican side Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has called for stemming the flow of unregulated money in politics. And, then there’s Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who co-sponsored the McCain-Feingold legislation on campaign finance reform. Also, former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) is working on campaign finance reform.