As the elections draw near, the plutocracy and crisis of democracy become more visible. There are reports of ‘dark money’ in record amounts influencing races. An obvious example of this took place in Richmond, CA, home of a large Chevron refinery, last week when Chevron funded a ‘new non-profit’ that hosted a ‘civil rights icon’ to stump for pro-business candidates. Steve Early called him “big oil’s reverend for rent.”
We’ve written before about the studies which show that the interests of the wealthy are represented in our public policy instead of the needs and interests of the public. For example, on October 19, several IRS whistleblowers exposed that corporations are being allowed illegally to avoid paying billions in taxes while individuals and small businesses are punished. And Drs. Bruno and Burns describe how Coca Cola has infected medical associations and undermined reform.
Sheldon Wolin wrote about this in “Democracy, Inc.” He calls our political and economic system ‘inverted totalitarianism,’ which simply means that the economic system dominates our political system and that the public is disempowered. He calls the United States a ‘managed democracy.’
Chris Hedges recently did a series of interviews with Sheldon Wolin. You can watch the first one here and the rest are being posted on The Real News. Wolin makes an important point that capitalism destroys democracy. It is a system that siphons wealth to the rich at the expense of the rest of us. As people struggle to survive, they are unable to participate in any meaningful way in public life, in expressing their political power which is the essence of democracy.
“If you’re not exploitable, you’re expendable”
That is a phrase that we first heard from Cheri Honkala of the Poor Peoples Economic and Human Rights Campaign. Human rights are not being respected in the US. People are being driven into poverty and pushed off of the land, a model that is highly reminiscent of the way that Indigenous Peoples have and continue to be treated.
Zak Cheney-Rice writes about this in his exposé on gentrification in America’s cities. In Detroit, people are being cleared out in a particularly cruel way. Thousands have had their water turned off for inability to pay the increasing charges. This leads to their home being condemned and the eviction of families. Maude Barlow writes that Detroit is the ‘canary in the coal mine.’ We can expect to see similar practices in other cities.
As people are thrown into the streets, the criminalization of the homeless is increasing. In 21 cities, people are banned from sharing food with people who have lost their homes. This is part of increased criminalization of the poor. In New York, an illegal and unprecedented crack down on street musicians in subways is underway.
Of course, that state-sanctioned violence is occurring in our low-income communities, especially those that are comprised of mostly People of Color. This has been going on for a long time. The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the militarized police response to legitimate protest is the most recent event that brought it to national awareness. Amnesty International just came out with a statement that the police in Ferguson violated the human rights of the demonstrators.
The murder of Black men and women in the US by police and vigilantes is a slow genocide. On October 22, there were protests in more than 80 cities in the US against police brutality, extrajudicial killings and mass incarceration. Activists are now calling for a comprehensive federal database of people who are killed by police to be created. That is one step that will reveal the magnitude of this atrocity. In Chicago, youth volunteers have submitted a report of human rights violations by police to the United Nations. They call it “We Charge Genocide.” And a new study shows that aggressive and racially-biased policing is causing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the victims who are primarily Black youth.
The verdict in the Michael Brown murder Grand Jury investigation is expected to be released soon and police are preparing for the backlash. An indictment of Officer Darren Wilson who shot him is unlikely. Already the corporate media is spinning the story in a way that justifies the murder. This is typical. The same thing is happening in the case of Marissa Alexander, a mother and victim of domestic abuse who fired a warning shot from her licensed gun to deter her abuser.
The neoliberal attack on the poor is not just in the United States. The recent disappearance and suspected murder of 43 rural student teachers in Mexico exposes the violence of this neoliberal attack on the poor in a horrible way. YoSoy132, the Mexican social movement, is calling for our help in stopping this state-sanctioned violence.
As we see, despite the obstacles, people are standing up and demanding changes. Chris Hedges wrote this week that there is a path to ending inverted totalitarianism and putting real democracy in place. It requires building a mass movement. Research shows that when 3.5% of the population is mobilized on issues where the majority of the public agrees, great transformations have occurred.
One of the obstacles is that resources are needed to bring these movements to fruition and empower them to be more effective. Hedges writes that there must be a solid core of professional organizers – people who can devote significant time and energy to organizing within their communities, who understand how political power works and who are dedicated to the long haul. We see this critical need everywhere we go. Unfortunately, foundations are adept at funding reformist organizations that maintain the status quo.
Still, without that, there are many groups who are doing what they can and some are achieving results. The people who recently occupied St. Louis University did negotiate with the university president who promised to make changes. Now it is the task of the activists to make sure that he is sincere.
Groups in Baltimore are working together to end homelessness by turning some of the city’s more than 40,000 vacant homes into community land trusts to house people without homes make houses permanently affordable.
Despite the corruption of political parties by the oil and gas industry, people are standing up to stop the construction of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure. In New York, activists are blockading construction of a gas storage area in a fragile salt cavern and in Vermont, landowners are working together to stop pipelines from being built on their properties. Note that these projects have both been approved by Democratic governors.
The Democrats like to blame Republicans for lack of action to address the climate crisis, but some of the worst projects are in Democrat-led states. And the Democrats are expected to be the obstacle to real climate solutions in the next Congress. That is why we are organizing a protest at the Democratic National Headquarters on November 3 as part of the Beyond Extreme Energy week of actions to retire fossil fuels. We will call out the Democrats for being in bed with the dirty energy industries. Click here to sign the letter that we will deliver.
We will close by pointing to an article by Shane Burley of the Portland Solidarity Network. Burley clearly and succinctly outlines a plan for success similar to the ‘Stop the Machine, Create a New World’ framework that we promote. It involves working in our communities to put systems in place that meet our needs and at the same time structuring that work so that we are building community power. It is also essential to recognize that our work on separate issues is connected.
“When the forces of resistance become the tools of building a new society, we move away from simply responding to disaster and start planting the seeds of the world we only imagined during passive daydreams.”
We recommend reading Burley’s article and also our piece called “History Shows we have the Power to Transform the Nation.”
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