Declaring democracy on the American plutocracy

During the Martin Luther King holiday weekend there was a march in Albuquerque to honor the memory of the great man. Although the university I work for did not grant holiday leave, and I live 75 miles from New Mexico’s largest city, I should have been there. Not just as a private citizen, but also as a board member of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Before I go further, I wish to make absolutely clear that what appears here does not necessarily represent the views of the board, staff, or membership of NMWA. Perhaps someday, hopefully soon, it will.

Now what’s this about? What does honoring the social goals of Dr. King have to do with preserving a part of our earth in its natural state? Just this: a common and anti-democratic adversary. In order to be successful, our strategy must include a commitment to restore democracy itself.

Although MLK’s memory has been scrubbed to the point he is portrayed today purely as a champion of civil rights, in fact Dr. King saw through the myriad symptoms of a segregated society to recognize the real problem in America: an anti-democratic economic system that rewarded the few while oppressing the many. Similarly, those of us toiling to preserve at least some of the earth in the state nature created it should sharpen our own sight and acknowledge the common thread that thwarts not only our progress but that of arguably every community-minded group of citizens.

Consider how comprehensively those legal institutions set in place to allow for democratic change in our country have been hijacked so as not to interfere with the hoarding of wealth. Recent events underline the breathtaking extent of the takeover.

The Supreme Court, continuing to grant corporations the rights of citizens, has thrown off spending limits and added the element of anonymity to the existing power of big money to dominate our elections. The crippling result is a dysfunctional legislative process in which no law disruptive of corporate profits may pass.

Citizen-led attempts at effective reform of the nation's failing health care system were torpedoed by industry lobbyists even before the process began. Ditto efforts to correct the financial system despite that sector’s wanton assault on practically every world citizen not of the bankster class.

Meanwhile the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, tainted food recalls, routine worker abuse, air and aquifer pollution - too many outrages to list - have clearly revealed not only corporate industry's disregard for nature and working people but also its veto on effective regulation.

Nor has education been spared corporate reshaping, as public schools under existential attack turn away from a mission of producing Americans citizens capable of critical thought to one of producing product for what are well on their way to becoming four-year trade schools.

As with other nations on or over the brink, the state of public information and discourse in our society presents an especially frightening picture of the eclipse of democracy. With commercial radio and television content dictated directly by national or regional conglomerates, local content and dissenting voices have virtually disappeared. Fresh action of the Federal Communications Commission signals that hopes for internet communication free from corporate domination also appear headed for the scrap heap.

Into the vacuum have stepped an abundance of corporate think tanks and public relations firms, to manufacture and repeat virtually unopposed the distortions and lies of the business party - with predictable results at the polls among a populace sorely lacking in media literacy. Crude and incendiary slogans hold more market value than factual discussion and the oppressed have invited their exploiters to another round of plunder.

Institution by institution, the right wing continues to move our country away from government of, by, and for the people and toward the final wedding of business and government. With corporate rights of personhood sanctioned by the highest court in the land, legal authorization to corrupt elections and extort those selected, and monopoly right wing ownership of mainstream information sources, this is not just another “out” time for those who would question the authority of rule by the wealthy few. What we are experiencing today in the U.S.A. is a democracy in its last dying stages.

Against this backdrop venture forth scores of public interest groups, good people working hard to realize their priorities: environmental or economic justice, worker or consumer rights, election and media reform, invigorated and affordable public education, an end to racism, the breakup of monopolies. Far from taking a common stand in naming and challenging the immoral and anti-democratic power structure that suppresses all these efforts, citizen organizations busy themselves competing for publicity and sources of funding.

All these citizens groups share the same ideal: a social movement in support of their goals. The people power they seek is there, but they fail to recognize, let alone enlist, the awesome potential that lies in our common thirst for democracy. The dwindling record of progressive achievement shows too many rear guard actions and in the wake of our country’s historic shift from frail democracy to full blown plutocracy prospects are likely to erode dramatically from now on. Unless we try something different.

I believe it is time for citizen groups to align our goals with the restoration of democracy in this country. This can come in the form of a public affirmation by every grassroots organization that supports the revival of an American society designed for the rule of citizens: elections free from the taint of private wealth, drastic curbs on government lobbying, a revamped Fairness Doctrine on the public’s airwaves, the breakup of monopoly businesses, the end of corporate personhood and the illegitimate rights thereby granted, corporate charters ensuring local communities are benefited rather than harmed.

Such “Democracy coalition” announcements would include an open invitation of alliance to other groups that recognize their time, resources, and public outreach efforts are being sacrificed before an unresponsive corporate state. We can establish and publish links to sister organizations already engaged in promoting the power of citizens in the realms of media and election reform, fair labor practices, community control over corporations, economic and environmental justice, and other vital campaigns.

Alliance members would not need to change their focus. Rather, their experience and expertise would be made more widely available in the full frontal campaign against anti-democratic entities.

Of course such a shared proclamation will not guarantee immediate or full success, but it will define the issues, draw the lines, and ignite a passion the comfortable may fear, yet all yearn for. In numbers there is not always safety but in unity there is strength. We will take the moral high ground Democracy presents and leave our jingoistic “All-American” opponents to explain to the public why they cannot get on board.

It is high time we get started.

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question ‘Is it safe?’
Expediency asks the question ‘Is it politic?’
Vanity asks the question ‘Is it popular?’
But conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’” - Martin Luther King

Copyright 2011, Dave Wheelock; all rights reserved. Originally published on; reprinted with the permission of the author.