Democracy in crisis

Real heroes for bold solutions

In the coming weeks, our two major political parties will each go through the empty ritual of nominating a candidate for the President of the United States. Place your bets on who will be the winners!

This process has been bought and sold by big money. Issues of public importance take a back seat to the most recent fund raising event or financial filing or the latest Super Political Action Committee buying mud-slinging campaign advertisements.  A recent month had Romney raising a little over $100 million and Obama raising over $75 million.  How many jobs could be created with $175 million? How many young children could get improved, quality early childhood education with $175 million? How many children could get improved elementary school education with $175? How many abandoned houses could be rehabilitated with $175 million? How could $175 million be used to clean up toxic chemicals in our cities?

How do we reclaim our democracy?  As a community organizer, I learned many years ago that that there are three kinds of power, organized people and organized money and organized knowledge. While we probably cannot successfully challenge organized money alone, we can win by organizing people and knowledge and some money. But, this calls for new partnerships that cross boundaries of race and class!

Here is an example.  The primarily white, middle class environmental movement has the opportunity to partner with urban organizations of color, low and moderate income folks, who are battling cancer causing chemicals and air pollution in their back yards. I have first hand experience organizing in the city as many women leaders of color are assaulted by cancer and die way before their time. We have buried toxic chemicals in our neighborhoods and it is a form of genocide. It is one of the most urgent environmental justice issues in our country today.

Fighting for a clean environment is a great unifier!

Early childhood education is another potential partnership crossing class and race lines. We all want our children to have quality, early childhood education in the city or the suburbs.  Once again women are the key players in building powerful partnerships of organized people and knowledge and money. Imagine middle and upper income women from the suburbs in partnership with urban low and moderate income women from the city.  What a powerful effort to rescue democracy from the clutches of greed and selfish interests!

I remember Democratic and Republican Conventions in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s as real opportunities for issue debates and candidate choices. Today, they are expensive shows prescribed by money and narrow interests. Hispanic voters are a new target for these interests as the Democrats meet in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Republicans meet in Tampa, Florida.  We should all remember that organized communities can have incredible power to fight for real freedom and equality.  A conservative friend of mine contends that liberals want equality and conservatives want freedom. Both freedom and equality of opportunity are essential if we are to rescue democracy.

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