Campaign season will be here very soon. (Why are you groaning?) And once November 3 is behind us, we will enter the year-long, agonizing slog to the presidential election. (ARGH!) We are very fortunate to live in a democracy but why do we dread elections? Why are they so painful, so uninformative, so undemocratic? There are many reasons, of course, but money is a huge part of the problem. This longstanding concern was made far worse by the recent Supreme Court decisions that opened the floodgates to allow nearly unlimited personal and corporate wealth to flow into races. How can voters with limited time and fading interest see through the slick, expensive, unending ads? Many don’t bother and have quit voting.
In 2012 (the last presidential election year), just 58% of citizens age 18 and over voted. Maybe the question to ask is why those 58% still bother. Researchers find that our policy makers don’t actually listen to voters. The preferences of most of us have “essentially no impact” on which policies our elected officials enact. But the affluent do influence policy outcomes, especially economic policies. We cannot create the society we want – one where everyone is thriving – unless we have a well-functioning, responsive, and responsible government, a government of, for, and by the people. Many of us are involved with wonderful charitable organizations that work to feed the hungry, green the planet, boost the pay of low-wage workers, and do many other good things. But this is not enough. Only government, acting in the name of and on behalf of the people, can accomplish what needs to be done.
David Beckman, president of the ecumenical, anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, points out the food that churches and charities provide to hungry people represents only about 6% of what is provided by the federal government’s nutrition programs. Some of us support free clinics that provide health care to the uninsured. That is great. But the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) has delivered health insurance to over 16 million people who formerly lacked it. We cannot create the society we want, need, and deserve, without government. We need to vote or things will be worse. There are good politicians. But we must do more. To improve the way government functions we need to fix the election process: strengthen and expand voting rights, end gerrymandering, and eliminate the electoral college, just to start. But to accomplish these goals as well as achieve all the other things we need requires us to reclaim our government from moneyed interests.
Activists and community organizers have long said that there is one – and only one – thing more powerful than organized money: organized people. We must help build and become part of a massive force of organized people. While no one knows what organization or action will be most effective in overthrowing the power of organized money, one thing is certain: doing nothing means we lose. So get involved. If some group or activity in your area appears to be having an impact, or seems as though it could, then step up. Join the struggle. Our democracy and the future of our country and the world hang in the balance.