Before they tackle foreign policy, climate change, the economy, or public education at upcoming presidential debates, "the candidates must first debate democracy itself," reads an open letter to NBC's Lester Holt, who will moderate the first face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump later this month.
"We'll never break the death-grip that Big Oil, Big Banks, Big Pharma, and weapons companies have on America if we don't first debate democracy."
—John Sellers, Other 98
"As the moderator of this year's first presidential debate, you have significant flexibility to select the topics you chose to cover," says the letter, co-signed by a coalition of more than 30 organizations representing millions of Americans nationwide. "While there are a number of critical policy differences between the candidates, there is one subject so fundamental to our future—so essential to our national identity—that its inclusion in this debate must be guaranteed."
That is, democracy: issues ranging from money in politics to voting rights to freedom of the press. "Each of these topics deserves a full inquiry," the letter reads. "Each affects, at the most fundamental level, who has power in this country and who doesn't."
And "power— more specifically, the distribution of power—in this country affects every aspect of American life," according to the missive, "from trade deals to criminal justice, from water quality to access to medical treatment. In the most extreme cases, power decides not only how people live, but if they live."
Voters deserve to hear presidential candidates speak about a system they've described as "rigged," pro-democracy groups said on Thursday.
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"It's evident this election cycle that Americans are fed up with a democracy that isn't working for them," said Rahna Epting, chief of staff at Every Voice.
"At a time in which many Americans are losing faith in our government and public trust in politicians is at record lows, it's critical that Lester Holt give voters a chance to hear from our presidential candidates about their take on our democracy and how they plan to restore people's faith in the system," she said.
Indeed, added John Sellers, founder of anti-corporate netroots group Other98: "We'll never break the death-grip that Big Oil, Big Banks, Big Pharma, and weapons companies have on America if we don't first debate democracy."
The letter comes amid widespread disappointment over NBC's "Commander-in-Chief" forum Wednesday night, where the network was decried for hosting "little more than a class on how not to hold the candidates accountable."