Democracy in Jeopardy
This year marks the 95th anniversary of the 19th amendment’s ratification, which granted American women the vote in 1920. Another way to think about it – America took 144 years to enfranchise half of its population. It was also 50 years ago that the Voting Rights Act passed when we started to reckon with the discriminatory practices towards black voters that survived the 15th amendment like a drug-resistant bacteria.
Our republic—sublimely founded on democratic values—has a long, two-faced history of exploiting the right to vote by turning it into an exclusive privilege.
And when women and minorities were barred from the electorate, they were effectively barred from political access, recourse, and representation.
To this day, we are still struggling to experience the country that Abraham Lincoln described as having a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” And in recent years, we’ve even tumbled backwards to a place where our whole democratic system is in jeopardy.
Today all of us are under the thumb of big money. The Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010 gave permission for unrestricted political spending in elections, allowing billionaires and corporations to funnel unbridled amounts of secret money to political candidates most willing to execute their political agendas.
It’s king-making in the 21st century.
The influence of the ultra-wealthy few permeates our political system, smothering the efforts of the rest of us to make a political impact. This undermines the democratic spirit that expanded the voting franchise in the course of our nation’s history. But as both the women’s suffrage and civil rights movement has exemplified in the past, it is up to “We the People” to push back hard.
Americans nationwide are coming together to take back our elections from big money and overturn Citizens United. We are wielding new and time-honored tactics to help build this movement from protests to symbolic visuals.
Like the suffragettes who carved “Votes for Women” onto pennies to disseminate their demands, over 50,000 Americans are rubber-stamping their cash with anti-corruption messages like “Not to be used for bribing politicians.” This campaign, part of the Stamp Stampede, taps into the virality of currency—as every stamped bill can be seen by up to 875 people—to create a mass visual demonstration and sustained protest.
While slow to build, this is an exploding tide of people power. Since the Stampede’s start in 2012, the number of stamper-activists has doubled each year. Along with over 120 groups, both local and national, who have signed on to fight for campaign reforms, we are making a difference. 182 current members of Congress are on board to pass a Constitutional amendment to achieve such reforms. Only five years after the Citizens United decision, 16 states have passed resolutions to end it. Plus, several states with similar resolutions on their ballot next year are projected to join that growing list in 2016.
It took over seven decades for suffragists to pass an amendment. Like our campaign, their strategy for a constitutional amendment was to target states. With face-to-face persuasion, public rallies, and more, their state-to-state campaign involved slowly wearing down enough state legislators to give women the vote in their respective states, which gradually culminated into enough leverage for the ultimate victory—nationwide suffrage.
Throughout American history, beginning with the colonists who fought English tyranny, it has been the vigilance of the people denied their rights that our country has kept our democratic values. This fight is no different and it involves the rights of every citizen. The current Supreme Court has hurled our nation straight into a plutocracy—a government ruled by the wealthy—and as history has shown us, it’s up to “We the People” to stamp big money out of politics.