It’s time to be bold and visionary. Only a massive grassroots movement can build the political power necessary for taking back our democracy and ousting the plutocrats who’ve stolen it. That’s why I’m thrilled to be one of thousands rallying this weekend at Democracy Awakening—supporting calls to restore voting rights and repeal Citizen’s United. I’m proud that Food & Water Watch is one of the more than 200 groups coalescing to demand that people and the environment are prioritized over profits.
Over the past forty years the right-wing has rammed their political agenda through Congress and the courts by consolidating power in the hands of wealthy elites and corporations. Elections are corrupted through a system of legalized bribery that has diminished the voice of everyday Americans in our political process.
Fighting Right-Wing Influence Over Our Democracy
It is only by organizing a broad-based coalition that includes civil rights, economic justice, labor, the environmental and climate movements among others that we can undo the devastation caused by gutting environmental laws, restricting voting rights, deregulating the financial services industry and privatizing everything from education to water. Koch Brothers-funded think tanks have funded a long-term disinformation campaign that includes an irresponsible attack on climate science, even as the effects of climate chaos are worsening.
At the same time, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has pushed a right-wing agenda in the media and in state houses across the country that have devastated communities, the planet, and our democracy. Take voting rights. From Texas to Wisconsin and Alabama to Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) conservative state legislatures, at the behest of ALEC, have moved to restrict the right to vote.
"Democracy Awakening is a wake up call that not only can we take on big money in politics—we must."
Similarly, through ALEC, companies like Monsanto, ExxonMobil and American Water have helped develop model state legislation in service to their financial interests. Whether it’s promoting water privatization, attempting to thwart popular GMO food labeling measures, or stopping local initiatives to ban fracking, ALEC is behind many undemocratic policies to help corporations and wealthy interests at the expense of our communities and the environment. ALEC has even called for the dissolution of the Environmental Protection Agency.
It is no wonder that organizations fueled by billionaires are working to restrict the vote — their agenda is unpopular and they can only continue to push their policies by harming our democracy.
How Grassroots Pressure Can Make Change
Democracy Awakening is coinciding with a major shift in progressive politics, thanks to grassroots pressure to address climate change and keep fossil fuels in the ground. For example, for the first time ever, the leading Democratic candidates for president are having a meaningful discussion about the fate of our planet and the role of Big Oil and Gas money and its influence in our political process. This is only possible because of grassroots organizing happening across the country.
One crowning achievement of the movement has been New York’s fracking ban. Five years ago, a ban on fracking was seen as politically naïve; there was skepticism about the approach of taking on the industry and the Democratic establishment so forcefully. But activists hit Governor Andrew Cuomo hard on the issue—showing up at public appearance after public appearance, demanding that he protect New Yorkers, not the fossil fuel industry. The pressure resulted in the Governor banning fracking in the state in 2014. Activists continue to target the Democratic establishment elsewhere—from Maryland to Colorado to California. Now, even Governor Brown is feeling the pressure in California to ban fracking.
We can and must do the same when it comes to protecting our voting rights and addressing big moneyed interests’ disproportional sway in our politics. Corporate influence over our democracy is one of the biggest threats to our food, water and climate. That’s why Democracy Awakening is a wake up call that not only can we take on big money in politics—we must. And while it won’t be easy, we must keep up sustained pressure on our decision makers to reinstate the Voting Rights Act and repeal Citizens United. Pressuring our decision makers to do the right thing takes committed leadership of individuals taking bold stands.