By Dave Wheelock
Last week’s midterm elections didn’t define the will of the people. Too many frustrated citizens stayed home for the results to be an inclusive measure. But it did provide a snapshot of prospects for the middle class and democracy in this country. As (reality-based) climate scientists increasingly warn, there exists a tipping point beyond which existing atmospheric conditions cannot be restored. The same is true for the rule of citizens; if that belief is too consistently betrayed, it will wither. I know I’m not the only one who wonders if we haven’t already crossed the threshold. I wonder if we’ll stop kidding ourselves before there’s no longer a doubt.
For better or worse, the elections have confirmed for many Americans that they live in a world built by a wealthy elite with plans for expansion. Better, if they set themselves and each other to do something about it; worse, if they resort to negative means to relieve their suffering. Worst of all would be capitulation.
In this, a non-presidential election, over 4 billions dollars were spent. Most of this bonanza was corporate money poured into corporate television ads designed to destroy a potential mass teachable moment by stoking the fires of negative emotion. Debate over America’s vital issues – the costs of maintaining an overseas empire, unchecked corruption in both business and government, increasing unemployment and homelessness, climate change and energy choices, escalating wealth inequity, destruction of ecosystems, etc. etc. – was systematically and purposefully scuttled to maintain current power structures. In its place we got the simplistic drumbeat of “small government, less taxes, individual freedom, support for our military.”
Like the skillful puppeteer or illusionist who draws our attention away from his actions by creating a diversion, those whom David Korten called the “Stratos dwellers” in his seminal book When Corporations Rule the World have turned each branch of our government – legislative, judicial, and executive – into a dog and pony show.
Everyone acknowledges that big money largely controls the selection and actions of our elected officials (except the elected officials). Our judicial system, from municipal courts all the way to the Supreme Court, consistently rules in favor of concentrated wealth, most recently in loosing all those uncontrolled billions into our elections. Governmental agencies with responsible-sounding names like the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Administration, Minerals Management Service, and the Food and Drug Administration operate at bedrock level to insulate large-scale offenders from responsibility for their actions against the public.
The common thread in this flimflam which corporate media try their best to bury is the organizing structure: the corporation. Like a loaded gun, a large corporation embodies awesome power and seemingly irresistible force. Corporate status in support of property, profits - and now “freedom” - routinely trumps that of individual citizens, communities, and in the case of so-called free trade, even sovereign nations. In a nation once proud of its traditions of bottom-up authority, corporations are the antithesis of democracy.
Every day I receive at least one plea in the mail from a nonprofit or activist group concerned with a cause perfectly worthy of my support. I try to help, but there’s a limit. And the good guys are all losing, whether they know it or not. Mere coincidence, I suppose, that the corporations are winning.
But what can we do to free ourselves from the power of huge corporations? “TINA,” sigh the corporate insiders, their collaborators, and the hopelessly colonized. “There Is No Alternative.” If ever there was a self-defeating attitude, this is it. We’ve had enough of that already.
The citizens of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, have been doing their homework. I’m sure they’d be happy to share just a few tidbits from their Chambersburg Declaration of February 20, 2010:
“Most reformers and activists have not focused on replacing the current system of elite decision-making with a democratic one, but have concentrated merely on lobbying the factions in power to make better decisions . . . reformers and activists have not halted the destruction of our human or natural communities because they have viewed economic and environmental ills as isolated problems, rather than as symptoms produced by the absence of democracy.
“Therefore, let it be resolved: That a people’s movement must be created with a goal of revoking the authority of the corporate minority to impose political, legal, and economic systems that endanger our human and natural communities . . .”
We can’t know yet if democracy is dead in the United States. Our choice is to assume it is, and do nothing; or start resisting and yes, attacking illegitimate corporate power over our families, governments, and environments.
Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, is a collegiate sports administrator and coach. Mr. Wheelock’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Mountain Mail. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.