THE SECRET WEAPON FOR SOCIAL CHANGE IS YOUR VOTE
ACED believes that citizens are the key to a just society. Unfortunately, most elected officials stand in the way of the public interest. Why do so many politicians stand in the way of the public interest? Because most are elites, and they are controlled by elites. But an even more important reason is that people have affirmed officials’ policies over and over again with their votes, thus surrendering their ability to hold politicians accountable. ACED is primarily concerned with how citizens can use their political power as voters to impel change.
Warren Buffett explained, in part, why people have lost their influence. Following President Obama’s State of the Union Address last month, Buffett gave an interview with his secretary about the unfairness of our current tax laws, which often allows high-income earners like Buffett to pay a much lower rate than lower-wage earners. Buffet blames Congress for passing the tax code that allows a few people to accumulate obscene amounts of money. With some of that money, the rich can hire lobbyists to persuade Congress to relieve their own financial burdens by placing it onto the rest of the country, making matters even worse for the poor. Most people do not have money for campaign contributions and lobbyists. The few that do, on the other hand, spread it around among the major parties ensuring that whoever wins the election will serve their interests instead of the public’s. Buffett called this the “nuclear bomb” in America’s class struggle.
Buffett is certainly not alone in decrying the corrupting influence of lobbying and money in politics. President Obama himself touched on it during the SOTU, and even more strongly during last year’s address. It is a Republican concern, as well. Most importantly, a strong majority of bi-partisan voters believe that increased campaign spending hurts our political process, and want money in politics reduced. It is a major problem; yet it is also seen as an entrenched, necessary evil so that even the politicians who have benefited most from private interests can openly and honestly lament it.
So the question is what can be done to eliminate, or at least reduce, the corrupting influence of money on our lawmakers given the legal landscape and vast inequality of wealth? People have to think about this strategically. So, what is the biggest advantage the public-at-large has over corporations and the very wealthy minority?
ACED believes that the most important advantage citizens have in the struggle for equality is our ability to vote. Corporations cannot vote – people can. Ten percent of the population may control the majority of this nation’s wealth, but they each can only cast one vote. They may control both major political parties, but those parties are not your only options (though sometimes one of them will be the best option). Voting is the people’s advantage, and we must use it wisely if we are to stand a chance fighting inequality and the injustice it produces.
Voting for social change can work because people can hold politicians accountable. This should go without saying, but political parties and candidates need votes. They want your vote. They will respond to your desires, but only if you effectively express them at the ballot box. Writing your congressperson is simply not as persuasive as tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds and/or the promise of a highly lucrative position after leaving office. On the other hand, voting a politician out of office sends a message to which others will listen. Buffett called money the political “nuclear bomb,” but in a democracy like the United States, votes are truly the ultimate weapon.
The bottom line is people have to take it upon themselves to act – not just think good thoughts, or donate to charity, etc. Voting is the most obvious way, but still only one tactic of many. People must be creative and active to advance the cause of social justice. That is one reason why ACED strongly supports the Occupy movement. It is a movement of people who take their values seriously enough to act on them. It takes courage to protest and meaningfully confront the status quo. Occupy is also incredibly valuable because it offers an opportunity for others to openly reject the political norms and their underlying values of greed, selfishness, and dehumanization. It has to some extent normalized dissent, which is absolutely critical.
ACED will continue to support movements for social justice anyway that it can. First and foremost, ACED believes that entails encouraging people to understand their power as political actors in our democracy, and to use use that power effectively.