Steven A. Leibo is a professor of International History & Politics at the Sage Colleges
“Buying Back our Democracy”
I must say watching American democracy over the last few days has been at long last, dare I say it, a tiny bit encouraging. I mean wow, what with the progress New York State has made in challenging the gun lobby’s insistence on putting assault weapons conveniently in the hands of even the most unstable of us, while President Obama is equally committed to making federal progress on this enormous threat to our National security.
I must say, all this is refreshing news, especially for this commentator who published his first piece on the importance of gun control almost a half century ago. Yes, more than forty years that saw more progress in developing better assault weapons than better laws protecting us from them.
No, this apparently serious legislative effort to make society safer is in sharp contrast to the more common way our government functions. Which is, of course, very discouraging for those of us willing to learn the lessons of Columbine, Aurora, Colorado, and now Newtown; the importance of making mass murder, at minimum, a bit harder and somewhat more time consuming.
Really common frustrations indeed with governmental paralysis that is extraordinarily familiar as well to those of us also committed to taking on that even greater threat to humanity. Yes, really common frustrations for those of us willing to learn the lessons of harbinger storms Irene, Lee, and Sandy, storms that reminded us that our ignorant and reckless drive to destabilize the world’s climate system could not be more dangerous. Two challenges that clear majorities of Americans already think should be taken on, majorities that should matter in this American democracy.
But of course that would only be true if we were a true democracy rather than hybrid system, part plutocracy part democracy governed by a combination of electoral votes, one per person and all those monetary votes that give enormously greater power to those with deep pockets like the gun and fossil fuel industries.
And frankly as individuals it can be discouraging knowing that we are never going to be able to compete with such institutional wealth. But what we must remind ourselves daily of is that all the money in all the pockets of all the lobbyists in Washington, all the money spent by the NRA to keep its members of which this commentator once was, roused to a fever pitch in fear of losing their hunting rifles rather than merely easy access to those personal weapons of mass destruction that are the real problem.
And yet all that money still bring the gun and dirty energy industry lobbyist’s only indirect power, the power to buy massive amounts of political campaign media and to finance campaign organizations, to arouse the fears of law abiding gun owners to help them win votes.
But in the end they still need human beings to vote because Mitt Romney aside, corporations are still not people and no they still don’t get to vote. Only people get to vote and we the public do have the power to fight back.
To fight back at the polls, as we did last November when Barack Obama beat back all the money the fossil fuel industry poured into the presidential campaign to defeat him and now in New York state as Governor Cuomo makes a serious effort to get gun violence under control. And we have the power to put our bodies into the streets as thousands did against fracking last week in New York’s Capital or against the key stone tar sands pipeline as thousands will next month in our nation’s capital, both projects that only prolong our dependence on the very dirty energy sources that brought us storms like Sandy.
And the power to keep fighting back by organizing stock divestment campaigns, pushing our colleges, as students as alumni, pushing our pension funds to sell off their stock in corporations that can’t find a balance between private profit and public good.
Because in the end what still matters in America is the people’s vote. And the only real enemy a democratic people have is their own indifference