THE BLOG
10/14/2013 10:39 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2013

Who Wants a Shutdown?

More than 840,000 Americans have been sent home instead of work. National parks and public lands are off-limits to everyone but oil and gas drillers. Nine out of 10 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency have been furloughed. Small business loans are on hold, health and safety inspections are suspended, and our economy is taking a $160 million hit every day -- you'd think that we'd be hearing universal condemnation of the ongoing government shutdown.

But some special interests are beneftting from public health and consumer watchdogs being pulled off the beat -- and they don't even have the sense to be quiet.

Take Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning, for example. While speaking to senators at a meeting the day after the government shut down, SNL Energy reported that Fanning couldn't contain his enthusiasm:

"I was thrilled actually to have this event in this kind of environment."

With clean air cops at the EPA off the beat during the shutdown, big polluters like Fanning may have it easy -- there are fewer people watching what his company is dumping into our air and water. For the rest of us, its not so thrilling.

But Fanning's not alone. Indeed, Michael Needham - chief executive of the right-wing Heritage Action political organization-- sang the shutdown's praises. Amid news that Heritage Action took $500,000 from the oil-rich Koch Brothers, Needham lauded the shuttering of two government agencies that have been the target of both Heritage and Koch smear campaigns, declaring he'd love to see them closed until the extremely unlikely defunding of the Affordable Care Act -- in other words, indefinitely:

"If we want to sit in a government shutdown for the next several weeks over the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] being shut down, I'm perfectly happy to sit in that situation until President Obama stops this unaffordable and unfair law."

Its not just a clear example of the destructive goals of big polluters and their political allies - its more proof that the big money groups targeting the EPA's clean air, water and climate protections are the same ones attacking the NLRB's laws protecting American workers. And they aren't just trying to contaminate our planet and our workplaces - they are trying to contaminate our democracy.

Fanning and Southern Company dumped more than $17 million worth of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures into our system in 2012. And using mouthpieces like Heritage Action, the Kochs spent upwards of $400 million trying to push their reckless agenda. And, in recent weeks, Heritage has used some of their largesse to emerge as one of the major forces behind the shutdown.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said it best: "We didn't reach this nadir in our democracy by accident. It's the result of a systematic attack on the basic democratic principles of justice and equality by a handful of people who have no interest in a healthy, functioning democracy."

The reality is as more money has poured into our system, we've seen many of our elected officials turn from addressing solutions to creating crises, like this shutdown. At the same time, we've seen more attacks on our air and water, on our workers, and on our democracy. It's critical that those of us who want to protect those things stand together. It should be more clear than ever that we have common enemies -- and the only way we can beat them is to recognize that we have common goals.

This is exactly why the Democracy Initiative was founded. A collaborative effort convened by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the NAACP, and the Communications Workers of America, we are working to bring together labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental, good government and other like-minded grassroots organizations with broad memberships to build a movement that will halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, stop the suppression of voters, and commit to restoring the basic principals of our democracy.

Its a collaboration that is critical given the events of the last few weeks. At a time when some are applauding a shutdown, it is more important than ever that we stand up, and fight back.