The Wall Street protests represent the most potentially transforming political movement in generations: finally a revolt against the root problem that corrupts and paralyzes U.S. government. And the nascent movement might actually succeed if we stop turning ordinary Americans against each other along the tired and destructive battle lines of left vs. right.
For the past forty years, the expansion of unchecked corporate power has taken over Washington and state capitals. Armies of industry funded lobbyists, PR firms, think tanks, fake "Astroturf" groups and billions in campaign contributions have quietly corrupted a vulnerable system of government and seized control.
This juggernaut has decimated basic consumer protections and created the biggest gap between rich and poor since the Great Depression. It created the financial meltdown and the Great Recession. It is why nearly 50 million Americans lack health insurance. It has created a political system that is more like a heroin addict: dependent on billions of dollars that determine who gets elected, which laws get passed, and which don't. Both major political parties are addicted and beholden.
While the protests are proudly decentralized and leaderless, the unifying theme is "revoking corporate personhood" and "campaign finance reform" that would reverse the January 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that lifted the flood gates to unlimited corporate money in elections.
Some call the protests a progressive response to the Tea Party movement, and play right into the hands of the corporate juggernaut, whose proxies -- along with a compliant media -- have mastered the art of turning ordinary Americans against each other instead of the real problem.
This is a right-left issue if there ever was one, and the potential to build an unstoppable movement is unprecedented. Just last weekend, liberal and Tea Party activists joined together for an unusual conference about the feasibility of a constitutional amendment to check undue corporate power in elections and government.
The right-leaning Daily Caller wrote, "Tea party activists made common cause with anti-corporate liberals this weekend at a venue quite unlike the firebrand populist movement: Harvard Law School. The improbable allies met to discuss the possibility of a new constitutional convention to address what they see as fundamental failures in the American system of government."
Grassroots liberals and conservatives agree on this issue. But many argue that there are too many differences between them to allow a unified movement. To them I say, find common ground or fail. Fixing this problem will require getting the fox to put a lock on the henhouse. That requires the kind of heat Congress felt after Watergate, when they last implemented sweeping reforms. A unified movement is not the same as seeking compromise between sold out Democratic and Republican politicians; it's about finding common ground between real people across the nation who are all suffering.
76% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats opposed the Citizens United decision. A long-running Gallup poll shows that Americans politically self-identify 40% conservative, 35% moderate and just 21% progressive.
Just look at the numbers. The way we win is by rallying around a democracy reform agenda, being thoughtful about how we talk about it, and building the kind of broad-based political movement that cannot be stopped.
What does a democracy reform agenda look like? Concrete answers are notably absent at the Wall Street rallies, so let me suggest this starting point: we must support an omnibus democracy agenda that both reduces the role of money in elections and politics, and enfranchises and protects voters so that our democracy enjoys full participation.
The actual policies that will save our democracy are wonky, and the list is long -- I will save that for a subsequent post. In the meantime, remember: before any lasting structural reform will advance, we must build a diverse movement of millions that cannot be ignored. Americans from the right and left must abandon the polarizing rhetoric from our leaders and our TV screens, and join hands in support of a 21st century democracy reform agenda that reclaims our government from moneyed special interests.