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NRA/Senate Fail -- How to Turn Tragedy Into Opportunity

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Even the most cynical amongst us were stunned when the U.S. Senate voted down a watered down, bipartisan, partial background check for gun purchases that's supported by some 90 percent of Americans and 74 percent of NRA members. The image of the president flanked by a grieving mother and a congresswoman who was shot in the head brought me and many others to tears.

This happened because money has near-complete control of our political system. The NRA outspent the Brady Center to Control Gun Violence by 73 to 1 last year. As Gabby Giffords said in her brilliant New York Times op-ed, senators betrayed the people because of a deep fear of the NRA unseating them from office. The NRA has that power because they have and spend real political money.

We all need to ask ourselves what it's going to actually take to win the issues we care about. what will it take to get activists and philanthropists supporting every issue to get off the hamster wheel, and face reality: we have to change the play. We have to either coalesce around this issue of money in politics corruption, or we will lose every other issue. Period. We must channel the dismay felt by 90 percent of Americans into a massive new movement to take on the real problem with American politics.

Until now, there has been confusion about what we need to coalesce around, and deep cynicism that any reform can be achieved. That is starting to change. Activists in Albany, New York are edging closer to an important statewide campaign finance reform victory. Last week, some 500 people dressed as $100 bills ran K Street to the U.S. Capitol, and saw the Tea Party standing shoulder to shoulder with Bold Progressives against money in politics corruption. (Funny video worth watching)

Anti-corruption advocates have gotten off the hamster wheel, and are building something extraordinary that creates the same kind of fear in senators as the NRA; that advocates transformative reforms like the American Anti-Corruption Act; that is backed by a broad swath of Americans left, right and center; and that sets the table for real change when the next political crisis occurs.

The Kyoto Protocol expired on January 1. No climate treaty was achieved, and the world went back to emitting greenhouses gases with abandon. Last month, the Monsanto Protection Act passed, preventing the courts from protecting consumers from dangerous food. Before that, the fiscal cliff bill passed with a $500 million gift to drug giant Amgen. U.S. banks are still too big to fail and raking in record profits while poverty is the highest it's been in 50 years. Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty: that's $23,000 a year or less for a family of four. Crony capitalism is driving up the deficit, and Congress is trapped in partisan gridlock that makes the most common sense decisions impossible. I have enough examples to write a book.

I don't know why every advocate and donor is not putting 50 percent of his/her time and money into this issue. Philanthropy invests some billion dollars a year in environmental causes while money in politics reformers fight over scraps --- while fighting a problem that's like a massive asteroid hurtling towards earth. Eventually it will decimate our democracy, and with it our nation's future. There is no perfect political strategy to save us from the asteroid, but new ones are emerging, along with new leadership and energy from influential people who have finally experienced their light bulb moment. If enough of us have that moment. If enough of us wake up and shift our priorities, resources and talent to this issue, we will achieve the critical mass required to deflect the asteroid and save the republic.

We're seeing glimmers of sanity emerge almost daily. This week, beer magnate and National Rifle Association lifetime member Adolphus Busch stepped down, saying in a public letter to the NRA, "Your current strategic focus clearly places priority on the needs of gun and ammunition manufacturers while disregarding the opinions of your 4 million individual members."

Vast majorities of Americans want to get money out of politics. We are more united than we are divided. If we can learn to find points of unity -- rather than let our leaders exploit areas of disagreement -- we can and will force those leaders to change campaign finance and elections or pack their bags. The power is in our hands.