In 3rd century BC Rome, actors were considered equal to prostitutes. In 2010, actors and others in entertainment have evolved into a major force behind campaigns and progressive causes. Unfortunately, these efforts resulted in only token reform due to a greater problem in America.
The United States of America has a dirty little secret. We're addicted to a drug. A drug dealt everyday in the halls of Congress, on the streets of Washington and at the exclusive Georgetown soirees. That drug is corruption, pure and simple. And the dealers are lobbyists. The year 2009 was record breaking for the lobbying industry, mostly due to the health care debate, with total spending on all issues at more than $3.47 billion.
Last year, nearly $545 million was spent just on health care. It would sound fabulous if it actually went to caring for people's health. Except it was spent on health care industry lobbyists, whose expensive words and promises were thrown all around Washington. Not a penny was spent on the 56-year-old retired schoolteacher, Lorraine O'Malley's chemotherapy bill. Or 20-year-old college student John Bamberger's emergency appendectomy. Or Karen Toolin's medical costs after a terrible car accident following her layoff from a company she was loyal to for 23 years.
Recently, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the proposed health care plan will cost the United States $94 billion a year over ten years, will reduce the deficit by $138 billion over that time and extend coverage to 32 million more Americans.
The PR agencies hired by the health care industry told conservative lawmakers that reform will put our country further into debt. Then the conservative lawmakers spewed this message to American people. Are we to presume that the same groups that spend $545 million on health care talk are concerned with the cost of this health care bill?
Americans are so conditioned to hearing "billions and trillions of dollars" spent on "Operation This" and "Operation That" and the unfathomable amount of money we owe China, that when we hear about $545 million being wasted on words, it's easy to blink once and change the channel.
If you can't process this $545 million number, then let me help. $545 million is enough money to keep the expected 300,000 teachers to-be-laid-off on payroll this year. These are teachers who may go uninsured, be unable to pay mortgages and debts and, teach a future generation of Americans. Consider this: How many Americans could keep their homes with that money? How many businesses could keep their employees? How many new mothers wouldn't need to choose between staying home with their baby and working?
Mind boggling as it may be, that magic $545 million dollars is a drop in the bucket used to pour liquid money all over lawmakers to simply protect the interests of American and foreign corporations. Money that buys the attention of our lawmakers. Attention being stolen away from the Lorraines, Johns and Karens of our nation.
Despite the countless articles written about the overwhelming influence of special interest groups, an informal poll of my 1,545 mostly college-educated facebook friends indicated that 62.4% are still unaware of the role of lobbying.
It's no surprise why the American people are disillusioned with Congress. When the average lawmaker spends 80% of their day fundraising, how can they be expected to understand and respond to the needs of the people of their districts? Stating the obvious, Lawrence Lessig wrote, "Everyone inside this game [of politics] recognizes that if the public saw too clearly that the driving force in Washington is campaign cash, the public might actually do something to change that." (The Nation, February 2010.)
What is the solution that will change the structure of cash-run politics? The Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission squelched any viable future campaign finance reform, and the practicality of creating a constitutional convention is not only time consuming, but unfeasible. With two thirds of our states needed to support a convention and with the current gridlock in Congress caused by the topic of that "to- be-proposed" convention, the chances of amending our constitution currently are as high as Eric Massa being cast in a reality show called Tickle Fight.
Is that it? Do we just give up on our Democratic system?
If only the geniuses of America could relinquish 10% of their creative energy spent on developing 3D motion pictures, touch screen computers and Cuckoo Clock Apps to help politicos solve this impending dilemma, we may find an alternative.
Personally, I don't believe the quandary is in the framing of our democracy; it is with the lack of respect for our democracy and constitution. James Madison warned in the Federalist Papers that factions or special interest groups could hijack our government if we, the people (remember us?), did not enforce preventative measures.
Perhaps, it's too late. Over the past 150 years, our preventative measures were a few loopholed campaign finance regulation laws (Beginning in 1867 with a Naval Appropriations Bill and ending with the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as McCain-Feingold). As capitalism grew, loopholes were stretched.
When our system of government isn't flawed but the people who run it appear to be, what can one individual do? Do we sit at home and watch American Idol Cares? Do we text 4014 to donate ten dollars to Haiti? Do we purchase shoes from a company that donates to Africa? Or, do we engage and fight?
In true democratic fashion, I vote fight. Fight the scoundrels who have hijacked democracy -- with words, with lawsuits, and with media. More importantly, fight using the same ammunition the lobbyists used to hijack our influence.
Unfortunately, however, the American people lack ammunition. Sure, there are honest, hard-working nonprofit groups and NGOs advocating issues to Congress, but they clearly lack the arsenal possessed by Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil or the pharmaceutical industry.
Yet, there is a group of progressives who can fight the fight. This large, wealthy and sometimes concerned industry is the entertainment industry.
When put into perspective, successes like the $500 million Avatar and the $200 million series, The Pacific, there is no doubt that the entertainment industry is capable of challenging those $545 million lobbyists.
People of the entertainment community, however, have not been efficiently organized collectively, under one group, to specifically fight for social causes.
I advocate for the need of those who understand the power, influence and tremendous capital of the entertainment industry; those who will use Hollywood to counter the corrosive influence of special interest lobbying. Since no group existed, we chose to found one. It's called Alliance Hollywood. United, we believe we can challenge these corporate interests. This year, we chose an agenda of domestic issues to combat those heavily lobbied by corporate interests. They include Environmental Reform, Education, Food, Water, Homelessness and Human Trafficking.
Alliance Hollywood hosts monthly documentary screenings and panel discussions where the community is invited to engage in discourse. We organize advocates, activists and concerned members of the industry to push for legislative reform. Alliance Hollywood rarely endorses, but when we do, we support candidates who step beyond party lines and who have the courage to fight corporate interests.
One program, "Hands on Democracy," gives everyday people the tools to understand how corporations are influencing our lawmakers and directly affecting our everyday lives. More importantly, through education, advocacy and activating the community, we've created a form of "clean lobbying," which we believe is the ammunition that fights special interest lobbying.
Our country's founders warned of factions overwhelming the interests of the majority. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of the country."
Just as campaign finance laws conveniently contained loopholes for special interest groups, there's one loophole in particular that we, the people, need to expand to our advantage. The entertainment industry's prominent entry into the world of social advocacy lobbying gives everyday people a voice. Alliance Hollywood will continue to be a voice for the voiceless.
If you'd like to join Alliance Hollywood's fight, please contact me directly at Nomiki@alliancehollywood.org Whether an up-and-coming filmmaker, established actor, hardworking activist or financial supporter, there's a spot for everyone to get involved.
This is our democracy. Every person -- not corporation -- should have a voice.