On April 15, two bombs exploded in Boston, the birthplace of our democracy, near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. This also happened to be Patriot's Day in Massachusetts, commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution. When the smoke had cleared, three innocent people were dead -- including aneight-year old boy -- and over 200 had been injured, some with limbs lost. One more -- an MIT campus police officer -- would die at the hands of the monsters suspected of committing this heinous crime, and over the next four days, Boston's first responders and police departments, along with the national guard, FBI and other federal agencies, worked in concert to identify and track down the fiends behind this act of terrorism. The co-operative efforts of those departments and agencies exemplified what professional public servants do to protect our communities, our people and, indeed, our nation.
In four days and nights, police and federal agents poured through countless frames of film recorded along the marathon route, piecing together evidence, image by image, until they had honed in on the two suspects. In short order, the bombers were identified as two young brothers of Chechen origin. So far, there has been no declaration of affiliation with a terrorist group and no organization has laid claim to the bombings, so the question of why they did this remains unanswered. The older brother was possibly killed, it turned out, by his younger sibling during a shootout with police in Watertown, not far from MIT. The younger brother was later captured alive, found cowering and wounded in a backyard in an otherwise sleepy neighborhood in that community. We are so proud of the diligence and dedication of all of the officers and agents who conducted this investigation. Clearly they demonstrated to the world some of the best that America has to offer.
Simultaneously, a different kind of "public servant" -- our elected U.S. Senators -- were engaged in their own act of extremism in service to a twisted ideology that directly contravenes their duty to protect and defend the safety of their constituents and the nation. Only two days after the Boston bombings, the Senate's Republican minority thwarted the will of the People by rejecting the Manchin-Toomey background check bill (S.649) with their threat of a filibuster against such common-sense proposals as banning large capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons (the assault weapons ban has long been a personal crusade by California Senator Dianne Feinstein); cracking down on illegal firearms trafficking; improving the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to ensure that anyone who should be prohibited from buying a firearm -- such as criminals and the mentally ill -- are properly registered; setting up a consistent background check process nationwide; and ending the straw purchases of guns. These were wildly popular proposals that most people support, including 90 percent of the American people and a large majority of NRA members.
Yet the will of the people was ignored, as 54 Senators voted for the bill and 46 Senators, including five Democrats, voted against it. Four GOP Senators -- John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) -- are to be commended for their courage in taking on the wrath of the NRA by simply doing the right thing and supporting these proposals. Meanwhile, four despicable "Democrat" cowards voted against it - Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Ala.), and Mark Pryor (Ariz.) -- with Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) not voting on procedural grounds, saying he would bring the legislation up for a vote later this year.
Only in this body of legislators is it possible for a majority to lose. Thus is the track record of the filibuster, a procedural weapon that manages to gridlock and paralyze the Senate on vote after vote, forcing any bill to pass with 60 votes instead of a simple majority of 51 -- "fuzzy math" exemplified -- resulting in the American people being held hostage in crisis after crisis by an extremist minority. The Senate majority has had its opportunities to overhaul the filibuster, but so far it has not, and now we see yet another result of their failure to lead. Clearly the pack of rats that defeated the Manchin-Toomey bill are more afraid of the NRA than their own constituents, who pay their salaries and vote them into office. The disproportionate power of the NRA and other big-money special interest groups of their ilk goes to the heart of what is tearing down our democracy today.
The families of Newtown had tried their hand at convincing these cowards to do the right thing, and after witnessing this disgraceful sellout from the gallery of the Senate chamber, they joined the president on Wednesday as he expressed an outrage at the failings of our government unlike anything we have witnessed before from him publicly. He spoke of the children and the towns and cities so affected by gun violence, and he added that the Senators who defeated this bill must be replaced. It was, indeed, Washington's shame. Mr. Obama had poured his heart and political capital into background checks and gun reform, yet his efforts were met with failure, in a coup against the will of the People orchestrated by the NRA and their lackeys in the Senate.
Here was the opportunity once again for the president to rally the nation and call for an amendment to overturn Citizens United , which he supports, but not loud enough or frequently enough. Mr. Obama stood with Gabrielle Giffords and parents of some of the murdered children of Newtown, including Mark Barden, the father of young Daniel who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Mr. Barden spoke with palpable pain and grief of the children and his son who were betrayed by these elected officials, noting simply, "...our hearts are broken, but not our resolve." These grieving parents will continue this fight, as will the president, Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization and a growing movement of engaged citizens in this country. This fight is not over. David Axelrod summed up the strategy going forward when he said, "Until people start losing their jobs over these issues, it is going to be very hard to defeat the NRA."
A week ago I received an inspiring, encouraging four-page letter from Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, chronicling their successes in moving forward the effort to overturn Citizens United, and what their goals are for this year. The ramping up of resolutions will increase in the states, and just two weeks ago, West Virginia became the 12th state to introduce a resolution banning corporate money from elections. West Virginia is a state that Mitt Romney carried in 2012, so it is not insignificant that they have seen the light. Public Citizen expects the number of states passing resolutions to amend Citizens United to double in 2013. Other achievements include: more than two million signatures gathered supporting a resolution; more than one-third of U.S. Senators and more than 125 House members publicly supporting an amendment; close to 500 cities and towns across America passing amendment resolutions so far; and membership in the coalition supporting an amendment now numbering over 150 organizations.
Working and achieving at the state level illustrates the strength of the grassroots movement on this issue, which continues to grow. Obama's OFA should become a coalition member immediately. That would give the president and his organization a tremendous boost and raise his political capital. The organizing and training across the country is ongoing in preparation to rev up statewide actions, all spearheaded by Public Citizen, and with joint involvement and leadership from Move to Amend, which has hundreds of its own chapters coast to coast.
Amending our Constitution will not be easy to achieve, exemplified by the fact that we have only ratified 27 amendments in the history of our country. Three-quarters of the States must ratify an amendment, as well as three quarters of both chambers of Congress. But it has been accomplished, and it can be again.
There are three courses of action that we can and must take to rescue our democracy:
- Ratify an amendment to overturn Citizens United and remove unlimited, unidentified special interest money from political campaigns;
- Go to public funding of campaigns, with a matching funds program like the one that works so successfully in New York City. Contributions from small donors are matched in a ratio of six-to-one with public funds. This alone would open the gates to a whole new crop of citizens to run for office;
- Vote out those "representatives" in both houses of Congress that do not serve the interests of the people who elected them. Too bad we can't just fire them for malfeasance and corruption. These people will only have job security if we fail to do our jobs as citizens and vote.
Last Saturday, I took some of my own advice and attended my first Move to Amend meeting, an inspiring event run by three exceptional young activists. I encourage you to do the same.
The task is clearly laid out before us. Now we, the People, must act. Our nation needs us.
-- with Jonathan Stone