THE BLOG
09/03/2014 11:04 am ET Updated Nov 03, 2014

Can the People's Climate March on September 21 Ignite a Political Revolution?

On August 22, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) offered a video message to the annual meeting of the Iowa AFL/CIO that laid out his vision for addressing the critical issues facing our country, including the crisis of income and wealth inequality, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure (while creating millions of jobs in the process), raising the minimum wage, overturning the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United decision and scrapping our ruinous foreign trade policies.

Bernie further called for a political revolution that gets millions of people involved in the political process -- which is, of course, something the right-wing zealots have been meticulously trying to prevent on the federal and state level by passing draconian voter ID laws, limiting hours for voting, purging voters from the rolls and increasing traveling distances to polling places, which disproportionately affects minorities, the elderly and the poor -- the very core constituencies that tend to vote Democratic. Apparently, the right wing is not satisfied with being able to buy votes, they want to steal them, too.

On September 13 and 14, Senator Sanders will be in Iowa holding a series of town hall meetings to press these issues. Does this mean he is beginning to see that he has a real shot at the presidency in 2016? Those two days with Iowans will undoubtedly help him decide, and while he did not detail in his video how to create this revolution and the steps needed, his appearance in that key primary state may offer some answers. Our country needs a plan -- along with the kind of leadership only Bernie can provide -- to implement the drastic changes to our politics that are so desperately needed.

It's pretty clear that the American people are utterly disgusted with our dysfunctional government. Too many of us have been cut out of the process, and we are all sick of seeing our government bought out by a relatively small band of super-rich, greedy, power-hungry people. Their legalized bribery of public officials was delivered by the Supreme Court's Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings, and until those travesties of justice are reversed through legislation, legal action or, ultimately, a constitutional amendment, we will continue to decline as a nation.

The lack of caring and compassion that pervades the highest levels of our society and government these days is, frankly, un-American, and it runs contrary to the traditions and beliefs that helped make us a great nation. For generations we have welcomed one and all to our shores, and still have managed to lift all boats with Progressive policies and communal effort. These days, on the other hand, we can't even move Congress to pass a humane immigration reform bill or raise the minimum wage. Indeed, this Congress has been one of the most unproductive in decades, passing a relatively small number of bills, many of which are watered down to the point of uselessness or are only intended to protect the pocketbooks of big-money interests at the expense of the most vulnerable among us.

So whom can we thank for this near-total collapse of our democratic process? I would nominate corporate America -- which is, after all, the real power behind the throne in DC. Indeed, those in the business "community" seem to be the only one doing well these days as they continue to enjoy the benefits of flat wages, weakened regulations and corporate welfare in the form of tax breaks paid for by hard-working Americans. The latest of their tax-dodging scams is those so-called "tax inversions," which allow US businesses to relocate their corporate headquarters abroad through their purchasing of foreign companies. Burger King is now playing this game, negotiating the purchase of Canada's Tim Hortons chain of coffee shops after becoming one of the most successful corporations in America. To get some better insight into the many ways corporations and the 1% have been rigging the political system, you might want to read the so-called "Powell Memo," written by former Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell, which is essentially a blueprint of the right wing's strategy to take over our government and country since the early 1970s.

On the other side of the political spectrum, on September 21 The Peoples Climate March will take place here in New York City, and this monumental citizens' action -- which will also be the culmination of the NYC Climate Convergence that begins on September 19 -- will hopefully offer a window into a strategy that could change the dynamics of our politics here in the US. Its goal is to draw attention to the major global crisis of climate change in advance of the United Nations' Climate Summit 2014 two days later, where world leaders will gather to discuss this issue and perhaps come to some consensus on collaborative action. President Obama will be at the Summit, and one can only wonder what he will propose, given his uneven record on climate. A just and healthy world must be the overarching goal of this critical meeting.

Demonstrations and other gatherings will take place simultaneously around the world -- and across America for those who are unable to travel to New York -- to draw attention to this issue. Upwards of 500,000 people are expected to come to the city for that weekend, and the emphasis will be to support "People, Planet and Peace Over Profit," and to "demand an end to fossil fuels, mobilize for system change" and provide "living wage jobs now." The march will begin at Columbus Circle near Central Park, head down 6th Avenue to 42nd Street and then turn west to 11th Avenue, ending between 34th and 38th Streets. There will also be plenaries, speak-outs and teach-ins during this gathering of kindred souls who care about preserving our planet -- as well as our very health and lives -- and leaving a better world for generations to come.

One of the icons speaking in New York that weekend will be Naomi Klein -- no stranger to climate issues -- whose new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, will be released a week earlier. In her book Naomi tackles the fallacy of "carbon" -- rather than "capitalism" -- being at the root of the climate crisis, and how our current "free market" economic model is actually waging war against us and destroying our world. I suspect that she also sees climate change as a symptom of the cancer that is eating at our society, caused by an economic system that only works for the wealthiest and most powerful among us. It is time for a national debate on the negative impact of globalization and our capitalist system that has done so much damage to people here in America and around the globe. New paradigms of economic thinking and action must be created to help the poor and working classes rise, and a major event like the Convergence is a terrific place to start this process.

Several days ago on the PBS NewsHour, NASA scientist Tom Wagner spoke of arctic thawing and how it may be behind the giant sinkholes now appearing in Siberia and elsewhere, which are emitting extremely damaging methane gas. We are also experiencing climate-related floods, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires at unprecedented levels and rates these days, while parts of the northwestern US have been abnormally hot this summer and the northeast has been unusually cool. Yet major polluters like the Koch brothers -- with their vast holdings in fossil fuel industries around the world that have made them multibillionaires many times over -- would have you think that man-made pollution has nothing to do with the climate crisis. Their money buys politicians and funds Conservative think tanks and organizations that support their moneymaking schemes by electing Conservative politicians and supporting legislation that guts environmental regulations and the EPA. Public Citizen stated in a recent e-mail update I received that "...this year, dark money groups like the Koch brothers' Americans For Prosperity are spending three times as much as they did in the 2012 presidential election, and 17 times as much as they did in the last midterm election in 2010." While AFP is just one small piece of the Kochs vast political empire, The Washington Post argues that they could be considered the third-largest political party in America, with a full time staff of 240 located in 32 states.

In his The Huffington Post post from August 19 titled "The Disease of The American Democracy," Robert Reich noted that in the 2012 presidential election, only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Meanwhile, the approval ratings of both Congress and the president are in the basement. How can so many people be so dissatisfied with those in charge, yet not have the will to do anything about it? Reich offers some compelling background information on how we have arrived at this pitiful state, yet he also offers a note of hope: "(I)f we give up on politics, we're done for, as powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy..." and "(t)he monied interests are doing what they do best -- making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best -- use our voices, our vigor, and our votes." A day earlier, Politico reported that "(l)ess than 20 percent of voters believe most members of Congress deserve re-election, on track for the lowest mark in at least two decades."

I hope that all of this suggests that we are arriving at a tipping point and are ready to do the hard work necessary to take back our democracy and our government. But as long as we continue to focus on single issues, rather than the real causes of our national ills, we cannot hope to clean up our politics and become once again a nation governed by and for the People, and not the corporations. Coming out of the People's Climate March, those who have organized it must understand that we have to remove the dirty money from our politics in order to make any real change happen on climate or any other issue, and that this can really only be achieved by overturning the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions through an amendment to the Constitution. Too many issues need our attention to try to address them one by one and hope to have any positive effect, especially when the politicians who write the legislation are paid off by special interests. How can we expect anything to be different? We have to tackle the cause of these issues in the first place, which is "da money."

There have now been resolutions passed in about 600 towns and municipalities nationwide, as well as in the legislatures of 16 states and DC, calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and McCutcheon. There is also growing support in Congress for an amendment, with 140 Congress members coming out in favor of it so far. On September 8th, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a bill, S.J. Res.19, in support of just such an amendment. Fifty senators are currently on board -- none of whom are Republican, surprise, surprise -- and this vote will get them on the record as supporters of this initiative before the mid-term elections. All in all, there are currently around five bills in Congress addressing meaningful campaign finance reform. Of course, with such an amendment, we will also need to go to public funding of all campaigns, with small donations from individual, human donors, bolstered by public matching funds. New York City has used this approach very successfully for years, and it could be a model for the rest of the country.

So it is clear that the People get it, as well as some of our more savvy leaders in DC and nationwide. Now we need the over 750 organizations that have united to form this climate crisis coalition to use the muscle they gain from this monumental event to come together to help rid our nation of the money corrupting our government. The People will make a powerful statement on the streets of New York City on September 21 as we bring world attention to the global climate crisis, but a critical part of the message must be about the special interests, corporations and polluters that made the climate crisis happen in the first place, and the money they have used to bribe our government into letting them get away with it. Getting to this "root of all evil" in politics and eradicating it once and for all should be everyone's mission, and that mission can be achieved here in the US by passing an amendment to our Constitution. If not, the endless crises we face on so many fronts will only continue and escalate. And if our elected members of Congress don't clean up their acts, we have the power to vote them out of their well-paying jobs. After all, we are the boss, aren't we?

- with Jonathan Stone