Every American citizen is affected when health insurance companies, reaping more than 14 billion dollars in annual profit, for all intents and purposes prohibit the consideration of universal health care in congressional committee; when oil companies, reaping more than 88 billion dollars in annual profit, limit our problem-solving options in the face of global warming; when gun manufacturers, reaping an annual profit of 1 billion dollars, fight fiercely even the most moderate proposals for gun safety; and when defense contractors, often against the counsel of our own military leaders and reaping an annual profit of more than 14 billion dollars, promote the increasingly obsolete contention that an outsize defense budget is in direct relationship to the degree of our safety.
Meanwhile, those without financial leverage see their political influence continue to wane. America’s children, for instance, who obviously wield no financial leverage whatsoever, are increasingly at the effect of the unsustainable and perniciously unjust influence gap in Washington DC. America’s child poverty rate — at 23.1 percent — is so high that it is second only to Romania among 35 industrialized nations. One in four American children are “food insecure.” We lack air quality safety standards in our public schools. A “cradle-to-prison pipeline” now makes the lifetime likelihood of incarceration for an African-American male 1 in 3, a Latino male 1 in 6, and a white male 1 in 17. Indeed, our private prison industry, reaping annual profits of more than three billion dollars, gains economic benefit from the scandalously high incarceration rate in the United States. With 2.4 million of our citizens now imprisoned – compared to 300,000 in the 1970’s – we now have the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world, or even in history. We incarcerate more African American men today than were slaves in 1850. The amount of unnecessary suffering that lies behind these statistics – the sheer despair of so many Americans now burdened by our imbalanced scales of social justice, is a wake-up call to the conscious heart. For no one is more of a “citizen” in the United States than is anyone else, and large groups of desperate citizens should be everyone’s concern…if for no other reason than that desperate people do desperate things.
All of the issues mentioned above – plus, as well, the difficulty faced by far too many young Americans trying to get a higher education; an opportunity gap that begins the first day of kindergarten, as the economically advantaged among us send our children to nursery school and the rest of America’s public school children lack educational stimulation until age five; a lack of paid maternity and paternity leave that in other countries has proven to reap social benefits for decades; and an issue that truly does affect us all: the corruption of America’s food supply and its infiltration by genetically modified foods — time and time again the average American is left to accept the diminishing returns of a rampantly unjust economic system.
To many Americans, this information is not new. What is new, perhaps – or maybe I’m just dreaming — is how many of us understand that if any of this is going to change, really change, then it won’t be because our current crop of leaders change it. For how can a system that derives its survival from money be the system that cuts off the money supply? If the buying and selling of the American government is ever going to change, it won’t be because the political status quo voluntary changes it. It will be because we, the people of the United States, having realized how dire the situation has become, create a new, nonviolent political movement out of which emerges political candidacies that make the public financing of all federal campaigns, plus a Constitutional Amendment overriding the effects of Citizens United and prohibiting the undue influence of moneyed interests on our politics, the cornerstone of those campaigns.
America has basically two choices at this point: to do the above, or to continue to water the leaves of a dying plant. If our wish is to water the roots of the plant – and there is still time to save it, for every two years half of the Congress of the United States comes up for election – then we had best get moving. Candidates who will run such campaigns as I’ve described will certainly not be the best funded, at least initially. But there are enough organizations to train candidates and elucidate the issues I’ve mentioned, that though the hour is late, Americans may still yet rise up and do the right thing — the “right thing” being something “Americans can always be counted on to do,” according to Winston Churchill, “after they have first exhausted all other possibilities.” This time, it’s not so much that all our options are exhausted, as that we ourselves are exhausted…not so much by effort as by lack of effort. Internally, it is our failure to engage that exhausts our souls. For we are currently abiding the incremental dismantling of American democracy, and surely somewhere inside ourselves we are sick at the realization. We need more than the audacity of hope this time. We need the audacity of courage. We need the audacity to wield power. We need the audacity to act.