We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
— Justice Louis Brandeis
Democracy itself is at risk today, fiercely assaulted by combined forces of money and power. This assault is in my view our single largest challenge – the issue underlying all other issues.
This organized, well-funded assault seeks the destruction of our bedrock democratic foundations: voting rights; fair representation; and the principle of one person, one vote. Voter suppression laws being passed throughout the country violate our voting rights. Politically driven gerrymandering, making a shift from voters choosing winners to winners choosing voters, violates the principle of fair representation. And Citizens United has substituted the formula of one dollar, one vote for the democratic principle of one person, one vote.
A solid drift in the direction of the financial dominance of our politics – aided and abetted, indeed led in some cases, by our own Supreme Court – now threatens to overpower our democracy. In fact, contrary to recent Supreme Court rulings, money is not speech and corporations are not people. The citizens of a democracy have the right to organize around ideas and not just money. Yet, money dangerously controls not only our politics but even our discussion of political issues.
We need a state by state rejection of politicized gerrymandering (California has joined Iowa and Florida in starting this process). We need a Constitutional Amendment to override Citizens United to make way for public financing of our political campaigns, and possibly an Amendment as well to guarantee every citizen the right to vote. In addition, we need to repeal the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that gave permission for media cross-ownership and helped tear down the firewall between journalism and corporate promotion. Once the distribution of our news became controlled by a relatively few corporate entities, our society’s political conversation became narrowed to a dangerous degree. The narrowing of our political options inevitably followed.
These issues are the cornerstones of any serious effort to reclaim our democracy.