Many of you know that I have been organizing for the last year for social justice and labor issues. One of the great things about being a community organizer is that I get to visit with a vast cross-section of the 99%. I have crisscrossed the state of Ohio, from Zanesville to Tipp City, Galion to Athens, Chillicothe to Beaver Creek, Pataskala to Marysville. Common themes seem to pop up everywhere I go. The first thing that I ask a new person (8000+ and counting) is what the most important issue is for his or her family. The overwhelming number one answer is jobs and the economy. Even people who have a great job and folks who are retired with a pension realize that we need to get people back to work. And by getting back to work I mean jobs that pay a living wage with justice and benefits. This is where our politicians are letting us down.
The other thing that I was hearing all throughout the summer was the constant fear (or hope?) that it was going to take a revolution or a civil war to make things right. Class warfare or rich versus poor usually came shortly thereafter. All these people, whether they were truck drivers or teachers, unemployed or self-employed, students or retirees came upon this idea organically. I didn’t need to prompt them at all. The best story that I have from this period was back in April, when McDonald’s pulled off their hire-50000-people-in-a-day publicity stunt. (While I approve of the gesture of getting people back to work, is this really the kind of jobs we need?).
Young Man: I went down to McDonald’s today to get me a job.
Brother Terry: Really? How was it?
Young Man: There was a lot of $%#@ing people down there.
Brother Terry: I imagine so. A lot of people are out of work.
Young Man: You want to know the $%#@ed up thing about it?
Brother Terry: What was that?
Young Man: I had to compete with dudes your age.
Now I’m no spring chicken. The fact that people my age were descending on McDonald’s that day to find work is a telling portrayal of the economics of 2011. Not only do we have a national unemployment rate of nine percent, but that doesn’t even begin to calculate the number of underemployed people in this country. College students are graduating into a workforce with crushing debt and no hopes of finding a job in their field. I have no problem drawing a straight line from college loans to the foreclosure crisis. These students were sold a bill of goods by corporate colleges, all lot of which are run by the state (Ohio State, anyone?), and a banking system that gave out loans willy-nilly to folks with little hope of paying them back. If life was a playing field these graduates and their counterpart would-be homeowners are trying to run uphill at a forty-five degree grade. The game is not insurmountable, but it is skewed heavily towards those holding the purse strings.
And yet, the cry from the 53% is “Get a job, hippies!” Makes me wonder if we are living in different dimensions.
I can hear you now. “Gee Brother Terry, you’re always complaining about the system. Quit bitching and give us the solution.” That makes me smile because that’s exactly what I say to other people on a daily basis. So I’ll start first by telling what isn’t the solution. Politics is not the solution, at least not the political system that we have in place right now. Most of the politicians that we have “representing” us these days are for the most part the privileged class. Most are millionaires or will become millionaires once they get out of office. The system has made it so by ratcheting up the amount of money that it takes to run a campaign and the amount of money available from “corporate citizens.” These politicians have a vested interest in protecting the lifestyle that they have come to expect as a former captain of industry, lawyer, banker or professional politician on the take. I paint this picture with very broad strokes, but for the large percentage of the ones on the national or state level it is the truth. They are not doing the people’s business (the people defined as you an me).
You’re probably still thinking, “I’m still not seeing a solution, Brother T.” Okay, you’ve worn me down. I guess I’m going to have to give up the goods. The solution is a good old-fashioned uprising. You’re seeing it on the streets of our large cities. You saw it last summer in Wisconsin and last week in Ohio. The people are rising up and organizing. They’re even organized in the disorganization. That’s the beauty of it. When a diverse group of people get together, the ideas start to flow and common values sprout and blossom. Here in Ohio we gathered 1.3 million (12% of the population of the state) signatures in 75 days for a ballot referendum to save public workers collective bargaining rights in the state. Even if you were on the losing side of that issue, you have to admit that it is an impressive display of organizing. In Wisconsin they organized to recall six members of the state senate who sponsored a similar measure. Two of the senators were actually recalled. And now they plan the same for their government.
So I submit to you that one of two things needs to happen to break the gridlock. The first option is to force a Constitutional Congress. This would effectively reboot the system. It has the potential to reverse two of the big (and often opposing ) sacred cows, reproductive rights and the right to bear arms to name a pair. Any and all of the 28 amendments would be up for grabs. In order to make this happen two-thirds of the state legislatures would have to ask for it (not very likely). Which leads us to my second and more viable option. Bring back electoral fusion voting in all fifty states. “What’s fusion voting Brother T?”
I’m glad you asked! Fusion voting is allows for multiple political parties to nominate the same candidate. By doing so, the voter is given the option of voting for “Fred Holtsberry – Republican” or “Fred Holtsberry – Libertarian.” The voter would choose the party that they wanted to support while still registering a vote for Fred. The net result is the legitimization of the smaller parties through the accumulation of votes. If the Libertarians were to cross a certain threshold of votes, they gain automatic access to the ballot for the next four years. With automatic access, they can then run candidates of their own in a wider range of races. This is currently being done to great effect by the Working Families Party in New York State and the Independent Party in Oregon.
Electoral fusion voting was once widespread throughout the United States. As the two main parties started to consolidate their power, they began systematically wiping it off the books. With this prohibition, most third parties faded into the background. It is now practiced in only eight states; NY, CT, DE, ID, MS, SC, VT and OR. If it were again legalized in all 50 states, I submit that it would lead to a breakup of the two-party system that is causing our gridlock in this country.
“That’s all well and good, Brother Terry, but the politicians are not going to allow a dilution of power in the Republican and Democratic parties.” Correct. That is why the title of this chapter is POLITICIANS ARE NOT THE ANSWER. Politicians stopped doing the people’s business a long time ago. Fortunately there are less than 600 of them at the national level. There are 330 million of us. I submit that the time has come for a political uprising. People’s initiatives could put Electoral Fusion voting back on the national map by 2013 and in theory put a legitimate third-party Presidential candidate on the ballot by 2016. This is a course correction that our country desperately needs.
“So what do you need from me, Brother T?” Well, the best thing to do is to find out what the petition threshold for an initiative in your state is and then do the math on how many volunteers it would take to make it happen. Here in Ohio there is an active effort to collect 394,000 to make this a right to work (for less) state. That would appear to be the current threshold for my state. Every state is different. It’s not the number that matters, but the motivation behind it. There has never been a better time. One has only to look at the Occupy Wall Street movement, the approval ratings for our House, Senate and President, and the massive amount of people being foreclosed on and marginalized economically. People are ready for a change. Any Change.
Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fun ride. Politicians are not the answer. People are.