It is difficult to express my dismay at yesterday’s supreme court ruling striking down any limits on corporate campaign financing under the guise of free speech. As the NJ Star Ledger puts it “The conservative majority of the Supreme Court just made a mockery of its claim to judicial restraint, overturning decades of law and legal precedent with a decision that will inevitably corrupt our democracy.” (full article here, I am sure there are others)
We could completely muzzle corporations and not hurt any citizen’s right to free speech one bit – despite all the sloppy thinking and myth to the contrary, corporations are not people. In fact, if you trace the legal precedents of this notion, used to subvert the 14th amendment to serve corporate power, you find a very insubstantial reed – essentially one railroad case containing what many think was a clerical error.
This ruling has transformed the basis of our democratic system from “one person one vote” to “one dollar one vote”; giving corporations, with their unparalleled ability to create large piles of cash, to vacuum dollars out of the economy, the means to completely dominate our political system. Any pretext that citizens have equal footing – or perhaps mattering at all – has been stripped away.
With the integrity of the supreme court completely shot, where can we turn? This ruling, coupled with the inability to put any meaningful health care (not health insurance, but health care) plan in place makes it is clear that the federal government is of no use whatsoever when it comes to supporting the well-being of ordinary people. The only thing that I can think of is that we have to start looking to ourselves, to our communities, for support and sustenance.
In practical terms, what does this mean?
Well, it seems to me that if we are now on the “one dollar one vote” system, we have to stop giving our votes/dollars away to those that are working against our own best interests. We need to keep them for ourselves, for our communities.
So, start thinking about what you buy. Is there a local coffee shop you can go to, rather than Starbucks? Can you get that bread from a bakery from across town, rather than at the national chain store? Can you get that book at the library rather than Barns & Nobel? If you start reading ’em, the library will start buying them (and a library will share ’em with your friends!)
Do you really need that new pair of Gap jeans? Isn’t there a second-hand shop down the street that has something that has a little more personality? Or maybe there is a tailor nearby, in one of those dusty storefronts about to go under, who would be happy sew up your old ones? I’ll bet there is a farmer who would be happy to provide some fresh, real food – one who could use your money to keep the farm going. Take some time, make the connection.
The dollars you spend do not just vanish into the air, they represent your power, put to use by whoever you give them to. Give them to those who share your values.
And, think about where your money is parked. Whether or not you are paying attention to it, it is working on your behalf, either supporting what you care about or working against it. If you are in a 401k, ask about socially responsible option. Get your deposits out of a national bank and into a local institution, preferably some local development credit union. They will make loans to businesses in your community, creating jobs for your neighbors, giving you more local choices. This kind of investing provides returns you can really use – a place worth living in.
Local investing is currently difficult, but we are working on things like local currencies, regional stock exchanges, community funds – the means to facilitate this kind of thing. We need the wind of your demand in our sails to power us as we do.
It is time to start making real choices – not simply pulling a lever for “Red” or “Blue” come election day, debating “Low Fat” or “No Fat” grab-n-go yogurt, Exxon or Shell in your car, Fox or CNN on the TV tonight. In this new era of One Dollar One Vote it is time to start choosing where we place our dollars, thinking with care about each and every one. It is time to start lining up our dollars with our politics – it may be the only real power we have left.
Lets us use it to take care of each other – if we don’t, who will?