The 99 percent protests are telling us that electoral politics are dead. They are telling us a coup is occurring in which deliberative democracy is being replaced by a factional dictatorship of the corporate rich. They are telling us the only honest choice is to take to the streets with signs that complain about the plight of the middle class, call for jobs and object to taxation unfairness. Media commentators are groping for some unifying “vision” that animates the protests. Some say it is the American equivalent of the Arab Spring. Others call it an extension of the American labor movement. Still others claim it is the symptom of a class war.
These attempts miss the mark. The images of citizens protesting across the country trigger a sense of David verses Goliath optimism. They give hope for a balanced empowerment society – a society in which the interests of the people, the government and business are in balance.
Traditionally, American political rhetoric has employed categorical labels such as “special interests,” “tax-and-spend liberals,” “socialist,” “free market capitalism” and has used them freely to describe the conditions, factions and personalities in US politics and society. These labels are inaccurate. They are misapplied. They ignore the dynamic, evolving and interactive character of our constitutional society.
The Constitution of the United States empowers the branches of government to interactively check and balance one another. Implicit in that interactional architecture is the truth that we Americans have always seen our country as a balanced empowerment society. Wealth factions, government and the people have occupied a three-way power relationship since our founding.
When business trusts dominated that relationship at the end of the 19th century, Republican President Teddy Roosevelt checked their power with antitrust legislation and election reforms. When the people were thrown out of work in the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt rebalanced the relationship with spending to revive the broken economy. And when poverty became unacceptable to the American conscience, President Lyndon Johnson created the Office of Economic Opportunity to provide legal services, educational services and community action agencies to empower the poor. Each of those efforts was an attempt to rebalance our three-sided social relationship.
The protests are calling for another nonviolent rebalancing. The 99 percent recognizes that bribery sustains the factional dictatorship of the corporate rich in Congress and state legislatures across the country. The protesters realize the middle class occupies the impotent short end of the current power relationship in American society. They are calling for a new empowerment balance.
How do we strike that new balance? First, we must reframe the hit pieces unleashed with Citizens United corporate funding as the work of the factional dictatorship, and we must use social media and letters to editors to counter their impact. Second, we must expose the candidates pledged to the factional dictatorship and support the candidates opposing those politicians. Third, we must support legal challenges to voter suppression by factional dictators. And finally, we must vote.
If we are successful, we will urge the new Congress to re-regulate Wall Street. We will urge Congress to enact election reforms that eliminate the politics of bribery. We will urge Congress to implement sane, fair and balanced tax policies that reduce the deficit, reward innovation and create jobs. We will restore the American infrastructure and end the imperial wars that consume American lives and resources. When we are successful, we will ensure America's future as a balanced empowerment society.