Primary Season 2015: A Call to Action

With big money shaping our choice of candidate, Hillary Clinton’s coronation as the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate is the measure of her likelihood of defending the interests of the corporatocracy. Now is the time to hold her accountable and shape the terms of debate via grassroots activism.

As readers are likely aware, Hillary Clinton recently announced her presidential candidacy. This may just reflect the viewpoint of a writer who operates in an activist echo chamber, but chances are that for most people reading, of interest was not the candidacy itself, but the fact that this announcement was treated as a somehow surprising or notable development. Hasn’t #ReadyforHillary been a thing for years now? As Joseph Mulkerin notes in his recent op-ed, MSNBC started referring to her as the “presumptive nominee” as early as 2013.

But whose presumption is that? As this nation enters the primary season, the most damaging thing its citizens can do to guarantee another Obama-like disappointment is let Hillary off the hook with an automatic coronation.

Why “off the hook?” To explain, it will help to start with a quote from the abolitionist crusader Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” This means that we can’t trust the “decent individuals” who occupy the seats of power to behave in ways that are just and compassionate, that are beneficial to the vast majority of people in our society, just because they’re likable people. That’s because these individuals are not really the ones with the power. So you’re ready for Hillary, are you? Are you ready for a President who, as Mulkerin concisely describes, has been a tireless advocate not for the dignity and the rights of working people, but rather for the expansion of fracking and US military power around the world. Are you ready for a president who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street, voted for the Patriot Act and the Iraq war, and supports the Obama administration’s draconian policies toward whistleblowers like Edward Snowden? Clinton, like the vast majority of political figures in our nation’s history, has been consistently servile to corporate interests.

What is the counterpart to corporate power? What is the means by which these “demands” are made, real demands with teeth, to which Power will make real concessions? Grassroots organization. People coming together to demand justice. Every scrap of humanity and justice that exists in our society, that the fortunate among us take for granted, exists because people came together and demanded them as concessions from those in power. A recent example happened just this year when, after millions of people deluged their offices with public comments, the FCC finally took a strong position on net neutrality.

Yet with the increasing corruption of our political system, especially in the wake of Citizen’s United and other recent Supreme Court decisions, the power of money has reached new heights. As one indicator, politicians now spend 30-70% of their time on fundraising (as evidenced e.g. by this graphic from a powerpoint used to instruct new Democratic members of congress). Months ago, the Koch brothers, whose Koch Industries is the “biggest company you’ve never heard of” and is a massive perpetrator of climate-destroying carbon extraction and people-destroying pollution (documented heartbreakingly in Robert Greenwald’s Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014), pledged to spend $889 million in the upcoming election, equal to the amount pledged by either major political party. According to OpenSecrets.Org, Corporations ranging from Walmart, to Citigroup, to Exxon Mobil, and groups representing the pharmaceutical, telecom, and other industries have given millions to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which leads efforts to gerrymander legislative districts in order to split up and marginalize minority voters.

So those who comprise this nation’s ruling corporatocracy: the Kochs, the Citigroups, and the Exxons, have done a great deal of work towards consolidating their power of late. Lawrence Lessig does a great job articulating how this plays out in our election cycle. We have a nominal choice between the candidates of the two major parties – but to be considered a “serious” candidate, a would-be contender must first make it through a “money primary,” pledging allegiance to a corporate elite in exchange for the campaign contributions that have become indispensable for political survival in today’s “pay-to-play” electoral system. Honestly, how seriously can one take the idea that Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush are the two people most qualified to run this country of over 300 million? We are served the slate of “serious candidates” who have survived the filtering process, that have made it through the “money primary,” and that are thus considered safe for the business interests of this Corporatocracy.

The question we have to ask ourselves, then, is whether we want to let them set the terms of debate this election cycle. The measure of Clinton’s status as the “anointed” Democratic candidate is the measure of how well she is expected to conform to the agenda of the corporatocracy. Her recent statement in support of overturning Citizens United represents merely a concession to a viewpoint that has become politically expedient due only to unrelenting pressure from grassroots activists. Regardless of whether you would choose her over Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush in 2016, now is the time for the people to keep working to set the terms of the debate.

By supporting candidates for the Democratic Primary who actually reflect your values, who are less beholden to the industries that have polluted our democracy with money; by organizing and taking action to make clear where the people stand on issues like keeping our water clean, stopping climate change, reversing the slide toward a state of endless war, ensuring a living wage and a good education for everyone, and reforming our political system once and for all to reverse the consolidation of power by big money, we the people must act as a counterweight to the immense and increasing power of the corporatocracy. The answer to our society’s many problems will never be found in an individual, but in our strength as people fighting for the values we want our society to espouse. That’s why, regardless of whether Hillary does ultimately become the 2016 candidate, we need in the meantime to make our voice heard and call her out for the many ways in which, throughout her career, she has worked contrary to the interests of the people and the planet. We need to rally behind alternative candidates who have demonstrated a consistent ability to resist the pressures of big money and advocate for our interests. It is only via this kind of grassroots pressure that we empower and fortify our leaders to represent our interests in the halls of power.