Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like

In the past six months, the ideas of Occupy and the 99% have revolutionized the social dialogue of the U.S. in a way that has enthralled, enraged, and emboldened. Massive marches, rallies, and protests have acted as giant mirrors in which we catch a glimpse at just how many of us are completely fed up with the corrupt exploitative politics of ‘business as usual.

Occupy and the 99% has offered a refreshed language and analysis for how we understand power politics. We have focused on creating shared space both on and offline in which we can trace and resist a vast constellation of impacts suffered by the 99% due to corporate greed. While this movement continues to evolve strategy, tactics, consensus practices, and creative outreach, its’ impact is already clear.

Though it many not be possible to all agree on everything all the time, most of us agree that the interests of the 99% are not being effectively represented in Congress, the White House, or in the Supreme Court. This crippling problem is not divided along party lines, either. It is a deeper fissure between a) the entrenched corporate interests who have manipulated the political system for their profit, and b) the rest of us.

When we follow the money on the Congressional campaign trail, it’s easy to see a glaring example of how corporate money is drowning out the needs and interests of the 99%. The largest campaign contributions to Congressional candidates of both parties consistently come from the finance, insurance, and real estate industry (the F.I.R.E. sector, including big banks). Once in office, these bought-and-sold legislators support and approve corporate-drafted policies that whittle away at our country’s safety nets and vital programs and instead fund bailouts that end up in big boss bonuses. What public services do you think of when you justify paying your taxes each year? Which of those services has been slashed lately?


So, is voting for the lesser of two evils really going to fix this problem? I think not. As stated by Occupy activist Max Berger in today’s Huffington Post, “We won’t just win by getting new players — we need to change the game. The system is fundamentally incapable of healing itself.”

Occupy struck a chord perhaps specifically because it identified a more fundamental problem than what can be voted in or out in 4 years, and we should continue this much-needed critique. Many have made the case for Occupy becoming a “left wing tea party” but Occupy doesn’t need to be a left wing Tea Party in order to impact the election. The sheer magnitude of a cultural mic check from the far-ish left has turned heads of both voters and politicians.

Historically, large social movements inevitably enable reform simply by being what they are: a mass movement responding to the injustices of the status quo. But the 99% can’t and won’t stop there.

We need to immediately Occupy Our Elections in order to approach having the real ability to Elect Democracy. We should engage with and impact elections by providing systemic analysis and exposing the impact of corporate campaign contributions, big budget corporate lobbying, and general ALEC-type corruption and collusion. Meanwhile, we can also simultaneously be creating new methods of meeting the needs of the 99% that can help make this broken system obsolete (so plant a garden, start a community health clinic, or meet your neighbors, to start). But let’s check in with the reality that building a new system is um, going to take a while, so in the meantime, register your discontent and go vote about it.

If there was ever a time to flex our power, it’s now. For all the fire and fury, for all the marches and mic checks, we have not yet “won.” Corporations still write policy, bank executives still get bonuses, and the rest of us are still fighting to keep our homes, pay off debt, find a job, get citizenship, make our own choices, and keep our families safe and healthy. Many of us are struggling to stay afloat.

Some of us in the 99% have taken outrage and protest directly to banks and big business and we’ve have had some wins. Corporate campaigning is indeed effective, and we should keep doing what works. Meanwhile, we also must address our deflated government and stop it from enabling ever-worse forms of corporate exploitation to take hold- not only here in the U.S., but abroad.

While we have every right to be disillusioned and skeptical, we have to take responsibility for the fact that the U.S. is driving war and destruction around the world through military romps, oil addiction, and deranged obsession with free trade at all costs. It’s time to show the 1% what democracy really looks like.

How do we create a system where it actually matters who you vote for? 

There is a reason that around the world, people have fought and even died for the right to vote. If voting didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be ongoing U.S. voter suppression issues that continue to this very day. We should trust our great grandmothers that fought so hard for this right, and honor those around the world who are still fighting.

So, let’s go for it. Occupy Our Elections. Let’s mic check media-laden debates with some real talk when talking heads are speaking for corporate funders and not for the 99%. Let’s tell politicians to spend their time in office making good policies, not fundraising for their campaigns! It’s time to go all out to fumigate corruption, pull away the smoke screens of the F.I.R.E. sector, demand accountability, utilize  transparency, and seed new, practical, short and long-term solutions.

We’ll help. Global Exchange is working on creating a toolkit where anyone anywhere can easily look up the Congressional politicians and candidates in their district and also trace their voting records on key issues. We’re researching to create a report on the Foul Five (five candidates who are the poster children for the corruption of corporate campaign contributions) and also profiling the Fair Five who are working on accountability to their constituents by not accepting finance sector contributions. We’ll be bringing the heat to bank-backed candidates on the campaign trail, and we would love for you to join us.

What else do you think we can do to Elect Democracy this year?