The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “OUR REVOLUTION: A Future To Believe In” by Bernie Sanders from Part Two: “An Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country” from Chapter One: “Defeating Oligarchy” on page 191 and I quote: “UNDERMINING AMERICAN DEMOCRACY – The Republican Party won a landslide victory in the 2014 midterm elections, amidst historically low voter turnout. They gained control of the U.S. Senate, increased their majority in the House, and won gubernatorial and state legislative races all across the country. Despite the fact that every seat in Congress and one-third of the Senate was up for election, an astounding 63 percent of the American people didn’t vote. Even more distressing, 80 percent of young people and the overwhelming majority of low-income Americans didn’t vote. Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since World War II.
Why don’t people vote? Why are they giving up on the political process and our democracy in such large numbers? The answer is not complicated. People no longer believe that government represents their interests. For the vast majority of Americans, there is a huge disconnect between the reality of their lives and what goes on in Washington or in state capitals. They are choosing not to participate in what, for them, is a charade of democracy.
In the real world, the very rich are getting richer and most everyone else is getting poorer. Is Congress listening? Whose interests is Congress representing? Certainly not those of working families struggling to get by.
In the real world, millions of workers are unable to make it on starvation wages and many of them struggle to put food on the table. Many in the middle class are working longer hours for lower wages. Unless we change the trajectory of our economy, the country’s younger generation will be the first in modern history to have a lower standard of living than their parents.
Higher education is the ticket to the middle class, but millions of young people simply can’t afford to go to college, while others are leaving school with suffocating debt.
Many families have two wage earners, yet still struggle to find affordable housing or quality child care. Many older workers have seen their manufacturing jobs go to China or Mexico, and find themselves barely surviving on wages far lower than they previously earned. Many seniors and disabled vets are not making it on their $10,000-a-year Social Security, and 43 million people are living in poverty. And on and on it goes.
And what are the members of Congress doing about these issues? I will tell you what they are doing. They are out spending a ridiculous amount of time raising money for their next campaigns. And then, once elected, they are representing the interests of the people who funded those campaigns.
The corrupting influence of big money in our elections and our politics has always been a huge problem in our country. But, today, as a result of Citizens United, as more and more money floods into the electoral system, that problem has reached new and absurd levels.
Let’s be clear: Money dominates everything that goes on in Congress, Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the coal and oil companies, agribusiness, and the rest of corporate America spend billions every year not just on campaign contributions, but also on lobbying. In Washington, you get what you pay for. The results: The desires of the rich and powerful are well attended to. The pain of working families is ignored.
We will never have a government that represents ordinary Americans until we pass real campaign finance reform and get big money out of politics. What goes on today is an absolute disgrace. That’s not just Bernie Sanders talking. That’s what many members of Congress, Democrat or Republican, will tell you privately.
As more and more cash floods the electoral system, candidates have to spend an enormous amount of time and energy raising money just to keep up. On almost any weekday in Washington, D.C., dozens of candidates have fund-raising breakfasts and dinners. That is time they could be spending doing the people’s work, but instead they spend it fattening their coffers. And on weekends, many candidates attend destination events at fancy resorts across the country. That is time they could be spending meeting with their constituents back home, but instead they spend it rubbing elbows with the elite who fund their campaigns.
And then there is “dialing for dollars,” a totally humiliating experience that often takes place in offices set up by the Democratic and Republican parties and designed for that purpose, with numerous small rooms containing a desk, two chairs, and a telephone. The candidate is given a piece of paper with the names of potential donors, most of whom he/she has never met. To expedite the process, an aide dials the number and keeps notes regarding the progress of each call.
This country and world face enormous crises. And what are many of our elected officials doing? As part of a corrupt campaign finance system, they are spending an enormous amount of time and energy raising money for their campaigns. Day after day, week after week, month after month.
Today the maximum individual contribution a donor can make to a single candidate is $2,700 during the party primary election, and an additional $2,700 for the general election. Of course, wealthy families can double the amount given to a candidate if each spouse makes the maximum contribution. And then, they can give much larger sums to the political parties, some of which goes to, or is spent on behalf of, their candidates of choice. When all 435 seats in the House and 33 or 34 seats in the Senate are up for election every two years, the total amount a single wealthy family can legally give is truly astounding. And the huge amounts of money these people donate give them disproportionate influence in the political system. It goes against the very ideas of equal voice and one person, one vote.
ENDING VOTER SUPPRESSION – The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United went a long way toward undermining American democracy, but it’s not the only effort that the oligarchs and their political allies are waging in that effort. In 2013, in another disastrous but less-known Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, the Court gutted key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That landmark 1965 legislation required states and local governments that have demonstrated a pattern of discrimination to clear with the federal government any proposed changes to their voting laws.
Of course, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act law in the first place because many states had implemented laws to keep people–mostly black and poor people–from voting. But, incredibly, the Court found, in a 5-4 decision, that discrimination against voters was no longer a problem, and so the federal government no longer had to protect American citizens and their right to vote.
Literally, within days after that decision was rendered, Republican officials around the country moved aggressively to pass laws designed to make it harder for people to vote–African-Americans, Latinos, poor people, young people, senior citizens: people who would, in large numbers, likely be voting against them. A favorite approach taken by many states is–under the guise of protecting against “voter fraud” that study after study has shown to be virtually nonexistent–to pass legislation requiring all voters to have government-issued photo-identification cards. The patterns are unmistakable. There is a concerned effort to prevent people of color and poor people from voting. Eleven percent of eligible voters do not have a qualifying photo ID, and these voters are disproportionately black, Latino, and poor.
A recent academic paper analyzing the 2014 elections found that “a strict ID law could be expected to depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, Black turnout by 8.6 points, and Asian American turnout 12.5 points.” After analyzing the data, the scholars found that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place,” compared with just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans.
At a time when we should be making it easier for people to vote, Republican governors and legislatures acted quickly to do the exact opposite. They restricted early voting, eliminated same-day registration, and aggressively purged voter rolls. Not only did Alabama require photo-identification cards, it closed offices in black communities where people could obtain the cards. The Brennan Center for Justice found that in 2016, fifteen states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. In a close election, these new laws aimed at further depressing already historically low voter participation could easily sway the outcome of the election. To impact the outcome of an election by making it harder to vote is beyond cynical. It should be illegal.
Further, in many parts of the country, it is more difficult for people in minority communities to cast a ballot on Election Day. In 2012, African-Americans waited twice as long on average to vote as whites. Some voters in minority precincts waited upward of six or seven hours to cast a ballot. How many people who had every intention of participating in our democracy that day simply left, disillusioned, because we made it too difficult for them to vote for the candidate of their choice?
What we are seeing today is, to use Yogi Berra’s famous phrase, “Deja vu all over again.” As a nation, we have seen this before. The approach now may take a somewhat different form, but the goal is exactly the same as it was before the Voting Rights Act. Political cowards are doing everything they can to keep people from voting. They are making it harder for people to register and to participate in the political process.
This curtailing of our electoral democracy should offend the conscience of every American. The fight for minority rights is a fight for justice. It is inseparable from the struggle for democracy itself.
What should we do? We cannot afford to have our democracy curtailed because of court decisions, partisan discrimination, and blatant gerrymandering.
We can start by demanding that Congress restore the “preclearance” requirement under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, to again protect minority voters from being disenfranchised and discriminated against in states and counties that have a pattern of doing just that. And we must insist that the Voting Rights Act be expanded in scope so that no American, regardless of skin color or national origin or age, is prevented from voting freely, without hindrance from local authorities.
We need to encourage voter registration, not make it a burden for voters. We should join other countries in making certain that every person is automatically registered to vote when he/she turns eighteen. Every person who moves to a new state should be automatically registered to vote as soon as he/she has a new postal address. The burden of registering voters should be on the state, not the individual voter.
We must put an end to discriminatory practices that disproportionately purge minority and poor voters from voting rolls. We must stop those who pare down voter rolls with the goal of making sure that fewer–not more–Americans vote.
We should make Election Day a federal holiday, or spread Election Day over a two-day weekend, to increase voters’ ability to participate. Too many people don’t vote because they simply don’t have the time on the appointed day–and yes, some forget. Neither situation should disqualify them from casting a ballot. And no matter how we structure election days, some people will still not be able to vote on those days because they are out of town, working, sick, or for any number of other reasons. That is why we must make early voting an option for all voters who need the flexibility. And we must make absentee ballots an option for all Americans who request them–with no tests or conditions that unnecessarily hinder voters from requesting and receiving those ballots.
We must restore voting rights to people who have had them taken away. Today a largely unseen tragedy is taking place throughout the country as a result of our broken criminal justice system, and it is having a profoundly negative impact upon our democracy. Many states take away the right to vote from convicted felons, and do not restore that right even after these people have “paid their debt to society.”
This makes no sense whatsoever. We supposedly want those being released from jail to become productive members of society, but we deny them the right to participate in democracy? An estimated 13 percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote due to felony convictions. That is unacceptable. We need to re-enfranchise the more than 2 million African-Americans who have had their right to vote taken away. They are no longer in prison, and deserve to have their rights fully restored.
Moreover, it is incumbent on Congress, on state governments, and on local governments to make sure that there are sufficient polling places and poll workers to prevent long lines from forming at the polls. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars to defend this nation. We can and should spend the money necessary to defend democracy by making sure polling places are adequately staffed, that voting machines function well, and that however voting is tabulated, there are paper ballots that can be counted and audited in cases where the voting is close or contested.”
(THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE INSIDE FRONT JACKET COVER AND IQUOTE:
“When Bernie Sanders began his race for the presidency, it was considered by the political establishment and the media to be a “fringe” campaign, something not to be taken seriously. After all, he was just an Independent senator from a small state with little name recognition. His campaign had no money, no political organization, and it was taking on the entire Democratic Party establishment.
By the time Sanders’ campaign came to a close, however, it was clear that the pundits had gotten it wrong. Bernie had run one of the most consequential campaigns in the modern history of the country. He had received more than 13 million votes in primaries and caucuses throughout the country, won twenty-two states, and more than 1.4 million people attended his public meetings. Most important, he showed that the American people were prepared to take on the greed and irresponsibility of corporate America and the 1 percent.”
MY COMMENTS: THE POWER OF MONEY HAS TO BE CHALLENGED SINCE CITIZENS UNITED IS VIRTUALLY RUNNING THE SUPREME COURT. THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN GET AROUND THE SUPREME COURT IS TO SUPPORT VARIOUS GROUPS WITH ONE BEING UNITED TO AMEND THAT WANTS A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO OVERTURN CITIZENS UNITED TO GET BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF Veteran