Democracy now? How?

Originally posted 1/25/2010

Have you ever heard someone say that your dollar vote is worth more than your ballot vote? Never before has this concept been more apropos in the United States. Democracy is now officially (and legally) mired in corporate corruption. This is not to say that U.S. politics were not already vulnerable to the pressure of corporate interests. But now big business can indulge in unlimited and undemocratic debauchery indefinitely.

On Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn a 63-year-old law originally written to prevent corporations and unions from providing unregulated financial campaign support to candidates for presidency and Congress. In other words, corporate spending on political campaigns is now virtually unlimited.

The Supreme Court majority justified its decision by citing a basic principle supported by the First Amendment– that government cannot constitutionally prevent free political speech. This loose interpretation of free speech rights essentially classifies corporations as “individuals,” or as entities that are entitled to the same rights as human beings.

President Obama described the ruling as a “major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

The court’s decision is distressing because as history shows, the more well-funded campaigns are often the most successful at collecting votes. This threatens future rigged elections. It also may influence elected officials to appease the interests of those who financially support their campaign– yielding to the will of special corporate interests, and not necessarily to the collective will of the people.

One of the four dissenters, Justice Paul Stevens, said, “The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor also opposed the decision.

In response to the ruling, the Obama administration has started to organize for a “forceful, bipartisan” reaction. In President Obama’s weekly address, he stated, “We have begun that work, and it will be a priority for us until we repair the damage that has been done.”

But how long will it take to repair the damage? Given how impervious the judicial system is to the average U.S. citizen, how can we realistically affect any sort of change? The answer may lie in our wallets. Although significant law-altering change can only come from higher up on the political pyramid, we as citizens and consumers have purchasing power to vote with the money we spend.

Where we decide to allocate our money, may, in the end, be a more effective way to enact change than waiting for our politicians to do it for us. Time and time again, grassroots movements have found ways to transform ideas into action. The “Buy Local” campaign, for example, is trying to shift consumer habit away from supporting franchises, eating at food chains, and investing in national banks. By supporting our local businesses and banks, our money and our interests can remain in our communities, rather than endowing big businesses with more millions of dollars, and therefore, more political power.

Rather than waiting for the Obama administration to help us out of yet another hole dug by the Bush administration, perhaps we should figure out how to climb out ourselves.


About devon

Devon Fredericksen is a freelance writer who specializes in environmental issues, social justice, and book reviews. Her work has been published in Indian Country Today Media Network, The Sheet, Eastside Magazine, The Planet, The Western Front, and Huxley College's book, Green Fire, a collection of environmental profiles. She holds B.A. degrees in environmental journalism and Spanish from Western Washington University. She currently lives in Bishop, CA.
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