Bill Moyers: Howard Zinn Taught Us That It's OK If We Face Mission Impossible
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I don't get it.
You be the judge (Because if you don't, Justice Thomas will.) Time to close the circle: Everyone knows millions of Americans are in trouble. As Robert Reich recently summed it the state of working people: They've lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings. Their grown children have moved back in with them. Their state and local taxes are rising. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.
Why isn't government working for them? Because it's been bought off. It's as simple as that. And until we get clean money we're not going to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the plutocracy.
Obviously Howard Zinn would not have us leave it there. Defeat was never his counsel. Look at this headline above one of his essays published posthumously this fall by the Progressive magazine: DON'T DESPAIR ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT. The Court was lost long ago, he said - don't go there looking for justice. "The Constitution gave no rights to working people; no right to work less than l2 hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance….Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel and violate the law in order to uphold justice."
So what are we to do about Big Money in politics buying off democracy? I can almost hear him throwing that question back at us: "What are we to do? ORGANIZE! Yes, organize-and don't count the costs." Some people already are. They're mobilizing. There's a rumbling in the land. All across the spectrum people oppose the escalating power of money in politics. Fed-up Democrats. Disillusioned Republicans. Independents. Greens. Even Tea Partiers, once they wake up to realize they have been sucker-punched by their bankrollers who have no intention of sharing the wealth.
Veteran public interest groups like Common Cause and Public Citizen are aroused. There are the rising voices, from web-based initiatives such as "freespeechforpeople.org" to grassroots initiatives such as "Democracy Matters" on campuses across the country, including a chapter here at Boston University. "Moveon.org" is looking for a million people to fight back in a many-pronged strategy to counter the Supreme Court decision.
What's promising in all this is that in taking on Big Money we're talking about something more than a single issue. We're talking about a broad-based coalition to restore American democracy - one that is trying to be smart about the nuts-and-bolts of building a coalition, remembering that it has a lot to do with human nature. Some will want to march. Some will want to petition. Some will want to engage through the web. Some will want to go door-to-door: many gifts, but the same spirit. A fighting spirit. As Howard Zinn would tell us: No fight, no fun, no results.
But here's the key: If you're fighting for a living wage, or peace, or immigration reform, or gender equality, or the environment, or a safe neighborhood, you are, of necessity, strongly opposed to a handful of moneyed-interests controlling how decisions get made and policy set. Because most Americans are attuned to principle of fair play, of not favoring Big Money at the expense of the little guy - at the expense of the country they love. The legendary community organizer Ernesto Cortes talks about the "power to preserve what we value." That's what we want for Americans - the power to preserve what we value, both for ourselves and on behalf of our democracy.