Reclaim the American Dream

Another Blog Post By

Hedrick Smith

The People vs The Politicians

Washington – What gets lost in the partisan passions in the homestretch of American elections is that political reforms to make our democracy fairer and more open are also on the ballot, thanks mostly to grass roots activists sick of the hyper-partisan warfare in Washington and tired of We the People being shut out of power.

In Michigan this year, a grass roots movement spread like wildfire from a single Facebook post by Katie Fahey a 28-year-old grad student, who was fed up with rigged elections. In 2011, Michigan’s Republican-led legislature drew district maps that enabled Republicans running for Congress to get almost two-thirds of the state’s seats while winning less than half of the statewide popular vote. Fahey sparked a petition drive that put gerrymander reform on the ballot next month. Ohio voters have already passed gerrymander reform this year and local reform movements have put the issue before voters in Colorado, Missouri and Utah next month.

In Baltimore and Denver, regional reformers have won the right for voters to decide on significant public funding of political campaigns to offset the influence of Mega-Donors, whether corporations, unions or billionaires. Late May, in Montgomery County, Md, a region with more population than six states, launched a new program of public funding which enabled a publicly funded candidate beat a wealthy businessman in a race for the county’s top political job.

In Florida, a ballot initiative vigorously backed by the national group, Public Citizen, will let voters decide whether to restore the voting rights of 1.5 million former felons who have served their time. In Massachusetts, another measure promoted by the civic action group American Promise would put bite behind the state’s call for a constitutional amendment to roll back the Citizens United decision and restore the power of Congress to regulate campaign finances.

Rebellion at the Grass Roots

For every flaw in our politics – dark money, vote suppression, gerrymandering, Citizens United, Mega-Donors, hyper-partisanship – grassroots reformers are putting solutions to work at the state level. This is not a story of left vs right, Republicans vs Democrats. It’s often a story of the People vs the Politicians, of We the People rising up against fat cats and entrenched power brokers in order to take back our democracy.

It’s a great story, but it gets only skimpy media coverage. For us, it’s Topic #1. So please take a look at our six-state sequence of video stories of grassroots heroes in action, combating billionaire and corporate money, empowering small donors, fighting for voters rights, mobilizing to make our democracy fairer, more transparent and more inclusive. We’ve got lots more to share with you on this website, issue by issue, state by state. First, the videos:

Who Gets to Vote

The battle over who gets to vote has sharpened in recent years, with some states making it easier with same-day and motor-vcter registration, and other states making it harder with strict photo voter ID laws that are tough on minorities, students and older people.
North Carolina is a major battleground. After the GOP-led legislature enacted a tight law, the Moral Monday movement led by Rev.William Barber went to war in court and on the streets. A federal court struck down the photo ID as unconstitutional, opening up the vote. But Republican lawmakers are trying to bring back restorations through a constitutional referendum.

Dakota Populists Battle Power Brokers

Populist rebellion has deep roots in the Dakotas. In 1898, South Dakota became first state to grant voters the power to pass laws through popular ballot initiatives. Now 26 states have that option.
In 2016, TakeItBack.org, a grass roots movement, challenged the political establishment with three ballot reforms. To everyone’s surprise, voters adopted public funding of campaigns. Republican political leaders were shocked. They declared an emergency and nullified them popular vote. That set off a new confrontation in 2018.

Outing Secret Donors

The covert power of dark money has becomer the hallmark of American politics since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision in 2010. The super-rich and corporations buy back-door influence using political nonprofits with innocuous names that mask who’s pulling the strings.
But in 2012, California’s election watchdog agency went after one of the biggest, boldest dark money networks, run by the Koch Brothers, and wound up exposing some of the California elite – Max Fisher, CEO of the Gap; Mega-Investor Charlie Schwab, and LA philanthropist Eli Broad. Then California beefed up its financial disclosure rules and now runs a web list of each campaign’s top ten donors.

Victory at the Grass Roots

“Citizens United” touched off a mass revolt. When people saw billionaire and corporate money flooding campaigns and sSuperPAC spending skyrocketing, they rebelled. More than 700 local governments and 19 states called for a US constitutional amendment to roll back the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision.
In state after state, political amateurs like Cindy Black mobilized. “We do not believe that corporations are people,:” Black declared. “We do not believe money is speech.” Black led the citizen movement in Washington State that was a model of grass roots democracy in action. It rolled up a solid 63% cross-partisan majority vote to reject “Citizens United.”

The Way To Beat Big Money

With political scandals grabbing headlines, a grass roots coalition of citizen reformers in Connecticut put the heat on the governor and legislature to adopt public funding of campaigns.

That changed Connecticut’s political landscape..
In a decade, Connecticut has become a model for the U.S. It has imposed a tight lid of $100 on campaign contributions forcing MegaDonors to the sidelines, generating more voice for little people, less clout for special interests. And it has changed the policy agenda, enabling the legislature to pass stiff gun control, paid family leave, and other social legislation.The whole political ballgame has changed.

How to Unrig Elections

Rigging elections is an old game. Voters are finally waking up to how politicians stack the deck by manipulating election district maps. Now, We the People demand reform. Eleven states, including Ohio this year, have moved to a more n neutral system by turning over the job of drawing election,aps to bipartisan commissions or nonpartisan staff or experts.
What Florida did in 2010 was bolder.

Fair Districts Florida proposed a plan to make it unconstitutional for politicians to gerrymander election maps with “the the intent to favor” one party over the other or to protect incumbents. It won a surprising 62.9% super-majority of Florida voters in 2010. And when the legislature defied the voters and cheated, reformers took lawmakers to court and won a thundering decision from the Florida Supreme Court. Eight congressional districts and all 40 state senate districts had to be redrawn. That reform is already changing the political landscape of the state, providing voters with many more competitive districts – and new faces in Congress and the legislature.
“The message,” Says Ellen Freidin, the main architect of the Florida reform: “is that our political system in this country can be fixed. And my answer to somebody who would complain would be: ‘Get Out There and Fix It!'” And her ally, Latino organizer Wore Mursuli, adds: “If we can do it in Florida, you can do it in your own state.”

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