How About A Little Action? ~ Dale Steele

Via on Oct 5, 2012

Political action that is.

It appears that the few extremely wealthy of us (one percent or fewer) wield significantly more authority in governmental and institutional affairs than the rest of us (99 percent or more). Our democracy has arguably become a plutocracy. For the power to shift back into our hands, it is up to us, we the people, to take action.  Perhaps you are like me, and would consider contributing a little action if you knew what to do that could have some real traction.

Enter Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor and activist who seems to have an acute awareness of the actual influences of money in government. He offers a tactic, which strikes at the root of the matter. He opens an @Google talk1 with a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root.” Lessig founded, rootstrikers.org, to hack at the root of the corrupting influence of money in politics. Here are some of the points which catalyzed me into action, followed by an invitation to become a rootstriker.

Fundraising time

An estimated 30 to 70 percent of our Congress members’ time goes into fundraising, according to Lessig. This includes Congress members approaching lobbyists’ for dollars.2 We vote our representatives in to work for us and once they are in the status quo is for them to dedicate about a third to two thirds of their time to soliciting funds to bolster their campaign treasuries.

Revolving door

Many of our representatives and their staff use their government positions as a steppingstone to a highly lucrative lobbying career. “43 percent of Congress members that retired to pursue careers in the private sector went into lobbying.”3 Often, while in office, Congress members are propositioned to become lobbyists after their political term.  With the promise of a significant raise in their future job, the Congress member proceeds to advocate legislation in allegiance to their future employer’s agendas.  “When a congressman becomes a lobbyist, he gets a 1,452 percent raise (on average.)”4

Extender mania

Representatives place expiration dates on legislation just so they can amass funds from lobbyists by promising them they will vote to extend the legislation, when the expiration date nears. Some of these policies were initially passed with an expiration date to give it a trial run. A trial run makes sense. It’s a way to see if the policy actually accomplishes what was originally intended. But even after the policy has proved itself worthy of permanency, legislators insist on including an expiration date. This allows them to collect money from lobbying interests each time the policy comes up for extension. 5

These three congressional tendencies, using significant time fundraising, the revolving door and extender mania are what moved me to the point of action.

I Became a Rootstriker

Lessig’s website, rootstrikers.org, offers an opportunity for action which hacks at the root of the corrupting influence of money in government. He offers two pledges. One for you to sign agreeing you’ll support the cause. The second is for representatives and candidates to sign. The latter states that for  “. . . ten (10) years after I leave Congress, one hundred percent of any compensation . . . that I receive for ‘lobbying services’ shall be donated to a non-political charity.” 6

Here’s a two-minute video with Lessig. It serves as an articulate, concise gateway into the cause. Check it out. It’s hot, in a law professor, rootstriker activist sort of way: http://vimeo.com/rootstrikers/anti-corruption-pledge

I watched the video, signed the pledge, and followed the steps to bring the pledge to my representative’s attention.

How about you?

Are you up for a little action?

Dale Steele throws arbitrary labels at unknown and infuses said labels with meaning, extracting self-hood in the process. He’s a habitual arbiter of yuck and yum, occasionally noticing now is already past. Woohoo, its over! And now . . . ?

 

~

Editor: Elysha Anderson

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9 Responses to “How About A Little Action? ~ Dale Steele”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    There are thousands hacking at branches of the problem for one hacking at the root… Great Thoreau quote.

    Clearly, though, Thoreau would classify rootstrikers as branch strikers, cluesless as to where the root of the problem lies.

    Thoreau wrote his classic CIvil Disobedience while sitting in jail for not paying taxes so long as America was fighting a war. Now THAT is hacking at the root. In Civil Disobedience, he explained more about the root of the problem. I give you Henry David Thoreau, from Civil Disobedience:

    On political philosophy…

    I heartily accept the motto, – "That government is best which governs least;" and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.

    On social programs…

    Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way. It [the government] does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished…

    On economic policy…

    Trade and commerce, if they were not made of India-rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in there way.

    Thoreau did not naively believe that we could direct the immense power of government into a good direction through the latest new idea on how to control greed and power-hunger in politics. He knew that the only way was to give greed and power-hunger nothing to play with by keeping government small, tightly chained, and decentralized. I'm pretty sure that this is the exact opposite of the philosophy of our Harvard prof leading rootstrikers.

    • Dale Steele says:

      Thanks for your comment Mark! Wow! You could be right. Lessig and I may be clueless as to where the heart of the problem lies. I can't pretend to know what Thoreau believed or anyone else for that matter. I can only make assumptions from what I read, and those assumptions are tainted by biases I already hold.
      Imagining you and your view on Thoreau's beliefs are right, what can we do to "give greed and power-hunger nothing to play with"? How do you suggest we keep "government small, tightly chained and decentralized"? What actions are you taking? Help us out here. What actions can we take?

  2. Dale Steele says:

    The article includes footnotes. Here are the reference links.

    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik1AK56FtVc (@Google: Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It) 1:30

    2. (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/03/26/149390968/take-the-money-and-run-for-office)

    3. (http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=1999)

    4. http://www.republicreport.org/2012/make-it-rain-r

    5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik1AK56FtVc ((@Google: Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It) 7:27

    6. http://www.rootstrikers.org/the_no_lobbying_pledg

  3. Dale Steele says:

    The rootstriker website offers 3 step instructions to take action. For those of us who benefit from more clarification, here's an expanded version with an explanation.

    Overview
    You'll send rootstrikers your representatives’ Twitter handles, accompanied with a picture of yourself holding the “HEY _______, WILL YOU TAKE THE NO LOBBYING PLEDGE?” flier on which you will have written your representatives’ names. Once received, rootstrikers will Tweet your reps.
    1.If you do not know your congressional district, find it by entering your state and zip code here: https://www.federalreporting.gov
    2.Find your local candidate(s) by entering your state and look to find who represents your district here. http://votesmart.org/election/2012/C/2012-congres
    3.Find their Twitter handle by clicking on the representative. A new page comes up. Scroll down the right “Contact Information” column until you see a twitter handle address. (not all candidates have a twitter handle). Copy it (you’ll paste it later).
    4.Download this flier, and print it.
    5.Write in the candidate's name(s) on the flyer in the blank,
    6.Take a picture of yourself with the flyer displayed and save it to your computer,
    7.Sign the petition in the spaces provided on the website below the instructions,
    8.Paste your candidate's Twitter handle in the "comments" space provided. (If you provide the Twitter handle for more than one candidate, repeat the copy procedure in #3 and paste handles in the "comments" box.
    9.Upload your picture by clicking the browse button and locating the picture you took and saved.

  4. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Ah Dale, now you really have me feeling bad! DId it seem I called you personally clueless? That was certainly neither my intention nor my style. When I typed 'clueless' I was thinking only of an organization, not an actual person. Well, maybe I was also thinking the Harvard prof, but he gets so much respect from his position that I figure a single quiet potshot from the masses won't bother him too much.

    As for your question (What actions can we take in order to give greed and power-hunger nothing to play with?), I am only too happy to oblige you with my take on the problem.

    1. Go to the 'root' of the problem. Radically reduce the power and income of government. As long as it has such tremendous power and money as it has now, those with the resources, staying power, and motivation (ie big business and corrupt politicians) will always and easily find a way around the tiny obstructions that the powerless try to put in the road. I joined Common Cause way back in the early 70s. It grew to be a much bigger organization than Rootstrikers is likely to become. Yet it has accomplished nothing of importance because it did nothing to reduce the power of government. Government power and size, the American war machine, and debt that will destroy future generations continue only to grow while most people with activist inclinations flail pointlessly at the branches.

    2. Vote in November. Don't vote for either Obama or Romney because both of them and their parties, despite large differences in style and occasional differences on relatively minor issues, are almost indistinguishable on the big four problems and will remain so, no matter which party wins. Those big four problems? 1. The American war machine and military-industrial-congressional complex. 2. Millions jailed for victimless crimes. 3. Spending and debt out of control. 4. Government-business collusion. You CAN, however, make a symbolic vote against all four of those things. Vote for Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party, on the ballot in all 50 states. That vote will only be symbolic this time around, but it will symbolize and motivate a strike at the root of the problem – the immense power of the state, a power that can only be dominated and controlled by those who themselves have power and money..

    • Dale Steele says:

      Mark, I see I did take it personally and reacted as such. Thanks for letting me know that was not your intention or style. I'm so glad you responded again.

      Yes, radically reduce the power and income of government. I can agree this is core. And the question still remains, How? What can I do? How effective is the symbolism of voting for Gary Johnson? I'm asking because I do not know and would like to know. It may be more effective than I realize.

      As I see it, putting a legally binding pledge, (if it is actually legally binding) before every congress member, rootstrikers approach, has power. When congress members and those running for congress sign the pledge, great, they may continue to do what they do, but at least there is a beginning of an enforceable accountability in place. When they refuse to sign the pledge, this tells us loud and clear who not to vote for assuming the word can be gotten out sufficiently.

      I wonder if the real core of the issue is the lack of engagement/participation of the electorate, myself included. I'm only beginning to educate myself and this is mostly because I have more time for it now. Perhaps we the people are too comfortable, even in these hard times, to hold our representatives and the businesses we invest in and or buy from, accountable. Or perhaps we are too busy trying to make ends meet and raise families to educate ourselves on what our representatives and the businesses we support are actually doing with the money we give them.

      I wonder if Gene Sharp's work, aeinstein.org, can be systematically applied to generate a grand strategy to address the primary four issues you listed, military-industrial-congressional complex, millions jailed for victimless crimes, government spending and increasing debt, and government-business collusion. I wonder if there are sufficient numbers of us willing to take sufficient action.

      I'm glad you mentioned Common Cause. I've yet to familiarize myself with all their efforts and intend to.
      Thanks again for your comments Mark. They help grow me.

      • Mark Ledbetter says:

        Hey Dale, a lot of thought and effort went into that. I'm not brushing you off. Just a tad busy at the moment. Hope I can get back to this come the weekend.

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