Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, began his pep talk Friday night by having members of the audience stand and touch each other's shoulders to make a connected force for "good government." It was pretty effective in making the audience relax and get in the mood for a political speech.
Bob Edgar actually believes we can overcome the power of people like the Koch brothers, Sam Walton's heirs, and Wall Street gamblers. After Wisconsin voters chose last week to keep the governor who is working directly against their best interest, I just shook my head in dismay. Actually, I'm still shaking my head over the outcome of that election.
Last weekend, my husband and I attended a wedding in Kansas, his home state and a beautiful place if you like endless horizons. The next day, we visited with his former neighbors and some old friends at one of the three fast food restaurants in town. There used to be two family restaurants, but they went broke. Actually, much of the town is dying as people are losing their jobs and homes. There are almost 100 houses for sale in a town of 3200 population. Never exactly an exciting place, at least not for about 30 years, that little town literally is dying a slow death. And I mean "literally" literally. Most of the deaths are from cancer.
The sad thing is that the farmers know the chemicals they must use to get the yield they need from their crops to make a living are actually poisoning the very land they love. We talked about that a little bit. I don't preach to people who work that hard and look that tired. I know they are conflicted about what they are doing to the land, water and air around them. We talked a little about the runoff and the rivers and streams.
As we drove home the next day, I was incredibly depressed thinking about those people and the cycle of death they are caught up in. I had just read the Huffington Post article about climate change and how scientists are now saying we are at the tipping point. Our lovely planet can't take any more poison. She is dying the same slow death that the Kansas farmers face.
Long before I heard Bob Edgar speak on KWMU and at the Ethical Society this past week, I had decided to hang up my spurs after this November's election. I've been spurring people to help progressive candidates for almost ten years with minimal success. I'm old. I'm tired. This my last election. And I mean it this time.
Then, yesterday, on a beautiful June day, I transported three very large puppies 100 miles to the next transporter in our multi-state dog rescue system and came home feeling really, really good about doing that. As I drove back home from Altamont, IL, I played Peter, Paul and Mary on my CD player and sang "This Land is Your Land, This land is My Land" as loud as I could as I passed miles and miles of corn. I know the farmers who plant those row crops realize what they are doing to our only Mother Earth. They are probably just as conflcted about it as the Kansas farmers. But what can they do? They are helpless, aren't they?
The next song on the CD was "We Shall Overcome." The Peter, Paul and Mary rendition of that old, wonderful tune from the civil rights protests is pitched exactly where my voice sounds really powerful, especially alone in a car driving an endless highway. As I sang the words, I thought about the people who overcame what was thought to be a hopeless situation in their time. I remember the civil rights protests of the 1950's and 60's although I was too young and busy to get involved. Then I thought back to the abolitionists and the women who suffered to get the right to vote. If you don't think they really suffered, get a copy of "Iron Jawed Angels" and watch it. It will change your mind in a hurry. And the labor protesters who were called every name in the book but who finally achieved what we take for granted today.
Then I went back even further in my mind to the European colonists who decided they didn't want to be economic slaves to Britain any more. I can only imagine the arguments among neighbors and probably even families about the choices they had. Our history books make it seem like there was 100% agreement and cooperation among the colonists in the decision to break from England. Not true. They faced the same disagreements we are having today about what the best economic system is and what the role of government should be.
I'm glad it turned out that the revolutionaries won that argument. They convinced the power and glory of the English monarchy to take their oppressive policies elsewhere and leave "the people" to their own devices. Coincidentally, the men chosen to be the leaders during those rebellious years were influenced by the European enlightenment and thought some spark of goodness resided in the souls of all human beings. Based on what some still today call that misguided belief, they set up a governmental system that divided decision making power to make it really hard for a handful of plutocrats to hoard all the wealth. Fast forward to today. We are still fighting that same battle to keep the plutocrats from hoarding all the wealth. No need to repeat the statistics from the last 30 years about median family income and depressed economic opportunities. Anyone who has read this essay to this point knows what I'm talking about.
The fossil fuel companies are not only killing our planet, they are killing our hope for the future by buying elected officials who do their bidding. Drive around any large American city and look up at the shiny glass skyscrapers. Banks. Insurance companies. Stock brokers. Chemical and poison manufacturers. Oil and coal companies. They should be required to paint the skull and crossbones warning on their palaces of greed. So what's an old lady to do? I really want my grandchildren to be able to live in a healthy environment and have the opportunities they deserve to contribute their talents to the greater good. Martin Luther King Jr. said he'd been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land. Truthfully, all I've seen lately is the endless expanse of Kansas and Illinois. If there is a promised land out there in all that corn, it would have to be a field of dreams made up by a movie producer. It certainly isn't there for me to see. Bob Edgar wants us to believe we can combine our talents and resources to fight the corruption in government. He's right that the amount of money in elections is killing our chances for a healthy future. His organization is doing a good job of shining a light on groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the other "free market" extremists. By the way, "smaller government" is code for destruction of everything with the word "public" in it. Don't fall for that charade. They use nice words to hide their selfish intentions. You can watch Bob's presentation here: http://www.mopag.info/
Frankly, I think Missouri is hopeless. We have a governor who jumps for joy at the prospect of an oil pipeline crossing our state. We have the mayor of the largest city taking money from a billiionaire who wants to destroy public pension systems and public education. We have a state legislature run by ALEC functionaries. One of the Republican candidates for Secretary of State is the same Missouri house member who pushes bills making it harder for people to vote. Think about that. The man who wants to control our elections is also the man who wants to make it harder for people to vote. We're becoming Florida and Ohio where elected officials think nothing of rigging elections.
Okay, it's hopeless. What if Mitt Romney and the plutocrats take over the White House? It was bad enough when the oil company executives were invited to the White House to write our environmental policies. Just imagine what will happen to "This land is your land, this land is my land" when there is no more balance of power in government? They have the Supreme Court, the House of "Representatives" (note the cynicism) and they can block anything good that might happen in the Senate because the Democrats are too timid to change the filibuster rule. If the plutocrats are going to run the country and the states, why bother paying for salaries, health care and pensions for elected officials? We can skip the middleman and save a ton of money.
Again, what's an old lady to do? Bob Edgar made us repeat several times "We are the leaders we've been waiting for." I said that over and over with conviction. I sang "We Shall Overcome" with conviction. Now if I could only convince myself I mean it.