by Tim Danahey, Coffee Party USA Director of Public and Member Relations
We have to face the fact that popular activism (as opposed to corporate activism) is at a severe disadvantage because of the extraordinary amount of money available to those promoting corporate interests. The uneven level of resources has been codified by the U.S. Supreme Court, the SEC won't use its power to require corporate political disclosures, and the President and Congress are unwilling to challenge the people and corporations who have money for fear of alienating them.
This is the culmination of the strategy to “de-fund the left” started in the early 1980s by Jack Abramoff and College Republicans and others. They have executed their strategy masterfully and the advocates for issues that favor people are left scrambling for limited resources.
The need for money – essentially, the oxygen to sustain minimal operations for organizations – has led to a de-sensitized reactions from people on the left. It seems as if every newsletter, every email, and every correspondence from every organization includes a plea to “Donate Now”. It has become automatic to ignore the pleas. Our sensibilities have dulled to the point that we don't even support the organizations and issues who stand for us.
Jack Abramoff and the College Republicans and their types who grew up to become Grover Norquist, Scott Walker, and Paul Ryan, have won the war of money. No doubt.
But here we stand. Hundreds and thousands of organizations representing tens of millions of people are left with virtually nothing except the good intentions and uncompensated efforts of the people fighting for economic and social justice.
And this has to stop. The left has to wake up and “stop bringing a knife to a gun fight”. We have to play the economic game and leverage our strengths – our numbers. And it can be done.
The future of activism has to be fought with dollars applied to networks of people. The networks have to develop working relationships with other networks so as to provide coordinated numbers to affect change. The networks are not television-based or even print media-based. While we have net neutrality, our network is based on social media and coordinated memberships.
However, many of you may have caught my qualifier - “While we have net neutrality”. Big money was dealt a setback by the FCC but big money is powerful and it is patient. It has not given up efforts to tilt the internet to “pay to play” within which the de-funded populist movement will be unable to participate. Activists must create a “real” person-to-person network that complements the internet communities we've created.
This means the Boards of Directors and administrators must develop relationships between organizations so multiple communities can be quickly mobilized to promote popular issues. This means national organizations like the Coffee Party USA must develop its network of members and followers into state and local communities. Members and followers who actually meet and discuss issues and activism just like the Founding Fathers did over two hundred years ago in Boston, Philadelphia, and Virginia.
This means the individual must be engaged on several levels if freedom and rights are to be regained from the money who bought them. Here are suggestions how you can be enagaged:
- Join something. Don't just say you like them. Really join a group. Be a dues-paying, card-carrying member. You may not be able to participate in many of the activities but just your membership can be added to others and leveraged by the organization to help create change.
- Financially support media you like. Television news has been free for so long that people think that it's free to produce. The result is that big media is almost 100% supported by corporate advertising. Pharmaceuticals companies are believed to fund 70% of all television news in non-election years. You don't like TV news. Most people have stopped paying for newspapers so use the $15/month you would otherwise pay for a newspaper and use it to support media that gives you information you need.
- Be social. You've joined a group, you're supporting media that gives important news, and now you can meet people in coffee shops, discuss issues, and actually figure out strategies to get involved with local, state, and national issues.
- Have fun being a pain in the backside. Go to a public government meeting with a couple other people. The more you prepare the better but, let's face facts, some of these issues are complex and daunting to first-time activists. So you and the people who go to the government meeting should go with one question. For example, ask Hillary Clinton, “Do you support the TPP?” She's a good politician and she'll avoid a direct answer. Another person in your group should ask, “Really, Hillary, do you support the TPP?” Her evasiveness now becomes the issue and, hopefully, you've brought a camera to record her reaction (take it back to your group for posting). She'll give an answer like, “It's a complex issue that deserves a separate forum.” If you have a third person, ask again. And a fourth person. And a fifth person. It's great sport and we deserve direct answers. It won't happen any other way.
- Follow the money. Local issues such as urban renewal districts, water districts, and tax abatements are saturated with as much money as the national issues like the Keystone Pipeline and the TPP. Local government leaders are not as polished as national politicians and ill-equipped to handle specific questions. You'll get some wonderful deer-in-the-headlights pictures.
- Shop only where you support the shopkeeper. Usually,that means buy local but that's not always possible. Buy food that is proudly labeled for source and content. Buy books from bookstores. Look for product labels for items made in countries who share your values. When you buy local, 45% of your money stays in your community. When you go to a big box retailer, only 18% stays. When you buy on-line from a company that abuses its employees, it's even less.
Friends, it's like the old Janis Joplin/Kris Kristofferson lyrics, “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.” They've taken our money, they've minimalized our jobs, they're chipping at our rights, and they're undermining the foundations of what we believe. Our results will be determined by our actions – not our intents. That is the future of activism.
We need you. We want you. Join today. You'll be glad you did.