14. Organize Congressional Watchdog Groups
About 1500 corporations – ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, General Electric, and the rest – are able to get Congress to do their bidding.
But only we have the votes that send these 535 men and women to Congress.But too often too many of us don’t vote or vote for the same party no matter the current conditions or are too disengaged to make a meaningful choice.
So if we hold the reins, then, why is it that the corporations control the horses? Because they know what the horses like to eat. Because they are there day after day, plying the corridors of Capitol Hill. Because they fund, socialize, play, drink, and vacation with these lawmakers. Because they have nice, cushy, high-paying jobs waiting for these legislators (as well as their assistants and their relatives) when they retire from their seats. Because they can apply a lot of pressure when these carrots don’t work. Because if a legislator doesn’t serve their interests, they can run someone more accommodating against him or her. Because they can make these legislators look bad – or undeservedly good – through deceptive advertisements and other seedy slanders or puffery.
Still, they don’t have a single vote. And you do.
Only We the People have the vote.
And both major political parties (though GOP far more than Dem) are good at exploiting the disengagement or otherwise twisting the vote. I’ve documented many through the years. These tactics include gerrymandering, strict voter ID laws, and laws that obstruct smaller parties from getting on the ballot.
Safe seats mean lawmakers pay less attention to voters. That makes the voters cynical and tends to make them withdraw from the process – why bother? Which is exactly what the corporations want.
But that cynicism is sparking a renewed discussion of fairness (the book was published in 2012 when the Occupy movement was in the news, though examples from this year abound). And that is prompting a resurgence.
One way that resurgence can channel its efforts is through Congressional WatchDog groups. A CWD would form in a congressional district with a thousand people signing a pledge to work for the people’s agenda (all those policies that are favored by 65% of the voters, but which Washington is working hard to ignore). These thousand would also raise or donate $200 and volunteer 200 hours a year. The money would be used to set up an office and pay for full-time advocates, whose main jobs would be to (1) lobby Congress, (2) coordinate with CWDs in other districts, and (3) make sure the citizens know what the advocates are doing and how to help. The volunteer time would be to be that help and to recruit more members. Most citizen efforts are amateurish. We need professionals, but ones responsible to us, not corporations.
Lawmakers and their corporate masters are good at the long game, good at sensing their opponents show signs of flagging interest. An important part of the work of a CWD lobbyist is to stress this is for the duration. Once the advocates begin to show their representatives are listening, more citizens will join the process. The agenda of a CWD needs to be concrete and specific to withstand corporate backlash.
In a presumed democratic republic like the United States, the ultimate governmental power is supposed to reside in the people. In the interest of practicality and expertise, the people delegate much of the daily exercise of this power to elected legislatures, which on the national level means Congress. But this delegation of authority shouldn’t mean disengagement from the responsibilities of citizenship. Our system can only work if our citizens are organized and vigilant in monitoring the ways of our 535 representatives, who each year speak for larger and larger populations, are using the power we grant them. Otherwise delegation will become abdication – first by the people, and then inevitably by Congress, until it falls conclusively into the hands of the corporate supremacists.
I like this idea. It seems sensible and practical. I could put some money behind it. I’d even volunteer. Many of the ideas in previous chapters, such as getting corporations off welfare, depend on Congress to implement. Under the current Congress, these ideas ain’t gonna happen. However, this chapter shows a way to make Congress listen (though it would still be a long slog, emphasis on being in it for the duration).
But Nader leaves out an important part. Who should get it going and how does the effort start?
Personally, I’m not one to go out and find a thousand people to pay for and volunteer for a CWD. So… who?
How about you Mr. Nader? With your position and influence have you worked to get a CWD going, perhaps proclaiming it as an example and template? Since you don’t mention it in this chapter I suspect you didn’t put any skin in the game. All talk and no action? How do you expect others to run with your idea?