When the Tea Party first started holding rallies back before the last presidential election, it was a good idea encompassing a people’s revolt against the current state of affairs in Washington D.C. However, it has since morphed into an ultra right-wing branch of the Republican Party, with Sarah Palin as a major spokesperson, and with events punctuated by political posturing rather than a true new people’s voice.
So another group is giving it a shot, this time with the moniker the Coffee Party. It started as a Facebook group and has since grown to over half a million people. They have specific goals, aiming for Wall Street reform, campaign finance reform and tax code reform. Before you jump to the conclusion that it’s a left-wing answer to the Tea Party, they recently held a rally in Washington that included both Democrats and Republicans in the effort to try and something done.
The rally was the launch of the lobbying phase of their “Citizens Intervention” campaign. Since our politicians are constantly bombarded by highly paid lobbyists for the major corporations, and by the special interests targeted by their major campaign donors, it follows that the only way to get the voice of the regular people heard is to organize in great enough numbers that they will have to listen. It hasn’t happened yet, so this is an attempt to try and get the process started.
It started with a gathering on the steps of the Capitol, and included meetings with senators and representatives in their offices. The plan is to continue the process with rallies and meetings in various Congressional districts and to keep building relationships with the members of Congress as the organization grows.
The rally in D.C. was hampered by freezing temperatures, high winds and snow flurries. But it still drew over 500 people and 150 speakers. Because of weather issues, organizers decided to move the event indoors, but some diehards didn’t want to leave the Capitol and stayed outside to show their support for the cause.
Just to show the non-partisan nature of the group, and the fact that they are looking for action, not political gain, the events included speeches by a representative of the Occupy Wall Street group along with Republican Buddy Roemer as well as a formal statement from Democrat Dennis Kucinich.
Kucinich was clear in his statement that he sympathizes with the effort to try and change how things are currently situated in Washington. That the system is not working how it is supposed to, and that these citizen efforts to try and take action are actually very much what this country was built on. And the fact that there are record numbers of Americans now living below the poverty level and that wage levels are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years, yet the government is taking no action to try and alleviate the situation, and instead concentrates on scoring political points, is unacceptable.
The lack of action by Congress is mind-boggling, but at the same time totally predictable. While the economic crash of 2008 begs for financial regulation reform, the massive amounts of money spent by the Wall Street financial services firms, who were saved by taxpayer funded bailouts, keeps any meaningful reform from happening because it could eat into the potential profits they could make from the manipulation of markets. The massive amounts of money fed into the political system by the oil companies prevents any action from being taken on the tax loopholes that allow them to make billions upon billions of dollars in record profits, as Exxon Mobil just announced in its most recent quarterly earnings report, yet they pay comparably little in taxes.
And there are many more examples of this. Yet Congress does nothing, stuck in partisan bickering. Some, such as noted political pundit George Will, say that this is how it is supposed to work; that the inaction is the way the system is designed, so that it takes great effort and consensus to enact change. Mr. Will often makes intellectual and reasoned arguments to support his positions, even when they are suspect, but in this case he is dead wrong. Action is needed to “undo” the travesty of what’s become a system where money rules. And that system is being promulgated more and more, as the money flows in and the men and women in Congress, who need massive amounts of money and the backing of political interest groups to mount campaigns, have a vested interest in keeping the system as it is.
The recent Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that threw out limits on corporate financial involvement in campaigns has exacerbated the situation even more. We need, more than ever, citizens groups to try and counterbalance the power of the almighty dollar in our political system. The system is rigged for the benefit of the very rich, and they are working hard to take it to the next level and make the system benefit them even more.
The efforts of the Occupy movement are slowly being fought by the people in power. Whether it’s the police in Oakland using excessive force to try and get rid of the protesters, to the New York police removing the generators that supplied power to those camped out in the cold weather, claiming it is in the interest of “safety” (are freezing temperatures not a safety hazard, that the generators would help solve?), the effort to discredit and remove the people trying to express their contempt for a perverted system that no longer is a government “by, of, and for” the people. Let’s not forget that the Wall Street financial companies made a record contribution to the New York Police Foundation… think that has anything to do with it?
Can the Occupy Wall Street and the Coffee Party groups be successful in counterbalancing the big money of the corporations and special interest groups? It’s highly doubtful, but we have to try. The future of our country, as we know it, depends on it.