Three Unsung Democracy Heroes

In an era when money's influence of politics and too-cozy relationships between companies and the government continue to affect policy decision making nationwide, citizens are saying they've had enough. Millions of people are upset about corporate malfeasance and Wall Street's intimate relationship with Washington (think Goldman Sachs). There are environmentalists who are glad that the unethical relationship between government regulators and oil companies has finally come to light, sadly though at the expense of an oil spill.

As we all know, candidates rely on big money to get elected. Sadly, they need lots of money from a few big donors. In fact, a tiny percentage of less than 1% of the population provides the majority of donations over $1,000 to candidates. This helps to explain why politicians are frequently answering to Wall Street, not Main Street. But, there are unsung heroes dedicated to bringing our government more in line with its democratic values and removing corporate influence from our political process. Inspired by the recent film, CASINO JACK and United States of Money, I chatted with activists, each working to make our political process more open, fair and democratic.

Decker Ngongang: Vice President for Programs at Mobilize
The former bank executive is organizing millennials to create sustainable solutions in their communities. As a former insider for his opponent, Decker is committed to holding Wall Street and other corporate parties accountable. He notes that Wall Street's power isn't because they are larger in size, but because the general public isn't organized to fight back. It's a matter of scale, and Decker is slowly helping to close the gap between these two forces by mobilizing through grassroots organizing. It's a challenging role. He notes, "Politics is life and death and making a better republic that takes care, not advantage of its people. Our democracy was created to make sure that we all made it, not made money. "The current cozy relationship between corporations and politicians enables "our basic needs to be compromised by corporate interests." Such behaviors make many of us cynical of politicians, our government and our ability to instigate reforms. However, Decker isn't dissuaded by such thoughts. As he says, there are "more of us than there are those who don't believe in social change then the battle is organizing ourselves to create social change. "

Lisa Gilbert: Democracy Advocate at US PIRG
The feisty organizer spent eight years during the Bush Administration trying to stop the increase of mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. She never succeeded in implementing stricter mercury pollution standards because of the broad influence of coal-money in politics. She turned these disappointments into actions by leading US PIRG efforts now to change the rules of the political landscape, currently governed by money and lobbyists. By removing these two elements, Lisa is hopeful that it will lead to a more open, democratic government that is accountable to its citizens. "If you win on this then win on everything because we give politicians the freedom to vote their conscience and with their constituents. It changes the entire game," she says. To achieve this, she's working on long-term and "band-aid" measures in response to the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court which ruled that corporations can give unlimited monetary support for a political candidate. This includes the Disclose Act and the Fair Elections Now Act. They're short-term steps towards reaching the long-term goals that Lisa and others believe is critical to bring democracy back to our government.

Adam Lioz: Program Director at Progressive Future
The Yale Law-school graduate and "professional organizer" is a policy wonk who said the inequality in the political system is what drove him to become an activist. "I was first involved in politics when I figured out that our democracy doesn't always work the way it's supposed to work for the people it's supposed to work for special interests have a lot more influence on the democratic process than the average person. There's something broken in our society." He too is focused on the influence of the minority of wealthy people in our political process. Adam argues that our country operates in two distinct spheres, the political and the economic. One is supposed to be fair and just, while the other inherently creates inequality. He says, "the problem now is the economic sphere is gobbling up the political sphere. If we don't have any firewall between the two spheres, the power you get by being successful in econ sphere can be translated into the political sphere and that is not fair." Adam's enthusiasm is evident. He gushes about the ability of progressive organizes to mobilize (and devote resources) to fixing the inequalities in the system. "The scandal is the system," he says. But with energy from people like Adam, this will not remain the status quo.

Get involved today with these organizations. Find out how money influences your elected officials with the Follow the Money tool.