True Democracy: An Interview with David Cobb

David Cobb is a passionate defender of democracy. He is an American attorney, a political activist, campaign manager, and politician, who was the Green Party presidential candidate for the 2004 election. Cobb was also the co-founder of Move to Amend. Cobb later became the campaign manager for Jill Stein in her presidential run in 2016. I had a chance to speak to him about the third Democracy Convention, a two-day conference being held August 2-6, 2017 in Minneapolis.

David, what’s the purpose of this Democracy Convention? What are you hoping to accomplish?

The Democracy Convention is more than a convention. It’s an inter-disciplinary event that brings together the different strands of the activist community - in fact, we have 10 different conferences - coming together under one roof. Can we talk about each one for a few minutes?

Of course.

So - with the Democracy Convention, we recognize the importance of each of these separate democracy struggles, as well as the need to unite them all in a common, deeply rooted, broad based, movement for democracy. 

  • Representative Democracy Conference: convened by FairVote, a non-partisan election reform resource, and No More Stolen Elections! covers proportional representation, comprehensive solutions to gerrymandering, campaign finance reform, felony re-enfranchisement, ranked choice voting, voter registration, and the constitutional right to vote.
  • Racial Justice for Democracy Conference: focuses on issues facing communities of color; bringing a racial justice focus to all our work for democracy; intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality; tactics and strategies for moving towards racial and economic justice; and the work people are doing to make it happen.
  • Peace and Democracy Conference: explores the many ways that democratic principles are abandoned in the name of "national defense." What are the democratic alternatives to endless war? How do federal and state governments turn a blind eye to the Constitution, international law, labor rights of military employees, and the will of the people in issues regarding the military and war? Will our increased dependence on drones and a robotized military undermine our already limited democratic control over our foreign policy?
  • Media Democracy Conference: What is a grassroots strategy for achieving a vibrant media system in a democracy -- as opposed to a political and regulatory one? A grassroots media strategy is one that builds an independent, community-driven media infrastructure and contests for significant distribution. How can we create a vision for democratic media, and what practical steps are needed to achieve it?
  • Education United for Democracy Conference: brings together students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members to strengthen the movement for democracy in all of education, from kindergarten through higher education. The conference will feature case studies, panel discussions, roundtable workshops, skillshares and strategy sessions about: understanding the corporatization and privatization of education, resistance to public school closings, student debt emancipation, tuition abolition, and full funding for public education, community participation and control in education, democratizing governance of education, social and ecological responsibility in education, academic freedom, the right to organize, and free speech in schools.
  • Earth Rights & Global Democracy Conference: convened by The Alliance for Democracy, Alliance for Global Justice, Universalizing Resistance Project, Mass Global Action, encuentro 5, and Global Climate Convergence, Earth Rights and Global Democracy stand as principles of resistance and alternatives to policies that accelerate the transformation of people and planet into commodities controlled by major corporations. The current global political, legal and economic system - global capitalism - devastates communities, cultures, economies, ecosystems, and popular sovereignty, benefiting the extremely wealthy few and empowering their corporations at the expense of the vast many. What can be done to stop this destruction?
  • Democratizing the Constitution Conference: convened by the Move to Amend coalition, we’ll discuss, debate and strategize how to ensure that the growing U.S. democracy movement takes itself seriously enough to attempt to write our political and cultural victories into the governing law of this country. How and why do we need to democratize the U.S. Constitution? We’re going to look at the Campaign for the 28th Amendment, the threats and opportunities of a Constitutional Convention. How should we look at current events through the lens of corporate rule? What are the dangers of corporate personhood? It’s way beyond just $ in elections!
  • Community & Economic Democracy Conference: brings together activists from workplaces and communities that are creating and defending participatory democracy. We will convene participatory workshops and panels to share best practices that you can take back and make use of back home: build sustainable local living economies, democratize the money supply, assert Home Rule and fight preemption, local protections for human rights and nature, create publicly owned banks, create worker and consumer owned and operated businesses, develop participatory budgets, fight and prevent foreclosures, address national and global issues, locally. How do we build food sovereignty, and create community-owned energy, cable, health, and other core services? Can we protect our communities from fracking, incinerators, and other harms?
  • Overcoming Oppression, Building an Inclusive Movement: efforts and movements to address oppression throughout history have been major forces in building democratic power. It is also a reality the democracy movements have been repeatedly thwarted by the fact that racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableim, and other forms of oppression are systemic and not just specific to particular cases, organizations, or individuals. For these reasons, overcoming uppression and oppressive systems is critical if we are to success in winning liberation together.
  • Skills and Arts of Democracy: How do we build our common capacity for social change by taking part in skills-sharing sessions?

So the point of all of this is is to unite activists who sometimes feel like they’re competing against each other, or perhaps they aren’t talking to each other.

How can our democracy become more inclusive? Is that what this is about?

You know, I once thought the Declaration of Independence was one of the most eloquent political writings I had ever read. I am still moved by the rhetoric, but recognize that it must be placed in the contextual reality of the enslavement of African people.

So for example, on July 4th, when we reading the Declaration, we should also read Frederick Douglass’ famous speech, and reflect on the fact that the promise of a democracy and self-rule has still not been realized:

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.

To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."

How does this make a difference in our everyday lives? Are you really saying we don’t believe in democracy?

Ok - let’s talks about healthcare. Why is it even a topic of discussion? Because we have a healthcare system in this country which is designed to kill citizens and make a profit doing it. There is a death panel in this country - consisting of our elected representatives, the insurance industry, and the for-profit corporations that run our healthcare system.

Take France, for example. France has a universal single payer healthcare system which means everyone pays into the system which widely spreads the risk which lowers the costs. It is a progressive single payer system which means individuals pay into the system based upon ability to pay, i.e. the costs increase with increasing income. Their system is a healthcare system rather then an illness treatment system because it proactively is focused on illness prevention by applying medical interventions that prevent or reduce illness. This is also the least costly and most effective way to manage healthcare. In fact, on a per capita basis France spends 1/2 what the US spends on our healthcare system which is a savings of $15 trillion dollars less every decade. Their society also looks just like US society in terms of population distribution with 80% living in urban areas and 20% in rural areas. That means we could duplicate their healthcare system right here in the US.

They provide cradle to grave healthcare for each and every citizen covering optical, dental, mental and general healthcare. Americans must demand that our leaders implement the French healthcare model to match their world class best objective healthcare outcomes while reducing our costs by 50%.

Why is this not happening here? Why does a band-aid cost 629 dollars? It’s the pharma-health-care-insurance-industrial complex.

When it comes to looking after the interests of the people, our politicians are not interested. They are too busy working for their corporate bosses - the companies that fund them. So, no - we don’t really have a democracy in the US. And anyone who says we do has been fooled.

I notice this is the third such convention. Who is behind this? It’s almost like this is the anti-Koch brothers movement.

Well, if you see the Koch brothers as undermining democracy, then you could say that our mission is give democracy a chance.

The overall sponsor, Liberty Tree, provides support to grassroots campaigns for democratic reform in many areas of American life, and so this simply brings those campaigns together to form a united movement for democracy. The point of this is to help foster cooperation among pro-democracy organizers within and across social sectors to develop a deeper and broader Democracy Movement in the United States.

Pro-democracy organizers face crisis after crisis: the stolen presidential elections of 2000 and 2004; the militarization of America that followed September 11th; the destruction of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina; the Supreme Court ruling that corporations wield constitutional rights to buy elections; and today, an economic crisis that is being used to impose fiscal austerity and corporatization schemes on our states and people. If you, or your organization wants to make a difference, come join us - we’re bring Democracy to the US.

Isn’t it about time we did?

Thanks, David.

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