While the Middle East Is Fighting For Democracy, Ours Is Slipping Away

Robert Reich, in his article of March 2nd, eloquently and passionately wrote about the irrelevant Democrats in Washington not fighting for the middle class. His post "How Democrats Can Become Relevant Again (And Rescue The Nation While They're At It)" hit the mark repeatedly. Democrats have failed to show spine ever since the new, weeping sheriff took over in the House, exemplified by their failed request for 4 weeks more of government funding so they could continue to work on the budget before a possible shut down; the Republicans said "2 weeks," and the Dems caved, further tarnishing the Democratic brand in the process.

Reich presented a compelling roadmap for what needs to be done to get our fiscal house in order, by overhauling our tax codes so that we are asking the richest at the top to pay their fair share and stopping the inequity of shifting higher taxes to a middle class that is already rapidly disappearing. He also suggested we bring back the estate tax and tax all income. The statistics Reich offered showing the widening chasm between the "haves" and "have nots" are sobering. The states are reeling with their budget shortfalls, slashing services and putting public service jobs on the chopping block. When will Republicans understand that an attack on organized labor is an attack on all workers? Maybe when Scott Walker is looking for employment in 4 years, if not sooner.

MONEY has always been the most corrupting influence in our politics, a fact that is now on full display in Republican-controlled state houses across the midwest that are voting against public employees' right to collective bargaining. Destroying unions is their mission. The war on middle class workers, and unions in particular, has seen no strong response from our President since he's been in office. His silence is only enabling the Republicans and hastening the demise of our way of life. Yet, as a candidate, Obama said, and I paraphrase, he would put on some comfortable shoes and walk with them on the picket line. Perhaps the unions should send him coupons for some Thom McAns.

Where is our president's voice now, when he is needed more than ever? Last Wednesday the Senate in Ohio passed a bill 18-17 that would curtail collective bargaining rights of its state union workers. The bill will now head to the GOP controlled Assembly where it will pass. For 30 years, all across our country, workers have been pummeled with flat and declining wages, while the cost of living continues to rise; and that includes all workers, and not just union members. Our standard of living continues to decline. Union membership today is at a mere 7% from a high of 35% following our nation's expansion following the Second World War. All boats were indeed lifted at the same time, as workers and corporations flourished, grew and prospered together. America -- the land of opportunity.

Now, with our economy still in the tank, the first line of attack from Conservatives is directed at wage earners on the state and corporate level. The perpetrators of our national economic mess now have the states cutting back on public services so millionaires can continue to flourish and make more money. Under-taxation is crippling our states. Reich got it exactly right -- the influence of money in our politics must be removed. A priority must be challenging the Citizens United decision and removing special interest money from our politics, which is in large part how Wisconsin wound up with Koch brothers lapdog Scott Walker in the first place.

But there is hope, and perhaps we are learning a valuable lesson from Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Iran, as well as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and New Jersey. Americans have not have taken to the streets in such massive numbers since the Vietnam War. Perhaps we were just out of practice. Or maybe we just needed a tipping point that would rally union members and their supporters to realize ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and WE'RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE.

Are we returning to an economic system of serfs and lords, with oligarchs running the country and government only serving their interests and not the people's? That sounds like Russia to me, but it will be our fate as well if we don't right the ship of state now. We are more and more becoming a class-defined nation, resembling 13th century England, where land, possessions and unchecked greed reigned and serfs worked until they dropped, with nothing to show for a life of servitude. It took the Magna Carta to free them from their bondage and give English citizens' rights, finally putting a check on the autocratic rule of King John. Imagine the courage it took to believe the power of the King -- believed to be divinely given -- could be limited by a written grant. This extraordinary influence extends to our Constitution and The Bill of Rights, despite the convolutions the interpretation of these documents has gone through since their birth. Of course, today the prevailing interpretations of the Constitution for Republicans and their conservative masters is that corporations are people, with as much "freedom" of speech as their untold millions can buy. Such warped thinking is at the heart of many of our travails today, and spawned the Citizens United decision, which is eroding our democracy.

We are living through unprecedented times, with a cacophony of world-shaking events bombarding us daily. The people of the Middle East seek freedom from decades of tyranny, kings and dictators, and for their fundamental rights to a better life for themselves and their families. Meanwhile, working Americans are simply seeking to be allowed to bargain in good faith collectively at the work place. The stability and growth of unions will benefit all Americans, and this can only be realized through the passage of the EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT that would support the right for working Americans to unionize if they so choose. Push to pass this bill, Mr. President. Will the Middle East be at this same point as we are today in 20-30 years? As they enter the modern world, will their problems become the same as ours? And what kind of democracy, if any, will they have?

For a one-two punch that would reinforce collective union power, unions will have to go against their own Democratic party when it is not operating in their interests, or the interests of the American people. After the last election, with all of the unions organizing and millions pumped into the Obama campaign, they became persona non-grata at the White House, their voices unwelcomed by Rahm Emanuel and his lot. So this time around, they should work within their communities across the country to elect true Progressive candidates and organize in these communities to place pressure on elected officials on the State and Federal level. Face-to-face, one-on-one and in small groups, visit those district offices of YOUR Representatives in Congress and the State House and let your views be known. Do not let them off the hook! After all, we pay for their salaries and benefits that few other working people share. They are our employees, so let's motivate them to work once again for us, the American people. If not, remind them that there is a ballot box at the ready in the next election. Hold them accountable, and ourselves as well, by working to reverse Citizens United with a constitutional amendment, and by passing the FAIR ELECTIONS NOW ACT THAT WOULD BRING US PUBLICLY FUNDED CAMPAIGNS. Then all of this craziness would begin to disappear.

If this is the beginning of a movement to take back our government, where can I sign up and pick up my picket sign? More frequent street demonstrations is the way to go, on a whole host of issues that continues to demand our attention.This month marks the 10th anniversary of my beginning to make regular visits to the district office of my Congressman Eliot Engel (D, NY-17), which was acknowledged in a note I received from Bill Weitz, his Chief of Staff. Congressman Engel knows me, as does his entire district office and Washington office, and their greeting is always warm. Every working American must make the same kind of contact with their Representatives. From the streets to the district offices to the halls of Congress, we must stand up and speak truth to power, like the English did at Runnymede back in 1215. We can no longer sit on the sidelines.