“The future of the deep structural changes we seek will not be found in the decaying political machines.” – Martin Luther King*
The scale of our problems are far too great. There is far too much at stake. The problems we face are dangerous, deeply embedded, institutionalized. There is no clever, cunning or purely tactical way of addressing them. Inside baseball and palace politics have failed.
We are approaching a shift in the equation of risk. The dangers we face in making the big political changes are becoming less threatening than the dangers we face in continuing on the current course. Perhaps we are already there.
Let’s consider the core issues of power and social control in the US today:
The Corporate Power is vast wealth wedded to political control. And, it rules America. This power grab was not the result of free markets; it has been engineered. A century of political interventions and a dense web of public subsidies and tax benefits have redistributed wealth to the 1%. The richest country in world history, the US has among the worst income inequality in the developed world.
And the Corporate Power is reckless. Climate change is proceeding at a pace that surprises even climate scientists. Yet, fossil fuels giants remain our primary source of energy. The fossil industry claims billions of public dollars in a complex array of entitlements and privileges. We fight wars for oil.
Seemingly endless wars expand on multiple fronts in Asia and Africa. The current cycle of regime change, preemptive war and increased terrorism dates at least to 1978 when we first overthrew the government in Afghanistan by organizing and arming the Mujahideen. We are 15 years in Afghanistan, 13 years in Iraq; a county we have been bombing since 1991. Libya. Syria. Yemen. Pakistan.
The US now has the the largest system of military bases in world history. There are 650 major bases and nearly 900 total bases in 150 countries. The military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower warned us about long ago, grows ever larger. The US has been the world biggest producer and exporter of weapons for over half a century. And, war is environmental catastrophe. The US military is the single largest consumer of fossil fuels as it is sent to protect and secure oil supplies. War and empire lays claim to the greatest share of discretionary spending in the federal budget for over half a century at least.
Our vast militarized penal system is the worlds largest. No other county imprisons as many of its own citizens. Non-violent offenders fill prisons mostly from the war on drugs. The so-called war on drugs has functioned like a preemptive strike on the potentially most rebellious ranks of the American people: people of color, the poor, the working-class and the young. And, extra-judicial killings by police, aimed largely at black and native people are rampant, at roughly 100 times that of other countries.
Since 9/11 domestic surveillance has grown exponentially. Millions of Americans, accused of no crime, routinely have their emails, phone calls, internet use, and mail spied upon. The penal and surveillance system have shredded basic civil liberties enshired in the Bill of Rights. What cannot be efficiently caged, shot or spied on is instructed in the ways of fear and fatalism by the corporate media.
Six giant corporations control 90% of the mass media. Decades of corporate influence including the Telecommunications Act of 1996 signed into law by President Bill Clinton and FCC rule changes by Republicans have created a sophisticated propaganda machine in the service of the existing order.
And finally “the great two-party system” itself. With a stranglehold on the Constitution and government, both parties have built formidable legal obstacles prohibiting opposition parties and limiting reform efforts from within. The big corporations and the billionaires successfully govern through money and the revolving door of lobbyists, legislators and officials. The evidence is so compelling we hardly needed the Princeton study of 1,800 policy initiatives or former President Jimmy Carter to tell us we are no longer a democracy but an oligarchy.
And yet, the machines have overplayed their hand. The strategy of triangulation depends on lesser of two evils voters that consciously choose candidates and parties they know no longer represent them. How else could the Democrats so closely mimic the Republicans — abandon their traditional New Deal voter base — and still maintain power?
But, the capacity of the establishment to scare people into forgoing the basic concepts of representational democracy — that people vote for candidates and parties they believe to represent their views and interest — finally appears to be reaching its limits. Evidence? 40% of registered voters are now Independent. Another 40% of eligible voters do not vote. The Sanders surge is unprecedented by almost any historical measure. And growing numbers of the Sanders supporters are refusing to vote Clinton if the machine prevails.
War and Empire, mass incarceration, mass surveillance, corporate media, the decaying two party system; these are not simply policy choices, nor conspiracies, but deeply rooted and interlocking historical trends that constitute corporate dominance. These institutionalized structures are well financed, protected by law and power. For three decades and more, the Corporate Power and its means of social control has been the bipartisan project of the so-called “center.”
If this be the center, if this be moderation, what then is extremism?
And, the Clintons have been among the most influential architects of the system. By what measure or by what scenario can the “lesser of two evils” challenge the extremism of the center?
Instead, this begs revolution. And yes it will take movement building outside of the electoral arena. But in 2016, we will have a real choice: Bernie Sanders for President or we will vote for the Green Party.
Martin Luther King was no “lesser of two evils” voter. King attacked the machine.
“In addition to the development of genuinely independent and representative political leaders, we shall have to master the art of political alliances. Negroes should be natural allies of many white reform and independent political groups, yet they are commonly organized by old-line machine politicians. We will have to learn to refuse crumbs from the big-city machines and steadfastly demand a fair share of the loaf.
When the machine politicians demur, we must be prepared to act in unity and throw our support to such independent parties or reform wings of the major parties as are prepared to take our demands seriously and fight for them vigorously. This is political freedom; this is political maturity expressing our aroused and determined new spirit to be treated as equals in all aspects of life.”
We can declare our independence, reclaim our political freedom. We can make our ancestors proud.
“It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries…..Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism.”
King’s vision endures. It rings true to our time. We can vote to recapture the revolutionary spirit. It begins with Sanders or Green in 2016.
It ends with us.
1.*Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here?
2. King, Where Do We Go From Here?.
3. King, A Time to Break the Silence.