On August 8, 2008, with little fanfare, the Supreme Court docketed a case that was entitled “Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission.” On January 21, 2010, the Roberts court overturned decades of campaign regulation asserting that corporations are people and that restrictions on campaign contributions by corporations was a violation of their “right” to free speech.
In his dissenting opinion in Citizens United, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens “called the majority’s faith in ‘corporate democracy’ an unrealistic method for a shareholder to oppose political funding.” Justice Stevens’ reference to “corporate democracy” is notable in light of Benito Mussolini’s assertion around the time of the second world war that fascism would better be described as “corporatism.”
In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, America has seen hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the campaign coffers of candidates who support the agenda of the wealthiest Americans operating under the banner of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Consequently any candidate or elected official who supports a policy position that is in the best interest of the middle class may find himself or herself facing a money bomb of millions of dollars dropped into the campaign fund of an opposing candidate. Not since the Guilded Age of the Robber Barons has America been confronted by such naked aggression upon the middle class by gang of self-serving plutocrats.
Democracy works when everyone participates. In 2008 and 2012, America saw the largest percentage of voter turnout in the last 40 years. President Obama was elected in 2008 with 57.1% of American voters turning out. In 2012, the president’s efforts contributed to a remarkable, repeat performance that exceeded the 2008 turnout with 57.5% of voters casting ballots.
Unfortunately, the percentage of voters showing up at the polls for midterm elections has not reached 50% in the last 60 years. From a low of 31% in 1978 to a high of 43% in 1982, the midterms turnout has averaged about 41% of eligible voters. Why are these numbers so disappointing?
We lack leadership.
President Obama has shown remarkable leadership skills both as a campaigner and as the leader of the free world. But the president is one man. We need leadership in our communities. At the local level, most of our leaders are consumed with the acquisition of wealth. Our communities have very few leaders who are dedicated to fostering a society that values an equitable distribution of wealth and a culture that values compensating workers fairly for the fruits of their labor.
If we want, as a society, to foster a robust middle class that strengthens our economy and provides security for the vast majority of our American families, we need to develop leadership that puts democratic principles above concentration of wealth. We need a new generation of leaders who can distinguish between the benefits of capitalism versus the evils of concentration of wealth and power. We need leaders who can distinguish between competition on a level playing field versus predatory capitalism that seeks to monopolize access to resources, And we need leaders who can distinguish between public servants versus politicians who are bought and paid for by the wealthiest 1/10 of 1% of Americans hiding behind faceless corporations.
The solution to America’s flirtation with fascism and drift towards a plutocracy that masquerades as a democracy is an organized effort to teach leadership skills to the next generation and to instill in these up and coming leaders a culture of commitment to community. We must commit to empowering the next generation to win the struggle against the wealthiest members of our society who, given the opportunity, will undermine the very basis of democracy and who have made great gains in that direction.
The Progressive Leadership Action Network is a training organization developed specifically to train a new generation of leaders. This training program provides young people the opportunity to learn leadership skills through hands-on participation in and leadership of projects that will promote the transition to a more democratic society. PLAN members learning leadership skills can start the movement towards a more equitable society and reverse the drift towards concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. Through the process of teaching leadership skills, PLAN will foster a new sense of empowerment and faith that their efforts will lead to a better future for themselves, their children and future generations.