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Friday, November 17, 2017

Last week our Supreme Court let stand Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s voter suppression law, one of a host of such laws enacted in the North from Idaho to Michigan to New Hampshire, and everywhere below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Do not be lulled into inaction by that decision. Do not accept that a rich minority will rule America and remake it to their liking. Even with faithful allies on the Supreme Court, the oligarchs win only if you let them.

The factual basis for this and other decisions upholding voter suppression laws is specious, especially for the kind of photo identification requirements at the polling booth that Walker signed into law. Rigorous research into voter impersonation, the only illegal voting technique which photo identification can stop, found just 10 cases in America from 2000 to summer 2012.

Walker is, of course, a loyal vassal of the Koch brothers and their confreres, who works diligently to impose their minority views through laws under which all of us must live.

Those rules include low taxes for oligarchs and enabling dynastic wealth; diminishing worker rights, job safety laws and reliable pensions; repealing environmental protections while tightly restricting your right to challenge polluters in court; and gutting public education at every level while converting universities from centers of inquiry into job-training programs.

All of this can be stopped. All that is required is getting just a fraction of the 94 million adults who did not vote in 2012 to start casting ballots.

Poll after survey after focus group shows little public support for Kochian ideas, especially when they are described in neutral and accurate language.

A plethora of polls shows broad support for progressive policies including higher tax rates on million-dollar-plus incomes and stopping corporate welfare. Three of four Republicans favor increasing Social Security benefits, yet congressional Republicans — and scared Democrats — are moving to cut them at the behest of the ultra-wealthy and their minions.

Making majority wishes into law will be more difficult in the near term thanks to a series of Supreme Court and lower court rulings since 2008. The courts have shown expansive tolerance for a wide variety of voter suppression laws. And the judiciary has done nothing to stop voter-roll purging so ham-handed that former congressman Lincoln Davis was among 70,000 Tennesseans barred from voting in 2012.

Two years ago, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court nullified a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Glover Roberts Jr. declared, “Our country has changed.”  We saw change immediately. Southern state legislatures changed their laws to make sure fewer black Americans voted or did so in heavily black jurisdictions.

The important lesson here is that just sitting back and accepting these rulings, behaving as if you are powerless, would be a disaster for five and possibly all six noble purposes of our nation.

Yes, the voting standards the court majority has set, often by a one-vote margin, make it easier for a shrinking minority to impose its will. But it does not mean that minority will impose its will.

The unlimited money that the Supreme Court ruled can legally be poured into election campaigns under Citizens United is a threat to democracy.

That 2010 decision expanded campaign finance loopholes so much that the ban on government contractors donating to politicians has evaporated. Oil giant Chevron was among those contractors making huge contributions to politicians loyal to them by funneling the money through affiliates called LLCs, limited liability corporations.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said last October that if Republicans won 2014 gubernatorial elections, they could control “voting mechanisms.”

“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?” Christie, the president of the Republican Governors Association, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last October.

About the only thing the courts will not abide is honesty by those who sponsor laws to rig elections by suppressing voters.

Anyone who doubts that should click on this brief 2012 video of Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania House Republican leader. Turzai told the party faithful that his state’s voter ID law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

A state judge struck down that law and savvy GOP politicians decided not to appeal. Romney then lost Pennsylvania by more than 5 percentage points, evidently because the majority was not suppressed.

The awful truth is this: So long as politicians don’t boast about their real intentions, they can enact voting laws that rig elections in favor of an influence-buying minority that cannot win any other way.

So that’s the lesson.  What are you going to do about it? Yes, you. Not somebody else. You.

You have more than enough power to make sure that we do not head back toward the rules of the late 19th century, when hunger and disease ravaged the poor, as Jacob Riis documented in How the Other Half Lives.  We need not indulge the vanity and greed of men like Henry Clay Frick, which grew so unrestrained that on a single day his pleasures cost more than 2,200 lives.

People just like you got women the right to vote, child labor laws, collective bargaining laws, and environmental laws. It took time. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton devoted their whole lives to suffrage. But in the end they and others persuaded male office holders to extend voting rights to women.

Will you do what is required to reverse our slide into the awful grip of a 21st-century oligarchy?

It’s not that hard. Really. And it does not require much money, either.

What it does require is these virtues — focus, diligence, and persistence.

There is one more crucial element: persuasion. That means winning people over by showing them a better alternative than the slickly marketed Kochian vision that sounds appealing unless you understand that it means a future in which a few gain at the expense of the many.

Making fun of the often laughable and crazy statements of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, and their like is counterproductive. It makes people think they are being looked down upon, including many people who do not share those laughable and crazy ideas, but are put off by the way progressives talk.

A better vision is a society where we all gain if we work, save, and act prudently, and where we all share the burden of caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

A better vision is one in which the bottom 120 million Americans own more than a third of one percentage point of all assets. A better vision is one where corporations are vehicles to encourage risk taking and wealth creation, not tools to mine the public treasury, pick consumer pockets, and stealthily prosper on the dole.

What is required to achieve a vibrant, free and broadly prosperous America is this:

  • Register millions of people to vote, paying scrupulous attention to both the registration rules and following up to make sure the names actually show up on the voting rolls.
  • Maintain contact with these new voters, which can be done at low cost with emails, neighborhood meetings and knocking on doors.
  • Get people to the polls on Election Day and, where it is still allowed, help them vote in advance.
  • Tell politicians you support to stop wasting money on television and radio ads, which are sold at the highest rates, and to invest most of their campaign dollars into getting out the vote.

Going along with the television and radio ad game is playing by the Koch brothers’ rules. That is a contest they will win because they have the money. Instead, do what the Kochs and other smart businesspeople do: Change the game. Play your own game. And don’t worry about right-wing voter registration drives, because numerous polls show that among those not voting, their appeal is narrow, while yours is broad.

It would also help to organize supporters to follow watchdog news outlets, an issue for a future column.

As a guest on call-in radio and answering audience questions after my many lectures across the country, I hear a constant refrain that nothing can be done, that the anti-democratic interests are so rich and powerful that they must win.

Wrong. That’s utter nonsense. Don’t think like a victim. Take charge.

America is still the democratic republic where the majority of people who cast ballots choose our elected leaders. Get more people to the polls on the only day that counts – Election Day – and we can change everything for the better.

All that is necessary is for you to do the work.

Photo: apalapala via Flickr

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