There can be no democracy unless it is a dynamic democracy. When our people cease to participate then all of us will wither in the darkness of decadence."Bull, Senator, it won't work."
-- Saul Alinsky
"Because you're talking about something that doesn't exist. There's no such thing as 'citizen power.' Not for people like us." The black youth regarded me with open skepticism, challenging me to prove him wrong. The others nodded their agreement.
Sitting in Harlem in the middle of neglected America, I could readily understand why the idea of "citizen power" was greeted with contempt. What did that mean to these alienated young men & women?
"Wouldn't you like to change that?" I asked. "Be a PART of the government instead of just under it?"
"Sure. But how?"
"You get together and make up a program--that's all a people's platform is--and then you present it to all the candidates. You tell them that they either support IT or you won't support THEM."
A people's platform must insist on the public financing of elections. Only in this way can public officeholders be made responsible to the majority of citizens they supposedly represent.
Public subsidy of campaigns is not a new idea. In 1907 President Roosevelt recommended that political campaigns be paid for by public funds. His proposal was rejected in favor of a limitation and disclosure approach. However, limitation and disclosure are not sufficient by themselves. They may help control campaign costs and reveal where the money is raised, but they in no way address the problems of who puts up the money and what the contributor's pay off will be.
States could continue to enroll voters just as they do now. However, if an individual fails to register before election day, he could sign an affidavit swearing he is a qualified voter in the precinct and that he has not voted elsewhere in the same election. He then would be allowed to vote, unless there was reason to doubt the sworn statement. In that instance, the voter would be required to cast a challenged ballot and before it could be counted, the same checks could be made as are used under present registration systems. In addition, election day should be declared a national holiday.
The much-touted interest in preserving consensus politics cannot be squared with the people's interest in free and public debate of genuinely alternative government actions. The people need representatives who will speak up for them in an adversary fashion against executive government, instead of politicians who subscribe to the philosophy of not rocking the boat in order to preserve their own power. Going along to get along hardly serves the public need for constructive political dialogue.
Congress has no scientists at its own command and is, therefore, at a disadvantage whenever it attempts to question the administration's scientific advice. Congressional committees do hear testimony from so-called "scientific witnesses," but often these experts' "private" scientific research is funded by government grants administered by executive agencies. Obviously, these scientists do not fail to notice which side their bread is buttered on.
Independent advice, before the money is spent, would help, for example, eradicate most of the cost overruns which scandalize the American public. Elected officials look good bird-dogging agencies and exposing cost overruns, but I feel that an elected official should eliminate the problem ahead of time if possible. My goal is to siphon out the surprises before the money is spent, not afterwards. With billions of dollars at stake each year, Congress should have the appropriate tools to assure the people the job is being done right to begin with.
In Vietnam we have seen that we create the threats to our own security, through our own actions & the commitments our leaders make. By no stretch could the type of government in power in the southern half of a tiny country halfway around the world affect the security of the US or any of its vital interests. By losing sight of the negligible risks to ourselves, by permitting commitments to be made in our name, we became militarily involved. We were our own worst enemy. This is the ultimate threat to the security of a nation, when its own people no longer have confidence in its government.
In such a system, policy-makers act on the international scene to advance their own interests and those of the state, rather than those of the citizens they are supposed to represent or the people in other lands affected by their policies.
Ironically, it has been the so-called "internationalists" who have isolated Americans, deciding for our allies what their military postures should be, setting up & toppling non-conforming client states, and forbidding travel, trade, & even diplomatic representation with many communist countries.
The new internationalism will incorporate military nonintervention, the tolerance of revolutionary politics, and a reassessment of the inequalities of enjoyment of the planet's resources, which are so vastly, and precariously, in our favor for this historical moment.
We must demonstrate renewed respect for international law & institutions, as our best hope for creating the conditions for peace.
The US, as the most powerful country, must now lead the way in building up the power and capacity of the UN to act effectively in areas of conflict.
In the long-run, I believe the UN must develop into the primary peace-keeping force on earth, and we should take the lead in this development.
A more powerful UN must grow slowly, applying its influence initially in regions where the conflicts of interest are limited and where the parties involved want to avoid war and seek peace. Beyond this, it can apply sanctions in cases of colonial oppression to permit independence movements to achieve legitimate ends. And it can maintain a permanent stand-by peace force, to serve as a presence whenever armed conflict threatens.
Those who refuse to reexamine our purposes in keeping this vast army deployed around the world must accept responsibility for the snowballing disintegration of our armed forces--disintegrating as their reason for coming together disappears. I believe our military budget need be only half as large as it is to achieve the valid purposes for which we need military force.
The actual defense of the US takes only a small portion of what is called the "defense" budget. We are in the fortunate position of requiring almost no defense at all from conventional attack on our shores. The cost of operating our strategic forces can and should be drastically reduced.
The question a people's platform must address is how every American can participate in the economy and obtain from it the basic financial security which is their share of this material affluence. I believe it should be done through a Citizen's Wage, to which everyone is entitled at birth and which is available to the worker and the poor alike. The Citizen's Wage should be seen as a dividend from the nation's total affluence and as a reflection of each person's right to economic security. The amount paid to the individual should be geared realistically to the level of income needed to maintain a minimum, decent standard of living. The Citizen's Wage should also become an effective tool for the long-run economic improvement of our entire society.
The basic Citizen's Wage would be $5,000 a year for a family of four, [with a sliding scale formula so that] anyone earning more than $10,000 would no longer receive the Citizen's Wage [Note: in 2007 dollars, the Citizen's Wage would be about $20,000 a year, phasing out at an income level of about $40,000 -- ed.].
The intent of this plan is simple: to banish poverty and financial insecurity. One could say that this plan comes down to a form of guaranteed income.
Presently we are spending $50 billion per year on welfare and Social Security programs which are totally inadequate. The Citizen's Wage would cost only an additional $15 billion.
I am trying to point out the dual standard which applies to the poor. We can compel the poor mothers to work because the government supports them. On the other hand, we don't seem to care about the fellow who no longer has to work because he has cleaned up on subsidies or other government largesse.
The whole idea of forcing welfare mothers to work is morally and philosophically repugnant. It's a chain-gang tactic, illustrating how we keep the poor prisoners of poverty.
Measured against these tests, the US economy scores high on only one point--it produces a lot. On grounds other than straight production, our economy is seriously out of whack with the needs of the people.
The government decision-making community, which is supposed to look out for the interests of the people, has historically been "pro-business-corporation." As a result the entire system is badly skewed against the consumer in our laws, our institutions, and our culture.
The largest loophole is the break given the rich who have capital gains income. Today such income is taxed at a much lower rate than earned income. Capital gains should be treated as ordinary income & taxed accordingly.
Comprehensive care that provides for early detection of disease is unavailable. There are not enough facilities in the right places. There is no effort to assure that health problems will be checked in the whole population.
A fundamental principle of a people's platform must be to establish citizen control over the public and private medical-industrial complex. A national health administration must coordinate efforts with local health districts. The concept of a national health service is not new. It has worked successfully in England & other nations. The difficulties & dislocations will be great in implementing it here, but the step must be taken.
Our government is pursuing nuclear power. It seems to me we are not thinking about the long-range environmental hazards as we plunge ahead.
It is folly to force us down a road that holds grave potential for contaminating our entire planet. The by-product of this process is not a "little" harmful radio-activity from "burning" atomic fuel as the AEC would have us believe. The amount of radioactive waste, which is small only if measured by the space it fills, is already enormous if measured by the billions of people it could kill
No one knows what will result from all the radioactive waste that has been dumped in the oceans and is still being dumped by other nuclear powers. And that is the point: we will not find out until it is too late--after the radioactivity has escaped.
The lesson is clear. More police, more jails, more tough talk will not help. None of these traditionally instinctive reactions to crime can stem the rising tide. So long as injustice and inequity in larger society exist on the gross scale that they do today, all the reasoning and rhetoric and police clubs in the world will not stop the have-nots from going after the goods they seek through the only avenue they feel is open to them--crime. So long as we delay the basic reforms, that long will our cities continue to half-exist, in fear, behind locked doors.
Common activities for which we now punish people--so-called "victimless-crimes" because they affect no one but the participant--include drinking, prostitution, gambling, homosexuality, & use of certain drugs. What is the point of jailing people for these practices? What more towering hypocrisy, what more potent breeder of total disrespect for the law can there be than these "crimes," which are practiced by millions of citizens, but for which only a few are singled out for punishment?
Victimless crimes are a peril to our health only in so far as they are classified as crimes. Some 51% of criminal arrests in 1970 were for victimless crimes. We could very nearly empty our jails by abolishing them.
At present, the scales are tipped heavily in favor of the government. Information is systematically classified and withheld from the public for vaguely determined reasons of "national security" and denied to Congress by the imperious assertion of "executive privilege." These two ridiculously flexible tools of secrecy provide self-appointed decision-makers with a protective shield against public accountability.
The above quotations are from Citizen Power|
A People's Platform, by Mike Gravel (published 1972).
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