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Why We Must Fight
June 27, 2002
By Christopher Harrison

Being a progressive ain’t easy these days.

The country is being run by a tinhorn dictator, a spoiled brat of a man who is either too ignorant or too cold to care that he is pushing the world to the brink of catastrophe. The so-called "opposition party" is too busy cheering on unilateralist action in Iraq to put up a real fight on the overt malfeasance and utter lack of morality exhibited by the reactionary elements of the Republican Party. Some of the Democratic members of Congress are too afraid of their own unethical activity coming to light to push for badly needed reforms.

Meanwhile, different factions on the left are so busy fighting amongst themselves that they lose sight of the real objective. There are some on the left who think that we should not criticize our party leadership – they believe that we should put aside all of our grievances and unite under the Democratic Party banner. There are others on the left who think that the Democratic Party is antiquated – that it is a slightly less shadowy version of the Republican Party – and that it should be eschewed in favor of the Green Party and its "pie in the sky" idealism. Neither of these strategies will help one bit toward fighting the real enemy.

The real enemy isn't Ralph Nader, as many centrists decry. The real enemy isn't the Democratic Leadership Council, as many leftists proclaim. The real enemy isn't even the Republican Party.

The real enemy is the army of special interest lobbyists camped out on Capitol Hill. These lobbyists have twisted and perverted our political process into a mere shadow of the Democracy it was meant to be.

The lobbyists and their backers are a formidable enemy. They have near-limitless resources. They are ruthless. They have succeeded in making the majority of the population feel ineffective within the political process. But the citizenry has one advantage over them, crying out to be exploited. That advantage is: numbers.

Numbers is the one thing that we have going for us. Numbers is the one weapon that we can use to overcome the corrupt influence of the special interests and make this truly a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." The question remains, "How do we do it?"

First, we must presently unite under the Democratic banner. A formidable Green Party on a national scale is, in the "best case" scenario, twenty years away. The Democratic Party is the only vehicle we currently have to effect immediate change on the national stage. However, we must work together to ensure that our unity within the party is done on our terms, rather than on the terms of the politicos.

Many of the politicians on Capitol Hill came into office with their idealism somewhat intact. I would say that, based on his involvement in the Civil Rights movement, a centrist Democrat like Joe Lieberman ran for national office because he wanted to make a difference. I would also venture to guess that somewhere, deep down inside, that idealism is still there. The problem is, that this idealism has been so overcome with pragmatism, even cynicism, that it remains totally hidden from the light of day.

Our Democratic leaders operate in the information age of politics. Listening to constituents' concerns and proposing real, workable solutions has become a lost art. Sure, a few noble spirits, such as Vermont Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders still have it – but such examples are in an extreme minority these days. Instead, listening has been replaced by incessant polling, and the lobbyists have been allowed to drive the polling process. The end result is an approach to governance that promotes "nibbling around the edges" rather than confronting real problems with our current system.

When it comes to voting time, the lobbyists are the ones out there twisting arms, rounding up votes. Running a political campaign has become so expensive these days that the lobbyists hold an incredible amount of sway. "Vote against this regulation bill, and our clients will make sure you're taken care of. Vote for it, and we’ll throw all our money at your opponent," the lobbyist says.

The politicians are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They don't hear support from the people. They are afraid that if they cross the special interests too drastically, they will lose their jobs. They are all too willing to err on the side of caution, rather than to take chances to affect meaningful change. I don't fault them for this – they are simply acting according to basic human nature. I fault all of us – the concerned citizens of this nation – for allowing this sad state of affairs to develop.

But it doesn't have to be this way. We can change the system, if we really work together to do so. We should also be out there, twisting arms for votes like the lobbyists do. We should let the politicians know, in no uncertain terms, that they are there to protect our interests. We must let them know that we will unequivocally support them, so long as they support us. We must encourage, or even force them to stand up and fight for what is right. We must push them to always support the public interest over the special interest.

All of us on the left need to unite, and we need to unite immediately, before the right wing completely subverts our political process. We also must be extraordinarily careful to avoid stifling debate within our ranks. We must continue to encourage a vigorous exchange of ideas, with each one being weighed according to its merits. We must adopt an attitude of greater public interest over simple ideology. We must strive to truly be the "big tent" that we like to characterize ourselves as.

The people are waiting to be inspired. So are the politicians. We must come together now to inspire them, whether it is with the carrot or the whooping stick. If the followers are willing to lead, then the leaders will have no choice, but to follow.

The writer is a Fair Trade activist in Westchester County, NY, and an overly irate citizen. Comments can be sent to

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