Can You Hear Us Now?

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Since my return home from lobbying in the halls of Congress with other citizen activists,  I have become sensitive to the frustrations my fellow Americans have voiced in regards to Trump’s cabinet picks.

I see these appointments as yet another example of a phenomenon I call “they’re not listening to us.”

It happens at all levels of government, from local to state to federal, but this “national they’re not listening to us” took center stage this past week. Ordinary Americans can plead, beg, and cajole our elected representatives in Congress until the cows come home, but we don’t seem to be making an impression on them. They are still going along with some of the worse choices for a president’s cabinet ever.

Worse yet, many we assumed were “progressive” politicians have okayed these picks. Senator Elizabeth Warren went along with Ben Carson for H.U.D. Secretary. Really? The man couldn’t figure out his mother, living in rent-controlled housing and accepting food stamps while Carson was growing up, was, in fact, taking government assistance. Dr. Carson has stated he wants eliminate all government assistance programs. So, it was okay for Carson not to be homeless or to starve as a child, but needy children today have to fend for themselves? Not exactly a “progressive” position, Senator Warren. Whatever were you thinking?

The recent uproar about Betsy DeVos as secretary of education perhaps epitomizes the “they’re not listening to us” phenomenon. Coming from a family of educators, having many friends who are/were public school teachers, and having worked in public schools in various capacities myself, the horror of the DeVos nomination really hit home. Her past actions demonstrate a complete lack of ability to fill the position and her words only emphasize her desire to destroy America’s public schools once and for all. Upon the announcement, educators and their allies quickly banded together to defeat this threat. The sheer volume and intensity of their protests against DeVos couldn’t be ignored. Or could it?

Once again, it appears our elected representatives aren’t listening to us. But what do they have to gain from making us angry enough to drive them out of office in 2018? The short answer: money. Quite a lot of money. An example of how “money as speech” can influence a politician is seen in the recent actions of Ohio Senator Rob Portman. Considered a “moderate” Republican whose vote could be swung to the side of sanity, many teachers’ organizations targeted Senator Portman with intensive letter and phone call campaigns, encouraging him to vote against Mrs. DeVos’s nomination.

Ohio has a large number of public school teachers and plenty of outspoken parents who support public schools, so staying on their good side isn’t a bad idea for a politician, right? It is, if big money didn’t come into play. Betsy DeVos’s contributions to the Republican Party–including Rob Portman –can’t be ignored. In fact, according to OpenSecrets.org, all of the top ten recipients of campaign contributions from the DeVos family are Republican senators who voted in favor of her confirmation.

Here are the amounts each received from the DeVos family. Notice where Senator Portman comes on the list:

Marco Rubio – (R – FL): $91,300
Thom Tillis – (R – NC): $62,400
Bill Cassidy – (R – LA): $62,400
Pat Toomey – (R – PA): $56,550
Rob Portman – (R – OH): $48,300
Tim Scott – (R – SC): $43,800
Ron Johnson – (R – WI): $43,200
Chuck Grassley – (R – IA): $43,200
Todd Young – (R – IN): $43,200
Cory Gardner – (R – CO): $41,600

Since the 2010 Citizens United ruling in the Supreme Court, the voices of ordinary Americans have effectively been silenced. We simply can’t out-shout billionaires like Betsy DeVos and her family (the Amway fortune heirs). Their huge piles of money act like plugs in our elected representatives’ ears, muffling the people’s complaints and concerns. But all is not lost.

The Move to Amend organization is fighting to get the 28th Amendment into the Constitution, overturning the disastrous Citizens United ruling, stating that corporations do not have Constitutional rights and money is not free speech.

Once we’ve taken big money out of politics and gotten rid of the silly notion that somehow a corporation is a person (albeit a person who never goes to jail for his/her crimes), we ordinary Americans will be heard. It’s going to take hard work on all our parts to get this amendment passed, but the Move to Amend movement is growing and gaining new supporters daily.

Can you hear us now? Maybe not today, Senators Portman, Warren, and company, but soon. Very soon.

 

Bio: Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of Our Revolution Continues blog: http://bernie2016.blogspot.com.