Executive Director Column 4/21/15
I want to begin with an excerpt from an article about a Princeton study that appeared at the end of 2014:
“A new study, however by a Princeton University Professor of the influence of very wealthy or economically powerful persons on American political policies makes clear for the first time that a genuine American Oligarchy has staged a slow coup d’etat over US foreign and domestic policy over the past three decades since the era of Ronald Reagan. This American oligarchy today is the major force for war and dis-order across the planet.”
The study reviewed 1,779 policy issues and verified what most of us suspected—that U.S. domestic and foreign policy is determined by and for a small and elite slice of the country’s population.
Instead of arguing the facts of the study, although you can follow the links and make your own determinations, I urge you to face these and other truths that provide the context of our daily lives in the U.S. today.
Princeton study researchers concluded that like Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, today the United States is an Oligarchy, and not a Democracy. And our country’s oligarchs have names you will recognize, such as Gates, Bush, Koch, Buffett, and Rockefeller to name just a few of the few.
I am sure many people will either dismiss or embrace the findings without any investigation.
After all, doesn’t it seem that almost all public discourse is comprised of arguments about whether Ronald Reagan was a great man or a second rate actor; that Barack Obama is a great man or a foreign born usurper; that government is us/the U.S. people, or a system to deprive first and second amendments rights; that money is free speech, or just…money; that corporations are people or just a means to accumulate wealth and avoid accountability; or whatever the TV machine says is the burning issue of the day.
In the CFJC newsletters you get a taste of the incredible efforts people around the state, across the country and in Washington, D.C. are doing to fulfill the “American Dream,” where the American Dream is helping feed one another, protecting the environment, advocating for Democracy, or preparing for climate change.
Because so many of those individuals and groups are doing what they can to heal the planet, the land, and our communities and our families in spite of the path our oligarchs have predetermined, CFJC developed a unique role.
First, we provide technical assistance for groups and communities to support them in their work.
Next, we connect the dots between their work on the ground in communities, and policy at the state and federal levels. It truly is the most basic education anyone in the U.S. can undertake. The Republican controlled Congress has signaled $125 Billion in cuts to the SNAP program over ten years in their latest budget proposals, and that most definitely impacts not only the most vulnerable in our communities, but places each of us in the position to accept responsibility for the actions, by virtue of our inaction.
What kind of people are we to withhold food from children?
In the community efforts we undertake we are usually appreciated for the facilitation, note taking and other logistical support we bring. However, we also ask the hard questions, which, while it does not always make us the most popular participants, serves to raise the issues that frame the discussion.
Locally in the Bay Area, this means we administer the Growing Equity from the Ground Up project at PHI while maintaining the community’s authority, and push the envelope at the All-in: New War on Poverty efforts.
At the state level, after building relations and supporting our partners’ work, we are co-sponsoring our first piece of legislation.
The GOAT process is the best example of supporting communities across the country while addressing national policies, and trying to hold legislators accountable.
But all of CFJC efforts, and all of the good work in communities will eventually be negated by the greed of oligarchic corporations if we continue to keep our heads in the sand.
So let’s face it, and acknowledge it out loud: we no longer live in a Democracy. We live in an oligarchy.
We need a way to talk about that, and other issues facing us, which we tune out because we can. News has become entertainment, and entertainment is the “bread and circus” ploy that has worked so well since the days of the Roman Empire.
We need a way to have the hard conversations. Conversations we never ever broach.
We can start by taking responsibility for the world in which we live.
We have to act and live like grown-ups. We have to want to be grown-ups, and stop celebrating little men who dominate the political and pundit circles. Stop celebrating “business men” who pervert our food system, and act like the entitled noble class of the European middle ages.
Stop believing that we need the hedge fund managers and bank officials who caused the last economic collapse, and a ruling class of inherited wealth.
For these and many other examples and reasons we created the New Bill of Rights project.
The idea is to inspire conversations.
But there are some things that the New Bill of Rights project is not.
It is not a Bill of Rights. The idea is to set the table for conversation about what would comprise a New Bill of Rights.
You, and the people living in the U.S. will determine what values we want to include in a New Bill of Rights. What do you, your family, and your friends believe should be included?
The New Bill of Rights project is not a movement. It is a way for us to name what we value, and collectively come up with language that communicates that unequivocally.
Imagine the ongoing conversations if the idea takes off.
The New Bill of Rights project is not political. It is not political in the sense that any political party can own it. Because if the idea does take off, it will be subject to co-option, one of the ruling elite’s tried and true strategies.
What the New Bill of Rights project is, is a place where we can hold the conversations that elude us, as we engage in the entertainment that distracts us, or more likely, work the over time or two jobs, just to get by.
Yes, it is true. We need to continue the efforts in our communities that increasingly are taking the place of a governmental safety net.
But we also must begin to hold the conversations about who we are, as a people, as a country. And we must decide who we want to be.
The New Bill of Rights project is not owned by CFJC. Again, we provide logistical support.
For more information contact anyone at CFJC.
Take the New Bill of Rights project concept and make it work for you and yours. We believe that over time the process will develop a vocabulary that expresses the best of who we can be.
We look forward to working with you, to help re-create a country we can believe in, despite the rhetoric and machinations of the ruling Oligarchs.
I will close with my usual pitch for donations. I always thought it went without saying, but perhaps I need to say the following:
CFJC is not a favorite of the foundation philanthropic class. After all, there is a sometimes not even thin line between the wealth, corporate, and oligarchic community and their philanthropic/foundation efforts.
Which is why it is so important we receive those regular contributions that keep CFJC moving forward on your behalf. Please contribute what you can, when you can.
Once again, on behalf of the Steering Committee, staff and everyone at CFJC, thank you for your consideration, for your faith and hope for a better country, and for your work on behalf of us all.
All the best.
Y. Armando Nieto