Editor’s Note: For an alternative viewpoint, please see: Point: The Governing Philosophies that Divide America
In this turbulent political season it can be easy to fear that our country is riven by differences, more and more divided into two Americas.
But the fact is that a majority of Americans support the same basic policies — including government action to fight income inequality and improve wages, to regulate banks and the financial sector, to make college more affordable and to deal with climate change.
Unfortunately, wealthy and special interests keep government from being responsive and accountable to the people. And some politicians seek to hold on to political power by preventing American voters from exercising our authority in the voting booth. Simply put, Americans don’t believe that government is working for them, and studies confirm that government is more responsive to the policy preferences of the wealthiest few than the majority of Americans.
That is not a healthy democracy; rather, it’s a corruption of our democracy. Because in a democracy we should all be political equals.
Democracy isn’t supposed to mean someone can overwhelm other voices by spending unlimited money advancing their political and economic self-interest. But since Citizens United, special interests have exploited loopholes for secret political spending. Now we face unlimited dark money being used to poison the political decision-making process, with no accountability for secret spenders and their hidden agendas.
This isn’t a left issue or a right issue, this is an American issue. We can, and must, do better. Americans are uniting to demand fundamental changes to the rules for our democracy, particularly how money influences political power, and to ensure all eligible voters can have their voices heard at the ballot box.
We can fix our democracy and restore responsive self-government by rebuilding a system of funding elections that puts the power in the hands of regular constituents, instead of our current system that favors the wealthy and special interests.
For example, matching small donations from constituents with public funds amplifies the power of regular Americans because elected representatives are no longer dependent on the wealthy to fund their campaigns. Just last year, voters in Maine and Seattle passed public financing measures to invest in a government that works for them, and Arizonans just launched a campaign to fix their system.
We must also protect the integrity of our elections by ensuring that every eligible voter can cast a ballot. There are common-sense steps to facilitate political participation, including expanding early voting and online and same-day registration. Oregon is leading the way with the country’s first automatic voter registration system, and has so far registered more than 34,000 voters this year — almost four times the number registered during previous years. This is a huge step forward to remove barriers to participation.
Further, Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act — which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013 — so that every voter is protected from discrimination. This is the first presidential election in 50 years without a fully functioning Voting Rights Act, and we’ve seen the largest assault on voting rights in generations.
Finally, President Obama should issue an executive order to require that government contractors are transparent about how they spend money to influence politics. In a post-Citizens United era, we need the president to help fight the scourge of secret political spending by taking action and demonstrating that solutions are real and possible.
Earlier this month in Washington, 400 people were arrested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, calling for changing the rules on how money influences government, restrictions on voting and fairness in election districts. As one organizer put it, “We send a message — to everyone in our country who needs a government that represents us all — that this House is your House too, and now is the time to stand up and take it back.” Thousands more are expected in D.C. in a “Democracy Awakening” to demand these democracy solutions from our elected leaders.
Democracy is not a game. It is our American system of government, the way that we make decisions about the future of our country and resolve our differences together. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.”
Fortunately, real solutions to restore our democracy exist — but we must start fixing the problems in our campaign finance and voting systems now to reclaim a government that works for all.