Testimony at Cleveland Heights “Democracy” Public Hearing

Cleveland Heights City Council, January 22, 2015

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Princeton and Northwestern university researchers in a study published this past September concluded, after extensive analysis of 1,779 policy issues from 1981-2002, that the U.S. is in fact an oligarchy and not a democracy.  The study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” states “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance,” however “majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” “’When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

This was 8 years before the Citizens United vs FEC decision; 12 years before the McCutcheon vs FEC Supreme Court decision eliminating aggregate contribution limits by individuals and 12 years prior to congressional action upping contribution limits 800% by individuals to political parties.

Political contributions in the 2014 mid-term elections followed the long standing trend of being greater than all preceding mid-terms. What was different was that for the first time while the total contribution amount increased, the total number of contributors decreased.

“Democracy” at the federal and state levels is an illusion

The problems associated with this reality not only affect us (citizens) but you (local elected officials). State budget cuts to municipalities like Cleveland Heights make your jobs much more difficult. Reasons for these budget cuts include political pressure from corporations (which benefit from austerity in the form of privatization/corporatization of public services) and political contributions from wealthy individuals who don’t like to pay taxes.

There is, however, good news. Awareness is rising of the connection between problems and that fundamental change can only happen through mass social movements.

Changing players (elections) or plays (laws and regulations) of the game isn’t enough. We must change the rules of the game.

We wish there was an easier way to bring change than through a constitutional amendment. Other nations that supposedly have inferior democracies to ours in Europe and elsewhere have national referendums. We don’t.

We’re doing our part at the grassroots to amend the constitution to end corporate personhood and money as speech. You, as elected officials, aren’t completely in the grass on the outside. Some of you are in the lobby or on the porch.

We ask that you do your part to educate and advocate for Move to Amend to your peers in other communities in Cuyahoga County where MTA campaigns are underway: Shaker Hts., S. Euclid, Lyndhurst, Cleveland, Berea and Parma. Also to County Council. And to our state and federal elected officials when you see them.

We need friends inside the political system to advocate for change, but this is no substitute for what must be mass grassroots social movements, which are ultimately the only way we can recapture our nation.

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