Crimes Against Democracy

This speech was given on October 26, 1999, on the east steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., by Ronnie Dugger, co-chair, the Alliance for Democracy, during a midday rally for clean elections. The rally was sponsored by the Alliance and co-sponsored by Public Campaign and United for a Fair Economy. After the rally, nine citizens who had constituted themselves as the Democracy Brigade entered the Capitol rotunda, unfurled a banner, "Stop Crimes Against Democracy," and attempted to take turns reading aloud through the same address, but before they could finish they were arrested, handcuffed, booked, photographed, fingerprinted and charged with demonstrating in the Capitol contrary to a federal law. Trial was set for January 20.

"This system stinks. This system is money."

So spoke Senator George Mitchell, the Democratic Majority Leader, on the front page of the Boston Globe in December 1994 as Congress killed, again, "campaign finance reform."

That was our democracy he was talking about. Then he gave up -- the Majority Leader of the United States Senate walked away from Congress.

Today we, some of the people, have walked back to the Capitol, the scene of the crime. We want to speak to you, Members of Congress. We want to speak to you.

Some say our democracy has never belonged to the people, and that may be right. We didn't have a deep enough democracy. But we did have our country, and now we've lost it.

We want it back.

We want it back from the gigantic corporations.

We want it back from the billionaires and the multimillionaires.

We want it back from you, Members of Congress.

We want you to do our business, not theirs.

You declaim and legislate against crime and criminals. But your crimes against democracy mock your eloquence and your righteousness.

You dress appropriately, and we know you are kind to your own children and have many other good qualities. But if you are not working to end campaign corruption by enacting full public funding of all federal elections and the other needed reforms of the election system, your honor and your virtue are mocked by the crimes that you, you personally, and you together, are committing against democracy.

These are hard things to say. We are friendly citizens, and we do not like to say them. But we are serious citizens, and we have finally been driven to come here to say them.

Here in the Capitol every day the Congress in which you sit is committing and perpetuating capital crimes against democracy. Bribery. Theft. Despoliation. Rape of the Environment. Criminal neglect of the young and the sick and the dying. Congress is selling, and Congress is killing, the ideal that has been cherished for centuries in Western civilization: democracy.

Men and women of the Congress, when you refuse to seriously consider letting us pay for our own elections with our own public funds, to educate ourselves about the ideas and plans of those who would lead us, when you turn over our elections to domination by big-money propaganda, you are selling stolen property, democracy that is not yours to sell. This is Grand Theft.

When you let the gigantic corporations befoul our elections with "soft money" that buys your re-elections just as well as hard money does, you commit crimes against democracy.

When you let PACs pack your wallets and in return get for themselves what should be our laws, you are selling our democracy to them for your profit and power.

When you deny the people national health insurance because of your payoffs from the pharmaceutical and health insurance corporations and their HMOs, you are conspiring with them to put their profit and your power ahead of our health.

When you give away to private corporations hundreds of billions of dollars of our money--you know, the press calls it "corporate welfare" -- again you commit grand theft against democracy.

When you continue to let the giant corporations pollute the land, the soil, the rivers, the oceans, and the air, what we eat and drink and breathe and where all our fellow beings are, so you can get their money and keep your power, you sicken and damage our bodies, and you poison the only earth we have whereon to live and govern ourselves.

When, for money that you receive, you give away to the mining corporations the hundreds of billions of dollars in minerals that we own in the public lands that we also own, and when you let cow corporations graze their cows on our land for next to nothing, you are stealing from the common wealth of all the living and yet to be born, you are selling, again you are selling, what is ours, for your profit and power.

And when, in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, you gave to the present billionaire-corporation licensees of our television channels -- gave them, for nothing -- our, the public's, six or more new channels that technical advances have made possible -- new channels that belong to us and are worth (Senator Bob Dole of Kansas has told us) up to $70 billion of our money -- you consolidated corporate control of the public space that is essential to free speech and democracy, and you committed a criminal theft and giveaway of our public property that makes every other heist from our national Treasury look like kids stealing Lifesavers.

We know you are caught in a bad system that seems to give you little choice except to quit Congress, as Senator Mitchell, Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, and many others have done. Unless you are one of the more and more multimillionaires who sit in Congress now, you have to raise obscene sums of money from corporations and rich people in order to get re-elected. We sympathize with you about this.

But we have delegated our power to you, you can use that power to adopt a new clean campaign finance system, and you have not done it. You go on practicing gimme-the-money politics in the broken system, and you win re-election with the money. You sit on committees that govern whole industries while you take money from those same industries. From banks, if you're on the banking committees. From insurance companies, if you're on the health-insurance committees. From corporate polluters, if you're on the environment committees. You know and we know that this is the way it works.

Now, let us be clear with you: We did not come here for fig-leaf reform, mere tinkering with this rotten system. As long as election campaigns are privately financed, big corporations and the rich will continue to control our democracy just as they control our economy. Only publicly-financed campaigns will break their stranglehold.

Gladly we'll pay $10 or so a year in taxes to control our own elections. It's costing us trillions not to.

You could fight for full public funding of public elections, and, until that passes, you could excuse yourself from any deliberation or vote on legislation that affects the economic interests of your major funders.

But you don't.

You are trapped, but we are trapped with you, and you are failing us, for your crimes against democracy are crimes against us. You're keeping us from having honest democratic conversations in our elections. You're giving money we need for our families to corporations so they can get bigger and charge us more for less. You're taking money for votes you should be casting for us. All these crimes against democracy and us may not be illegal, but they are immoral and unethical, they are just plain wrong--

Morally wrong, to take tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from weapons-making corporations, while you spend many billions of our dollars to buy weapons even the Pentagon doesn't want, to prepare for a war of mutual mass death, with a Soviet Union that went out of existence nine years ago--

Morally wrong, to cut in half the share of our taxes the corporations pay while you also cut education and other needed services--

Morally wrong, to know that cigarettes kill 400 thousand of us every year, that 3,000 teenagers start smoking every day, yet still to let the cigarette corporations get away with lying to all of us and carrying on as usual here and around the world, where cigarettes will kill a hundred million people in the first decade or two of the new millennium.

Morally wrong, to take big money from big corporations and big billionaires who want and get big favors because you abuse the power we have entrusted to you.--

It's a fairy tale that they get nothing for their money. Just 18 days ago, Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter said from the highest bench in the land, "someone who makes an extraordinarily large contribution is going to get some kind of extraordinary return for it." From the same bench, on the same day just over there across the street, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer referred to big contributors "owning" candidates.

No more fairy tales! -- we know these things -- some of you have told us. Paul Simon, the long-time senator from Illinois, asked and answered: "Why do we have [more than 40 million] Americans without health care coverage? Because they are not big campaign contributors. ..." Senator Robert C. Byrd, of West Virginia, "the Dean of the Senate," tells us: "It is Money! Money! Money! Not ideas, not principles, but Money that reigns supreme in American politics."

We are on to the disguises for these crimes, too. If lawyers before a judge in a case gave him or her money in that court over there they would all go to jail for bribery. But lobbyists pleading for legislation before you here give you money and it's democracy in action. You, being "the lawmakers," have protected yourselves against prosecution by making it legal for you to take money for votes. You have legalized bribery. Five-term congressman Cecil Heftel of Hawaii, writing in 1998, said, "Bribery is the way the system works. ... The whole system is rotten."

Nobody's kidding anybody. Not any more.

So we have come to the Capitol, to the scene of these crimes against us, Ladies and Gentlemen of Congress.

We have walked over here today to look you in your eyes and ask you:

Are you with us, or are you a criminal against democracy?

We have come to look you in your eyes and ask you:

Where is our government?

What have you done with it?

Where is our democracy?

What have you done to it?

Where is our country?

Where have you put it?

Are you with us, or are you with them?

Please do not tell us that these are not the right questions. Some of you have already answered them.

Bill Bradley. Former senator from New Jersey. Running for President. Senator Bradley tells us: "Money not only determines who is elected, it determines who runs for office."

Senator John McCain of Arizona. Prisoner of war for our country. Running for President, he says, "... all of us have been corrupted by the process ... and you can include me."

ALL OF US, said John McCain.

Senator McCain told us, quote: "We are the defenders of an elaborate influence-peddling scheme in which both parties conspire to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder." Close quote.

We HEARD that. Selling the country to the highest bidder. Senator McCain said it on June 30, in Bedford, New Hampshire. He said he couldn't stand the shame of it.

Can you?

We cannot.

We admit that, like Senator McCain, like you, we are guilty. We have heard this is going on, getting worse every year, but we're just everyday people, earning a living and worrying about our kids and killing a few hours watching television, and not many of us demanded that it stop. We are responsible, too, for our inaction, our complicity, our silence and acceptance.

But that complicity and that acceptance is over.

We come from anger, but in peace.

We come from rage, but we are calm.

From cynicism we come, but we have faith.

We come from despair, but we have hope.

We will wait no longer. Last week was the filibuster that broke the people's back. We are the people, and we will enforce democracy.

Congress is indicted. How do you plead?

You and we together must stop these crimes against democracy, crimes here in the Capitol in broad daylight, day after day after day. Crimes in progress.

And we will pay for our own elections. We don't trust anybody else to pay for them any more.

We aim to restore our basic concern for each other. We know that the common good is more important than greed and victories for our own egos.

And so today we take the first of a series of steps to bring into being an interactive cooperation of our independent organizations and a great new national movement of the people to achieve full public funding of public elections, national health insurance, and the complete supremacy of democracy over concentrated economic power.

We have to go home at night, like you do. But Granny D is coming and we are coming with her. We will be back to this, the scene of the crimes against democracy, again and again, in greater and greater numbers, until we get back our country.

We will be back, and back, and back, to this, our Congress, until the verdict is in for our United States of America.

[The concept that campaign finance corruption constitutes crimes against democracy is the idea of Randy Kehler of Conrain, Mass. The address to Congress on this theme was written by Ronnie Dugger of New York City and Somerville, Mass. Suggested changes were incorporated from Nancy Price, Davis, Calif.; Arnold Stanton, Newark, R.I.; Garret Whitney, Concord, Mass.; Kati Winchell and Lynn Gargill, Lincoln, Mass.; Annette Jacobsohn, Wayland, Mass.; Bob Comeaux, San Antonio, Texas; Vern Simula, Toivola, Mich.; Elliot Negin, Washington, D.C.; Walter Teague, Adelphi, Md.; Lucinda Keils, Detroit, Mich.; Scott Heinzman, Livonia, Mich.; Keith Gunter, Clinton Township, Mich.; Harold Stokes, Redford, Mich.; Dan Butts, Pleasant Ridge, Mich.; Ken and Dottie Reiner, Long Beach, Calif.; Nick Penniman, Wayland, Mass.; Randy Kehler, and others.]

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