Declare Your Independence!

Independent Media, Independent Political Movements, and Independent Electoral Activity is the Path to the Paradigm Shifting Change America Needs.

If I had to pick one word for Americans who want real change, it would be independence.

Not only because the United States was founded on the idea of independence but because those of us who work to try and change the country for the better and have studied American history have learned this has always been the critical ingredient for real change.

First, we need independent media. Web based outlets like this one are a critical ingredient to the success of advocacy efforts. Like so many businesses in the United States, the media is controlled by a concentrated group of corporations. A handful of companies own all the hundreds of television stations on your cable TV. The same is true of radio stations. More and more newspapers are part of syndicates. These conglomerates have brought about a homogenization that only reports a concentrated corporate perspective.

The media does not report on the incredible activism taking place all around the country. They don’t want America to have another Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Ralph Nader and so many others who in the past helped to move the United States, in part because the media reported on their activities. Now we only hear about corporate CEO’s and elected officials elected due to corporate donations – otherwise, it is sports stars and entertainment.

The truth is there is more activism and organizing going on than even those of us working for change realize. If you attended the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit this month you could see it – at least 12,000 people attended, almost all were parts of organizations representing many more people, each working on a range of issues from housing and banking, to peace and criminal justice – people working to transform the American economy and political system. Did the media report on this conference? Does the media report on the movements these people are part of?

This leads me to the second area of independence we need – independent political movements. Throughout history it has been independent movements that made paradigm shifting change happen. Woodrow Wilson worked to prevent women from getting the right to vote. Leading suffragists were jailed and tortured during his presidency for protesting outside the White House. But in the end, woman got the right to vote while he was president.

LBJ was a member of a political party dominated by southern segregationists. They opposed African American voting, ending Jim Crow, blacks and whites living together, going to school together, eating in the same restaurants – but LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act because an organized, independent civil rights movement demanded it. Richard Nixon, a war hawk, did not want to end the Vietnam War, admitting defeat of the U.S. military. He was forced to by a persistent and independent anti-war movement that criticized both political parties for their support of the war. The peace movement – and the people in Vietnam resisting U.S. aggression – forced Nixon to end the war.

The Obama era has shown many Americans that advocacy groups that work hand in glove with the Democratic Party sell out their base and claim false victories. A prime example is the health care bill. This “reform” protected the status quo – health care dominated by private insurance was the problem before reform and remains the problem. The bill will result in hundreds of billions of dollars going to the insurance industry every year in tax payer subsidies and Americans being forced to buy their flawed corporate products.

The cost of health insurance was not controlled, tens of millions will be left without insurance ten years from now and every regulation of the insurance industry in the law contains a poison pill that protects the insurance industry. The coalition, Health Care for America Now, spent tens of millions of dollars, donated by donors allied with the Democratic Party, to support the Democratic leadership bill. It was a sell out of their constituents who needed real reform.

Americans will not receive better health care, health care will devour more and more of the GDP, and deficit spending by government will continue because of a fraudulent “reform” that preserved market dominated health care. This is happening on issue after issue – corporations win, the people lose, and organizations supposedly working for the peoples’ necessities claim victory while selling Americans out.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Americans need to declare their independence from two parties dominated by concentrated corporate power. Both parties take tens of millions from big business interests every year, elected officials, their staff members and sometimes their spouses profit going to work for corporations they “regulate” in the revolving door between government and concentrated corporate interests, receiving big checks for serving on their boards and feeding off the trough of crony capitalism.

This is not a new problem for America. Big business interests have always dominated government and the two parties have consistently represented status quo business interests, but throughout our history we have seen the people transform the government by creating independent political movements that challenged the two parties.

When the most valuable industry in the United States was slavery, the two parties – the Democrats and the Whigs – conspired to ensure that abolition of slavery would not be considered in Congress. The Democrats, dominated by slave holding plantation owners, and the Whigs, dominated by Northern industrialists who profited from cheap cotton, did not want to see slavery end.

More than a hundred years of abolition advocacy was unsuccessful in breaking the grip of two parties whose political power came from slavery. Some of those who opposed slavery decided to challenge the two status quo parties. They formed abolition parties and ran to end slavery. They were called spoilers – just as Ralph Nader is called a spoiler for challenging the corporate parties today – but they ran and ran. They never won. But gradually the Whig Party weakened. Finally, the abolitionists evolved into the Republican Party and the most successful third party president in history, Abraham Lincoln, was elected president and slavery finally ended.

Looking back at this history would you have voted for either one of the slave parties? Or, would you have voted to end slavery even though your candidate had no chance of winning?

Look at many of the major paradigm shifts in history – farmers fighting banks that were foreclosing on them, workers not allowed to unionize and forced to work long, unsafe hours, the creation of Social Security, health care for the poor, ending child labor – the list goes on and on. All of these major changes in American history were first brought into the electoral arena by independent electoral efforts.

The government is dysfunctional today. It is unable to deal with pressing problems facing the country. People are losing their homes, declaring bankruptcy, dying from lack of health care, suffering from endless wars – but elected officials are stuck in inaction or fake action that protects the status quo.

Independent politics means recognizing we have two corporate dominated parties and that we need to have at least one party not dominated by concentrated corporate interests in order to make progress on the urgent necessities of the American people.

Independent politics does not necessarily mean winning elections, at least not right away. It may mean that the greater evil gets elected – an evil that will fund war and dole out taxpayer dollars to corporate interests – much like the lesser evil will do. But the path to paradigm shifting change has always included people willing to fight in the electoral arena even if they lost the election. These parties lost the election, but won the argument and in the end won real reform.

It is becoming more and more evident to Americans that the issue of the day is concentrated corporate power. We are in the midst of a major paradigm shift that will end corporatism – the combination of government and concentrated corporations working for their interest and not ours. Will you continue to vote for one of the corporatist parties? Or, will you do as our ancestors did and create the paradigm shift we need by challenging the powers that be.

So, on Independence Day remember the roots of the United States declaring independence from the most power imperial power of the day, remember Americans throughout history challenging two parties that protected the status quo and look at the lessons of the last year when the lack of independence has only led to change that corporations can believe in.

This weekend – Declare Your Independence – and work for the real change we need.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on July 3rd, 2010 at 9:34am #

    The media does not report on the incredible activism taking place all around the country. They don’t want America to have another Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Ralph Nader and so many others who in the past helped to move the United States, in part because the media reported on their activities. Now we only hear about corporate CEO’s and elected officials elected due to corporate donations – otherwise, it is sports stars and entertainment. Zeese

    Yes and with the elections coming in November and don’t they have another watered down bill on the way and of course the oil spill and I heard something about the US Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations and unions can limitlessly fund political campaigns oh heck media must love that. Will am getting some ear plugs and I already have boot’s cause to study corporate CEO’s and elected officials I mean listen too and sports stars and movie stars well I’ve decided to study a star a medium sized star that we call the Sun that I understand the other Stars I haven’t the slightest idea what they are doing it all seems so strange. The Sun now that’s tuff corporate CEO’s and elected officials the media sports stars and entertainment well I guess they think there hot well old Sol out there is at the surface 10,000 Fahrenheit and at the center 27,000,000 Fahrenheit that’s hot. Cup of coffee nice game of checkers you would rather talk about yourself ok where would you like to start? I know ever hear this land is your land, this land is my land where are you going come back was it something I said?

  2. Don Hawkins said on July 3rd, 2010 at 9:45am #

    Now just on the off chance some corporate CEO’s and elected officials the media sports stars and entertainment people read what I just wrote they might call me an elitist well heck maybe they would at the age of 62 walk in my boot’s and help me sweep my bait shop and clean the fish tank and help my son and I put down tile or lay rug and then we could go to my son’s farm and play in the dirt. Come on people now fight back damn it.

  3. Don Hawkins said on July 3rd, 2010 at 10:19am #

    For all you people who are young let’s see for the girls maybe be just like lady Gaga or maybe a journalist on Fox new’s. For the boy’s a rock star or a sports star and you can make 27,000,000 million dollars a year. Well boy’s and girls can be all those and a corporate CEO or an elected officials might be a good choice you will not believe the on the job training. Then just on the off chance the train coming down the track is real get some boot’s and learn to travel light and move fast. The truth not easy just the truth.

  4. Don Hawkins said on July 3rd, 2010 at 11:05am #

    Here are a few more choices astronomer night work quiet you don’t make as much money as a rock star and oh so much less confusing. Activist because without them being an astronomer is probably academic. Farming is good or living off the kindness of strangers while being an activist is one choice headed to DC for a little get together one voice calm at peace loud and clear what does that sign say, Go To Work, good one. It’s going to be your world well come to think of it it already is. Buy gold no much to heavy just slow you down.

  5. mary said on July 4th, 2010 at 1:57am #

    Well said Kevin Zeese. If you don’t mind me saying it, you are following on from the great Howard Zinn who was saying similar in 2006.

    ‘Put Away the Flags.’ It’s on ICH

    Happy 4th of July you over there from us over here!

  6. kbzeese said on July 4th, 2010 at 6:33am #

    Mary —

    Howard Zinn was a great one. I was a member of what became known as the Baucus 8 in the real health care reform movement. Eight of us, doctors, lawyers, health care and labor activists, stood up in the Senate Finance Committee at the beginning of health care reform and demanded that single payer health care — the most popular reform among Americans — be included in the discussion of reform. It wasn’t. We were each arrested for standing up and demanding it. Zinn told Amy Goodman when she asked what Americans should be doing, that people should do as the 8 of us did — go where you are not supposed to go, say what you are not supposed to say and refuse to leave when they insist you stop. Now, that was an honor!

  7. Deadbeat said on July 4th, 2010 at 12:37pm #

    Yeah right. Zinn was so “great” that he refused to support Ralph Nader in 2004 by advocating the “anybody but Bush/vote for Democrat John Kerry”. He really “stood up” to power. This tactic of Zinn was designed to weaken the anti-war movement which was increasingly becoming independent of the “War for Oil” axiom of Zinn and Chomsky by introducing analysis of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby had on pushing for the war on Iraq.

    The problem with the health care issue is that the “movement” is that the advocacy is too narrow. It is more oriented to middle class needs rather than the immediate needs of the working class.

  8. Rehmat said on July 4th, 2010 at 8:57pm #

    History teaches us that every colonial power has made desperate attempts to pre-empt the rising powers challenging its direct or indirect colonialism. Britain and France had to let its colonies in Africa, Middle East and Asia to shore their national integrities. USSR did the same after defeated by Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s by releasing its colonial grip over most of East European countries. America’s fear of the Islamic Republic is that the later is leading Turkey, Venezuela and Brazil to stand up against the US and Israeli colonialism in South America and the Middle East.

    Former U.S. Ambassador Chas Freeman has noted that the rising influence and independence of the nondeferential powers has inserted dysfunctionality into US policymaking. It seems that coping with the “winds of change” is set to be even harder for the United States than it was for Britain or France or Russia. The leaders of those colonial powers at least understood that earlier war entailed such change.

    It’s very difficult for the US leaders to learn from the past history – as they still live in the ‘fantasy’ of being the ‘liberator’ of Europe and the ‘leader’ of the so-called ‘free world’. It’s more difficult because the US leadership is controlled by a foreign country (Israel) which has its own axe to grind, especially, against the Muslim world.

  9. kbzeese said on July 4th, 2010 at 9:51pm #

    Re Zinn, yes, I was disappointed that he did not endorse Nader in 2004. I was serving as Nader’s spokesperson and press secretary at the time. And, there was an organized effort to get “progressive” leaders to oppose Nader’s run.

    The U.S. electoral system is a manipulated democracy. It is not an easy one to operate in. I’m thoroughly convinced that neither party can be changed from their corporate domination and voting for candidates in either corporate party is propping up a failed system.

    But, at the time fear of Bush was so high among many that they could not thing straight, so “ready for duty” “I’ll kill them or capture them” “escalate the war” “expand the DoD” Kerry was acceptable. Sadly, Obama promised much the same and is doing what he promised.

    Debs had it right — I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, then for what I don’t want and get it.

  10. lichen said on July 5th, 2010 at 5:28pm #

    Yes, Howard Zinn was great–he worked for decades in the civil rights and anti-war movements, and achieved a lot. He is not reducible to whether he made a useless endorsement in the last years of his life. We don’t need endorsements for Nader, we need widespread, massive electoral reform to bring us real democracy; working within the rules with endorsements won’t do anything. In fact, there are some deadbeats here who not only refused to endorse Nader/Mckinney, but called Nader racist and sat out the election; surely that dwarfs the historical achievements of Zinn.