Swans Commentary » swans.com December 19, 2011  



Perspectives: A Review of 2011


American Democracy's Faults And Fixes More Visible


by Joel S. Hirschhorn





(Swans - December 19, 2011)   In 2011 a long awaited step was taken towards fixing the terribly broken and delusional American democracy. Maybe the painful economic recession and successful revolts in several countries helped set the stage for the revolt of suffering Americans in the form, first, of the Occupy Wall Street protest and then the larger, nationwide Occupy movement. It also helped that many millions of Americans came to accept the ugly reality that every part of the federal government and both major political parties had failed them.

President Obama was more widely seen as just another dishonest politician who lied his way through campaign promises of hope and change and instead delivered still more disappointment and frustration for most Americans. The top one percent made famous by the Occupy movement and the corporate powers that ruined the US and global economies escaped pain and prosecution under the Obama reign. Meanwhile, Congress was even more visible as the corrupt, dysfunctional arm of government held captive by the two-party plutocracy. Similarly, more people came to understand how a number of Supreme Court decisions had given even more power to corporate terrorists to corrupt government through money masquerading as free speech and personhood.

As a long time dissident activist who had worked extensively within the US government system, it became apparent that more Americans had realized that elections no longer held promise for fixing and reforming the broken US political system that had delivered the economy to the top one percent. If elections could not be used to repair and revitalize American democracy, what could?

Something new and innovative was needed. It came in the form of what many failed to understand and appreciate: the Occupy movement. It had the courage to reject ordinary modes of reform, progressive and rebellious movements that littered the physical and Internet landscape. It rejected ordinary organizational modes and, to the consternation of many politically-unhappy Americans, focused on what was fundamentally wrong with the U.S., notably economic inequality and injustice tied to a failed political system. It captured public and media attention with the simplistic, yet all too true, one percent winners versus the 99 percent losers.

My cynicism and pessimism about fixing American democracy retreated as I came to appreciate and even participate in the Occupy Wall Street protest. One thing in particular gave me hope: both the Occupy movement and other efforts, such as the getmoneyout.com effort, recognized the need for using something other than regular elections to get sorely needed reforms. Constitutional amendments could be used and, in particular, could be proposed not through a corrupt Congress but instead by employing the never-used constitutional provision for an Article V convention of state delegates. I had been working on this strategy for more than five years through the nonpartisan Friends of the Article V Convention that I co-founded.

Here are some important writings that impressed me for the Occupy movement:

Canadian author Erich Koch wrote a compelling article, "An Objective for the US Occupy Movement: A Constitutional Convention." He buys into the view that the Occupy movement could embrace the thinking of Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig who has presented the case for amendments to fix Congress. Like others Koch is correct in saying that "No one in the movement would disagree with its main point: the fundamental problem is the corruption of Congress." Unlike others, Koch recognizes the path for obtaining reform constitutional amendments is using the provision in Article V for a convention of state delegates, having the same power as Congress in proposing amendments that still must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. It has never been used despite many hundreds of state requests for a convention because, clearly, Congress and most status quo forces fear such a convention.

Koch cited a great article by Alesh Houdek, "Has a Harvard Professor Mapped Out the Next Step for Occupy Wall Street?" Most is a review of Lessig's book. Correctly noted about using the convention option is "it bypasses the usual means of reform (Congress, presidential elections, etc.) which the lobbyists and other interested parties have learned so well to manipulate. And lastly, such a convention would be free to propose solutions that would otherwise be subject to be stricken as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court." This is critical to understand. Houdek concludes: "Properly presented, the strategies and aims of Lessig's book could make it the handbook the protesters have been looking for -- and provide a pathway for them to ride out the winter ahead."

Dan Froomkin also has presented the same case in Lawrence Lessig's "New Book On Political Corruption Offers Protesters A Possible Manifesto." He quoted what Lessig himself had said in an article about the Occupy movement and the concern that I share, namely that the Occupy movement "will become too diffuse and not focused" on the root issue of corruption of government. And that the movement will only grow "if a wide range of people can be part of it." This requires coalescing around an issue "as fundamental as the corruption of the system." Only a constitutional amendment can fix the corrupting impact of money in politics. This is also the focus of Dylan Ratigan's fine effort, except that the use of the convention path has not been emphasized.

A specific call for an Article V convention was made by the pro-Occupy US Day of Rage group: "We are organizing a coordinated national campaign at local and state levels, including where necessary the occupation of state capitols, in order to demand an article V constitutional convention be called to restore representative democracy to our nation." A set of specific reforms to fix the corruption-money problem are presented.

The 99 Percent Declaration group presented an important statement centered on the call for a National General Assembly, where delegates would formulate a petition of a list of grievances that would be delivered to the main parts of the federal government on behalf of 99 percent of Americans. A suggested list of grievances includes the need for constitutional amendments to achieve solutions, but only for a few of the issues. Not explicitly acknowledged, however, is that constitutional amendments, not ordinary laws, would be necessary for other solutions, such as term limits for Congress and abandoning the Electoral College. Moreover, there is no specific recognition that serious amendment reforms will not be proposed by Congress, and that an Article V convention is needed. Inattention to method was also the shortcoming of a similar list of solutions by Ralph Lopez.

Author Scott Turow presented, "How Occupy Wall Street Can Restore Clout of the 99%." His recommendation to the Occupy movement: "work across the nation for a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to regulate the expenditure of private money on elections. [...] The best antidote to this imbalance of income and influence would be to greatly reduce the role of private funding in our elections. [...] As for the Occupy Wall Street movement, it has been criticized by some for not having a realistic agenda, even though polling shows that millions of Americans, including me, are sympathetic to the basic message of the protests." His prescription: "rally around a single goal and reinvigorate their movement." Fine, but missing from his analysis is the recognition that Congress will never propose reform amendments; only an Article V convention will do the job.

This sampling of recent writings clearly shows convergent thinking that the Occupy movement can and should focus on key reform constitutional amendments and, second, which some better informed critical thinkers recognize, this requires advocacy for using the Article V convention option that Congress has refused to honor.

One other notable event in 2011 was the appearance of the very well funded Americans Elect effort aimed squarely at building an alternative to the two-party plutocracy for nominating and electing a US president and vice president through a unique Web-based process. Already, over 2 million Americans have signed up and they likely will succeed in getting their nominees on every state ballot.

It certainly is not clear whether some of these efforts will produce what I have long talked and written about: a Second American Revolution. Still, I am more optimistic now than I have been in a long time. I hope that is also true for many other Americans. Considering that 2012 is a presidential election year, what might be a sign of successful rebellion? Despite no worthy Republican, I would like to see President Obama fail in his reelection attempt. Even more significant would be the failure of incumbent representatives and senators of both parties to be reelected. In other words, this is a time in history when it is critically important for Americans who choose to participate in our corrupt, dysfunctional political system, without real competition, to vote out every incumbent. That bipartisan message must be sent to the status quo political establishment. We, the 99 percent, are fed up and won't take it anymore. We the people want our government back.


To e-mail this article


· · · · · ·


If you find Joel Hirschhorn's work valuable, please consider helping us

· · · · · ·



Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Joel S. Hirschhorn 2011. All rights reserved.


Have your say

Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.


About the Author

Joel S. Hirschhorn was formerly a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and senior staffer at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association. He now writes about politics and government, and is the author of Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government and Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health And Money.   (back)


· · · · · ·


Internal Resources

Years in Review

Activism under the Radar Screen

America the 'beautiful'

Patterns which Connect

· · · · · ·


This edition's other articles

Check the front page, where all current articles are listed.



Check our past editions, where the past remains very present.

· · · · · ·


[About]-[Past Issues]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Copyright]



Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art17/joelh12.html
Published December 19, 2011