The impetus for the 20th century “Civil Rights I” movement was the inequity of some Americans being ‘more equal than others’ based on race and gender. A 21st century version, Civil Rights II, must be reinvigorated to fight the inequity of some Americans being “more equal than others” based on political power and access (oligarchy). Of course, we must continue to combat racial and gender inequity despite progress.
During Civil Rights I, some in Congress showed leadership and personal responsibility, changing behavior way before the law caught up requiring it. In President Lincoln’s words, they had “firmness in the right as God (gave them) to see the right.” They fought racism often losing elections or being threatened physically due to their courageous and precocious stance. They simply had moral fortitude to know that the fact that a behavior was legal did not make it right. They recalled the infamous Supreme Court Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) decision that constitutionally legalized ‘separate but equal’ segregation until being reversed decades later by Brown vs. Board of Education (1954).
Similarly, our current leaders should lead in Civil Rights II, work to rectify the imbalance of power and access in our political system, combat apathy and cynicism, and promote sustainable representative democracy. The acceptance of special interests money is the basic building block of the inequity of political power and access in our political system, analogous to racist behavior in Civil Rights I. Hence, we need our leaders to step up to the plate and stop partaking in the unethical system despite its legality. Citizens United vs. FEC be damned. Irrelevant and wrong. Simply say no.
Vermont has a history of reasonableness and promotion of sustainable values, and America desperately needs its values leadership. Senator Leahy has an opportunity to be a leader in Civil Rights II—to be the first senior member of Congress to simply say “no” to special interests campaign funding despite its legality. He could set an example for young people showing one should do what’s right whether required by law or not. He should sign on to our Vermont Political Revolution movement (http://danielfreilich.com/political_revolution.php). He should announce he will no longer take special interests campaign funding and will return all of the $1.4 million in special interests political action committee money he has taken.
It would be a great gesture of leadership and courage and guarantee his legacy in the history books. More importantly, maybe other incumbents and candidates would be shamed into doing the right thing too. Maybe it will begin to return honor to elected public service in America.
Maybe it would even lead to a revitalization of sustainable representative democracy in America and help get our groove back as a nation.