Bill Moyers’ last ever episode of “Journal” ran on PBS a few weeks back. I missed it but heard so many comments that I found it online and spent an hour and a half watching it. Nothing I’ve seen captures the American dilemma in 2010 as effectively as Moyers’ conversations with Jim Hightower and Barry Lopez. The April Harper’s piece by Kevin Baker, “The Vanishing Liberal,” adds extra emphasis and depth.The television conversation and the magazine article make this clear: We are too late to prevent the end of democracy in the U.S. The task is to recover it, a far more formidable challenge. How we allowed our precious democratic enterprise to be hijacked and reshaped into what we have today—a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy—can only be explained by our collective laziness, carelessness, inattention. We fell asleep at the wheel while the enemies of democracy, the super-rich, stole our inheritance right out from under us. So slick was that picking of our pockets that many (perhaps most) Americans still aren’t aware we’ve been fleeced. But make no mistake: We have been taken to the cleaners—and the final confirming evidence of that con job is the mind-numbing Supreme Court decision averring that corporations are people. As for our political leaders, their woeful weakness under enemy fire could be a training manual for how not to protect democracy. Those who haven’t surrendered completely and thrown in with the plutocrats have been reduced to an ineffectual chorus of compromisers, intent on “making the best of a bad situation.” Pitifully few heroes have stood against the stealth conquest.Baker says it well in describing our hapless fatalism: “We have learned to be helpless. And in this state of political depression, it no longer matters how many elections liberals win for the Democrats or how badly Republican, right-wing policies fail or how much damage they do to the country or the world. There is simply no way to do anything differently.” Moyers and Hightower lay out the dimensions of the problem, how the tiny fraction of the wealthiest Americans has manipulated our institutions, laws and commercial principles for total control. Then Moyers asks Hightower, How can we ever get out of this mess?The answer, begun by Hightower, is completed by Barry Lopez during the second half of the program. And it is an answer echoed by Baker in the conclusion to his piece: “There is no longer any meaningful reformist impulse left in our politics … simply voting for one man or supporting one of the two major parties will not restore it. The work will have to be done from the ground up and it will have to be done by us.”There is, I’m afraid, no other way than to roll up our sleeves and start working at rooting out the rascals. It means work, the kind Hightower describes the Populist movement of the late 1800s conducting: meeting in church halls, living rooms and community centers; public education sessions; reading, analyzing and discussing; and building organizations determined to resist, to stand firm for principle. Repeatedly in the history of our country there have had to be similar citizen movements to take back democracy from the enemy within—the far more dangerous and insidious enemy than those outside, who we easily mobilize against.Today the work means taking up the civic dialogue, and it means actually learning about what is going on from sources other than network news.If we don’t, the corporations that control us and our votes will go unchallenged, and we will have lost the most precious of all our gifts—the right to self-determination—not through a revolution or invasion but through a million tiny lullabies singing us to sleep. The enemy is not government; the enemy is not business. The enemy is the powerful, tiny minority who control government and business to ensure their power and profit will go unchallenged. If we don’t get to work, they will remain in control. Start by watching Moyers’ last show and reading Baker’s article. Then let’s pass a constitutional amendment that makes clear corporations truly are not people.
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