By Ralph Nader
The large marches, in Washington, DC and around the country, calling attention to importance of science and focusing on the calamitous impacts of climate change had impressive turnouts. But the protests would have been more productive if they concentrated more – in their slogans and signs – on 535 politicians to whom we have given immense power to influence policies relating to those issues, for ill or for good.
I’m speaking of Congress.
Congress cannot be ignored or neglected simply because we know it to be a corporate Congress, or a gridlocked Congress, or a Congress that is so collectively delinquent, or perk and PAC addicted, or beholden to commercial interests, or self-serving through gerrymandered electoral districts where they, through their party’s controlled state government, pick the voters to elect them.
Sure, there are probably 100 good legislators on Capitol Hill. But many of these progressive elected officials fail to effectively network with citizen groups, or organize left-right coalitions back home into an unstoppable political force. Issues that invite such left/right consensus are numerous, including raising the federal minimum wage, protecting civil liberties, tackling government waste and corruption, advancing solar energy, reforming the corporate tax system, full Medicare for all (with free choice of doctor and hospital) and a crackdown on corporate crime and abuses against consumers, workers and communities. Polls show big majorities behind these and other much needed redirections and reforms.
All these improvements in the lives of all Americans have to go through Congress. Sure, some efforts can be partially achieved by self-help and state/local governments. But for a national, comprehensive change movement, it is the Congress, which must be effectively and forcefully instructed to act in the public interest.
The big business lobbies haven’t given up on Congress, have they? They’re swarming over the Senators and Representatives to get the power we’ve given these lawmakers regularly deployed on the behalf of the crassest, most avaricious and harmful demands of the business bosses.
The most successful “citizen lobbies” focused on Congress do not bother with major marches and demonstrations. Groups like the NRA and AIPAC focus, with laser-beam precision, on each member of Congress. They know their background, their strengths and weaknesses, their key advisors and friends back home, their physicians, their lawyers and accountants, the social clubs they belong to, the kinds of hobbies and vacations they pursue. The NRA and AIPAC advocates personally know the lawmakers’ staff, sources of their campaign contributions, their concerns about possible primary challengers, what kinds of well-paying positions members of Congress seek after retirement or defeat.
With this face-to-face lobbying, threats of primary challenges and ample campaign contributions, these groups have gotten their way in Congress to an amazing degree, given their relatively small numbers of supporters.
Here is some advice: Get to know your two Senators and Congressperson personally and on your terms. It’s easier to do this with a comprehensive agenda of long-overdue reforms which can give you broad-based left/right support in your state. Then issue a formal Summons (a draft is in my new paperback, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think) for your Senators and Representatives to attend YOUR town meeting on YOUR agenda of changes and advances.
Every Congressional District has about 700,000 men, women and children. Most Districts have community colleges and/or universities. All have the necessary one percent of serious citizens working together to focus majority opinion directly on members of Congress. Often what is required is less than one percent, or say 2,000 people, working collectively as Congressional Watchdogs for 5 to 10 hours a week and raising enough money for two full time offices each with two staff.
The fruits of such efforts are numerous and immensely important to our country, our children and their children, not to mention the world.
To expedite and increase the ratios of success, such Congressional Watchdog organizations require study, discussions, and some training sessions with easily available material in bookstores or on the Internet. Just consider how much serious input goes into hobbies by millions of Americans all the time. Consider participating in this very important “civic hobby” achieving a better life for the people with “liberty and justice for all.”
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