George, it used to be that a few heartfelt letters to a politician counted for something. No more.
Most all our politicians are so embodied with corporate America, it now takes an avalanche of letters, phone calls, marchers, even civil disobedience, to sway these so-called people's representatives from their keepers' instructions.
Our democracy is deeply corrupted. Feeding this is the voter apathy such corruption spawns. "What's the use?" is a feeling common to most of us.
Billions in legal bribes pass between the rich and our shameless politicians. Both parties are guilty. Witness last week's House vote against controlling "soft money donations."
Paying the piper pays. Big.
About 43 percent of President Bush's trillion-dollar tax cut goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. This same money would more than pay for medical insurance for the 46 million Americans who can't afford it.
Don't you think most of us would rather see that money go to the working poor rather than millionaires? But have you even seen this idea floated in the popular press? I haven't.
WHAT HAPPENED TO PATRIOTS?
George, you ask what we can do to change the system.
We must revive the powerful idea of citizenship. This country was founded upon the notion that we the people are smart enough and care enough to run our country for the good of us all. Before the advent of today's professional politician, we chose public-spirited representatives to go to Washington for a term or two, then pass the responsibility on to the next citizen.
You don't hear the word "citizen" much anymore. It's an old-fashioned idea, like that of "patriot," forgotten in this age of greed, selfishness, and celebrity.
But until we can reawaken the spirit in which this country was founded, our representatives will continue to be corrupted by the inevitability of kissing the backsides of corporate moneymen everywhere.
Recently, I heard a US senator complain that he had to spend an average of four hours a day, seven days a week, raising money for his next election. Fundraising, not governing, is his full-time job. Under the best of circumstances, this man and the 534 representatives like him have precious little time or incentive to think much about you, me, and what's good for America.
Suddenly Trivia: Total "soft money" contributions to the two major parties for the 2000 congressional election cycle were: a) $79.8 million, b) $289.4 million, or c) $463.1 million.
Maybe Jefferson was right. He figured we'd need a full-blown revolution every generation or so.
We're way overdue.
In our hearts, we seniors know this. More and more, today's money-based politics create poverty and injustice, establish a destabilized world, and give rise to the unnecessary suffering of millions.
Deep down we know that we're ruled by the rich, by corporations that care little about ideas of equality and justice, notions we still hold dear. As seniors, George, we're the only ones yet alive who remember a more honest, decent, and democratic America.
It may be that only we can save democracy.
SENIORS, AMERICA NEEDS YOU
We could start by taking back broadcast rights that we already own, allowing free and uncensored political ads and discussion on TV, eliminating much of the need for political corporate dependency.
The first shot of the next American Revolution could be as simple as every tenth senior writing his or her representative in Washington. That would be six million of us letting Washington know that we're fed up being ruled by the rich. It's time to kiss our patooties for a change.
Before "of the people, by the people, and for the people" turns into "People good, corporations better," let's start writing. And calling. And visiting our politicians when they're in town.
Let's light a Fourth of July firecracker under their ass.
No one else is. Saving America is up to you. And you. And me.
George, can you think of a better way to spend your retirement than as a patriotic revolutionary, saving democracy for the world? Again.
Suddenly Trivia Answer: c) $463.1 million, 96% more than the $235.9 million raised for the 1996 election. Total hard money contributions to the two major parties and their candidates for the 2000 election cycle was $1.9 billion.
© 2001 Frank Kaiser
THE MOST IMPORTANT OFFICE IN A DEMOCRACY IS THE OFFICE OF CITIZEN - Justice Louis Brandeis
NOTE: I asked one of Suddenly Senior's readers, a legislative assistant living in Illinois, if letters still count. Here's what she wrote in March 2002:
It depends on the legislator. The one I work for is incredibly decent and she does take every single letter into consideration. I would say that most of the state legislators are considerate of their constituents concerns.
And it is not true that people must hand write their letters. Our office prefers that they be done on a computer because they are more readable. However, all letters and emails with the senders name and address and/or phone number are taken seriously.
The problem is with the party leadership. They get so much money from the special interests that whoever sends them the most money gets special attention. That is why you are better off in a state that is evenly balanced with Republicans and Democrats. That way neither party can ram stuff through the legislature without a good debate. Of course, whoever governs the state has the most clout, so if you have a Republican governor it is better if the legislature is made up of more Democrats. Checks and balances keep things in perspective. You need someone to watch the hen house.
So I would encourage you and your friends to keep contacting your elected officials. Without your input they could just assume that nobody is paying attention -- that is when problems occur.
PS -- I work for a moderate Republican. What our office does with email: If the sender includes the name and address and/or telephone number, we will reply by snail mail or a phone call. That way we know that only a legitimate address or phone number, (in our district) receives a reply. Occasionally, we reply by email- we receive quiet a few emails from high school students with projects. But we must have their full name and address.
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