|Main Street Wisconsin—harbinger for the nation—is becoming aware that our democracy is being threatened by some very rich, powerful people. The super-wealthy are threatening the very core of our democracy as they consolidate more and more wealth and power. For those who recognize this conflict and want to resist, the first thing to realize is there is no quick-fix. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote, in 1857, "If there is no struggle there is no progress. ... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." Benjamin Franklin reportedly told people that the form of government our founders had created “is a democracy- if you can keep it.” Preserving our democracy is not something we can accomplish with one powerful demonstration. Like freedom, democracy’s cost is eternal vigilance.
I receive dozens of requests each month to provide financial support for progressive organizations.They talk about matching the Koch funded tours or Carl Rove’s mega fund ready to pour millions of dollars into Wisconsin campaigns. It is clear to me, however, that as long as these rich and powerful people are skimming the profits off the work, savings, and consumption of millions of Main Street folks, our contributions will never match the money they are now free to pump into any political campaign they choose.
Money controls mass media and advertising, which has an undeniable effect on the public opinion we need to challenge the policies that are destroying our society. The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United has made it completely clear we cannot compete effectively by matching them dollar for dollar. It is tempting to fight fire with fire, but matching the political spending of billionaires is not a sustainable plan. We need to fight fire with water.
The Firefighters in Wisconsin have again taken the lead on this by taking their money out of the M&I Bank. M&I has provided strong financial support to Governor Walker, and individual Firefighters were able to withdraw enough money in one day to force the Madison bank to close its doors early. We need to follow this lead. We need to understand that every dollar the Koch brothers pour into union-busting once belonged to one of us; then we gave it to them. We fuel the power of super-rich individuals and corporations when we use their banks and buy their services and products. We must stop paying for our own destruction if we are to have any hope of regaining our democracy.
It is often difficult to follow the money and know who you are supporting in the products and services you purchase. Fox News and their advertisers, AT&T, and virtually any large bank, however, are clear examples of where we can start, and more and more websites are telling us which corporations advertise on Fox News and which companies the Koch brothers own. We have the power to put an end to the increasing centralization of wealth and power—if we have the discipline once we realize this is where the real battle is being fought. I recently heard my non-profit Group Health Cooperative advertising on Rush Limbaugh’s show. I called the marketing director and told her I did not want my money funding Limbaugh’s hate. I was told I was not the first to have complained about this and she would stop the advertising immediately. I asked her to write me when it had been accomplished.
A very basic start is to move your money and insurance to credit unions and mutual insurance companies. Beyond that, buy everything you possibly can—including gas—from cooperatives and small, locally-based producers. No more Bank America, McDonalds, Subway, or Starbucks; even when they are so convenient. This may cost more in the short-run, and it may mean we do not have access to 1000 ATMs, but it is a sustainable plan for regaining our democracy. If we want change without struggle and inconvenience, Douglass reminds us, we may as well quit now and allow the rollback to slavery.
Commentary by David D. Leeper, former Wisconsin district attorney