This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Despite assaults on unions that have galvanized workers for the first time in decades and amid growing concern about the environmental effects of fracking, global climate change and endless war, the left in the United States has failed to make discernible progress in unifying a progressive movement capable of wielding real political power. While publicly criticizing Democrats in Congress, union leaders continue to rely on them to represent their interests, despite overwhelming evidence that they do not. Environmental and peace activists, health care reform proponents and groups working to take down the banksters who crashed the U.S and world economies have for the most part abandoned the political process. A similar decision may have been a potentially fatal mistake for the Occupy movement. What can we do about this?

The first thing is to stop depending on self-appointed leaders to tell us what to do and start telling them what we want to do. The Occupy movement in the U.S. and Europe started with this great idea, but in the U.S we have failed to capitalize on it. Occupy activists rejected working with established organizations out of fear of co-option, so rejected an opportunity for co-operation.  Meanwhile, activists in these groups failed to hold their leaders responsible for listening to them.

In Europe and the Mideast, rank-and-file union members organized with ordinary citizens to demand real political change. When existing justice advocacy groups in Europe saw the opportunity to join forces in fighting austerity with mass strikes and sustained protests, governments fell throughout Europe. From Greece to Egypt, the common denominator was  the fight against government corruption. These techniques of coordinated resistance are being noticed around the world, except apparently by most leaders of such groups in the U.S.

There is nothing to stop those who participated in Occupy and their supporters from organizing a true grassroots movement starting in their own communities and linking up statewide, nationally and internationally to build a united international front against fascism and war the like of which has never been seen in human history. At a time in that history like no other, when the survival of human civilization itself hangs in the balance, that is exactly what must be done to stop the expansion of a global New World Order that will make us all economic slaves at best, and literal slaves of the corporatocracy at worst.

The unifying theme of protests from Cairo to Athens and Madrid is the control of governments by special interests that are ultimately those of international corporate terrorists who presume they have a divine right to rule over the rest of us. Those in the US who are aware of this existential threat to the prospect of democracy   need to emulate the model of the rest of the world. Together, we can create a unified national and international movement to establish democracy, liberty and justice in the world. Citizens can decide how to deal with the international bankers who have destroyed their economies and now want to extract the last pound of flesh through austerity measures. They can hold their governments responsible for acting in an environmentally responsible way and assure that the basic needs of all citizens are guaranteed. A global democratic wakening that unites Peoples around the world in this cause can make the end of war is possible.

Progressives on the left in the U.S. must confront the problem of the complacency of most Americans in the face of these grave threats. They need to understand that they are feeding that apathy by overwhelming potential supporters with a barrage of information about seemingly disparate concerns without tying these issues to the central problem of corporate corruption of the government. With dozens or hundreds of groups all presenting their own message in their own way and competing for funds and attention instead of working together, it is small wonder that most Americans are feeling powerless. It is not as if average people can put all their time and energy into so many causes, especially when leaders on the left do not present realistic solutions. Each group seems to think that if it gets enough media attention and funding it can lead the various movements, not seeing that by competing instead of cooperating they are fracturing their own movements and the progressive movement as a whole.

There are many encouraging signs that a shift may be occurring. Jobs with Justice is leading the way in showing how union locals can come together to promote not only the interests of union workers but all workers and their families. The Working Families Party aspires to become a real voice in electoral politics. Unfortunately, the current realities of third party politics have resulted in state parties tending to endorse only Democratic candidates, which defeats the purpose of having a third party. Of course, if they get enough members they can challenge the Democratic Party by giving voters choices of candidates who do not represent the interests of corporations. However, acquiring that power means stepping out of the shadow of the Democrats and endorsing candidates of other third parties that better represent the interest of working families than corporate Democrats, when they cannot field a candidate of their own.

Partnerships are also forming among groups in some movements and more recently, across movements. Of these, the most important such coalitions are forming between groups working for constitutional and legislative reforms to address government corruption. A conference was held in Washington, DC on December 10 that brought together representatives from dozens of groups in the environmental, civil rights and other social justice movements. A central theme of the conference was how to address the government corruption that is frustrating all their efforts.

There was a recent conference at the UCLA law school that brought together experts on the legal aspects of various legislative and constitutional approaches to ending government corruption. This was to my knowledge the first such attempt to bring together those of us who adamantly believe that only a constitutional amendment can get at the root of the problem of corporate corruption of elections and elected officials and those who believe that a legislative approach is more realistic. The important thing is that both are shining a spotlight on corporate corruption of the US government. It is conversations like this that will eventually lead to the conclusion that the two camps will best advance the cause by working together to keep this issue in the mind of the public until it realizes that it must be dealt with before Congress will address the many other critical issues that affect all Americans.

While many people wrote off Occupy when groups across the country failed to create an American Spring in 2012, its diehard members continue to organize. Some are thinking more strategically, identifying core issues that they hope Occupy as a whole will adopt as its central themes. They do not want to co-opt the movement or dismiss any of the causes Occupy promotes. What they want to do is identify issues that connect the dots for a public that has largely concluded that Occupy is a lost cause because it has failed to identify a focused set of issues and demands that could inspire coordinated actions across the country.

I met with the governmental reform working group of OWS in October and was pleasantly surprised to find that the group had developed a strategy that I have been promoting since 2009: Making support for a constitutional amendment to deal with corporate corruptions of elections a campaign issue in congressional elections around the nation. While the person who developed this plan feels that the issue of corporate personhood detracts from what he considers the main issue of money not being speech, he agrees that individual groups and individuals should promote whatever version of an amendment it favors. While this could potentially cause a problem if legislators support different forms of amendments, in the end it is Congress that will decide the final form of the amendment. It is during the deliberations about the issue are taking place that groups and individuals will be able to lobby for the amendments and legislation they favor.

Contrast these flexible, cooperative attempts at movement building with those of the faux “coalition” of Move to Amend, whose steering committee purports to represent hundreds of groups and over 100,000 individuals who have signed its petition. In reality, all the signers and organization endorsers were agreeing with was the need for a constitutional amendment that would declare that money is not speech and corporations were not people.

It was only after getting dozens of groups to endorse MTA that the steering committee announced that Move to Amend supporters were backing specific amendment language that few of the endorsing organizations had a say in writing, let alone those who had signed their petition. The steering committee assured that there would be no effective opposition within MTA for this usurpation of authority to speak for all by making it a condition that MTA chapters and affiliates had to support without question the decisions of the steering committee. They took upon themselves alone the authority to dictate amendment language and strategy for its passage. Needless to say, they have made it clear that they will not work with any organization or individual who does not swear fealty to this small group of self-appointed leaders.

If people come to understand the manner in which the steering committee of Move to Amend has attempted to co-opt the amendment movement, it is likely that defections from the ranks of their supporters will increase. The self-limiting nature of their top-down attempt at movement building will eventually become apparent even to them. Let’s hope that they will be willing to put the cause over their pride. I welcome them to join those of us who want to build a real movement around the principles of cooperation with and mutual support of those who may not share the exact same vision of the ultimate goal or the path to get there.

One hopeful sign is that MTA spokesman David Cobb has stated publicly that MTA is going to form a 501.c4 to identify and promote candidates who will pledge to support their version of the amendment, which is the essence of the Pledge to Amend campaign aside from the fact that Pledge to Amend does not promote specific language, only the minimum components of an acceptable amendment. If the steering committee of MTA follows through with its own version of Pledge to Amend as described by Cobb, its efforts will be welcome. Let’s hope that they come to see the value of cross-promoting the pledge effort of United Republic, which is gathering signatures in support of their reform legislative agenda as the first step in their RepresentUS campaign. They want to hold candidates for Congress accountable for supporting their agenda once they get 1 million endorsers.

Many of us who believe a constitutional amendment is necessary agree that it is not by itself sufficient to end corporate corruption of government. It would be foolish for us not to work together in the common cause of establishing true democracy in America. No one group can do it alone. Both pledge campaigns are non-partisan and should draw wide support from across the political spectrum. Divisive efforts will ultimately prove self-defeating, but how many will die as a result of an out-of-control government that puts the cause of corporate Empire above the needs of its own people while we argue?


  1. Earth is essentially dying and without unity now..
    Learning crucial to understanding is too Occupy...
    People talk justice but Earth is dying -so focus..
    Focus not on self serving ideas or scatterbrain...
    Focus on what will get world flying straight now..
    It is proposed worldwide change to value of money can get a jump on the gully washer of Extinction..
    Here is something to contemplate:

  2. Earth is not dying, Dale. Whatever humans do to it, Earth will abide. The real question is whether human civilization can adapt to the coming changes that the blog you linked point to.

    Justice is the proper focus for a movement. That is what Occupy is all about. I have often said that war is the ultimate injustice. It is war on the environment that is the greatest immediate threat to human civilization.

    Unfortunately, that truth is too inconvenient for most people to fully accept. That is why I believe we must concentrate their attention on the undeniable corruption of the US government. If we can come together to establish true democracy we will have the collective power to address global climate change, endless war and all of the other consequences of a government now in the control of corporate puppetmasters: