Editorial: Rebellion reaches a crossroads

Last modified: 3/17/2015 12:13:02 AM
To have any chance of success, social movements must multiply awareness. Change is impossible unless people believe that change is needed. That is why activists spend so much time and effort spreading the word. But for all that effort, awareness is actually the easy part. The difficulty lies in cultivating knowledge so it grows into passion – and eventually action.

That is precisely the challenge for the New Hampshire Rebellion and other groups battling the corrupting influence of money in politics.

If the movement doesn’t advance beyond that first phase soon, it runs the real risk of being nothing more than background noise in a loud campaign season.

To turn up the volume, the leaders must speak and act as one.

Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor behind the nonpartisan Mayday PAC, draws inspiration from the late Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who 15 years ago walked across the nation at age 90 seeking campaign finance reform. In January, Lessig led a walk from Dixville Notch to Concord, which culminated in hundreds converging on the State House – a guerrilla force for peaceful change.

Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, launched the Stamp Stampede, in which people are urged to ink-stamp U.S. currency with slogans such as “Not to be used for bribing politicians.” Cohen figures that each stamped bill will be seen by 875 people during the course of its circulation. At last count, that put the number of “views” at a little under 88 million.

Nashua resident Daniel Weeks, the executive director of Open Democracy and a frequent op-ed contributor to this newspaper, can offer statistic after statistic showing how money – especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling five years ago – is eroding democracy. He says a typical member of Congress, for example, spends between 50 and 75 percent of their time raising cash.

Lessig, Cohen and Weeks – all of them vocal advocates on a range of social justice issues – have sat down with Monitor editors and reporters to make the case for why money in politics is the most important issue facing the nation. Each man is intelligent, engaging and uniquely dedicated. But as much as they and others in the movement agree on the whereabouts of the threat to democracy, they are not working off the same map. By design, they are focused on the destination, not the journey. And that makes their paths feel incongruous.

Lessig walks, Cohen stamps and volunteer bird dogs visit campaign events to put candidates on the spot, but to what end? Curb the influence of money in politics, yes, but how exactly? People get the mission, but do they understand the plan?

As primary season ramps up, it won’t be enough to point to all of the negative ads and fund-raising events and say, “See what money does to politics?” Voters need help envisioning what a New Hampshire primary would look like free of money’s corrosive influence. Not until they have a clear understanding of what they are fighting for will people move beyond passive acknowledgment that the problem exists.

The movement must find its voice and lockstep stride soon if it wishes to be a major player on the national stage that is the New Hampshire primary.

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