There are many challenges ahead if we wish to transform our dysfunctional, unsustainable and unjust government and economy into ones that are fair, humane and functional. One starting point is, I believe, to rephrase, the “no taxation without representation” call to arms from the revolutionary war to a more aptly worded call for change in the face of the trying times in which we find ourselves today: “No Representation without Taxation!”
The current debates surrounding what is labeled a “financial” or “economic” crisis of balancing the national budget conceal the more deeply rooted, growing, and more profound and troubling crises of politics and culture. There is an alarming and widening gap in power between the haves, on the one hand, and those who have-a-little-but-less-and-less and those who have not, on the other hand. Or maybe I should say, between those up “above,” who are exceedingly well-represented and those down “below” whose interests and aspirations are not at well-represented. This widening gap is fueled in great part by the trend over the past 30 years to shift a greater and greater portion of the tax burden away from those who are most well-represented in governmental decision-making. The laws passed and the social policies set forth are designed to support their successful quest for greater profits—at the expense of the most vulnerable: our children, those who are ill, our elders, those born into poverty, those who fall into hard times including the growing ranks of the unemployed, the underemployed, and the underpaid, and last but not least, the environment, our mother earth. Hence, more than facing a financial crisis, we either sleep through deeper crises of nightmarish proportions out of which it is difficult to wake, or we finally wake up to find ourselves stuck amidst many crises resulting from skewed values and priorities.
In light of all this, we should join together to demand, “No representation without Taxation!”
The pursuit of this call for justice and sanity, by itself, will not solve all of our problems but it would be a very important start. For one thing, greater tax revenue from those who are really benefiting from our system, is a practical and ethical way of dealing with some, even if not all, the problems underlying our economic crisis. Secondly, and probably more importantly, it reframes many contemporary debates by identifying the “elephant in the room”–namely, that for the most part, our government is a collaboration between “politicians” and corporate leaders. Politicians are financed by powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations, and they are supported or opposed by debates framed by corporate controlled media. We should no longer act surprised if our elected “representatives”of the people can seldom be counted on to work for the interests of the broad, diverse cross-section of people and groups who comprise our society, nor can they be counted on to work for the long-term, sustainable health of our society.
This political and economic dysfunctionality profoundly affects that quality of our lives in many ways. At a very basic level, the political and economic structure promotes a culture in which we are discouraged from even thinking about the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”—much less are we reminded to call on this ageless principle to inform personal action and public policy-making. Sound bites in media commentary and political speech-making including, quite notably, public policy debates about “compromise” and finding a “middle ground”—inhibit creative dialogue, thwart curiosity, and impede inquiry and social justice.
Indeed, in my first post, I made reference to the inspiration and wisdom provided by Thomas Paine during the Revolutionary War, and just today, Richard Eskow of “Campaign for America’s Future” referred to Paine’s wisdom about the limitations of our elected leaders in this sort of cultural climate (see his article on “The New War of Independence Against Corporate Politics” — http://www.truth-out.org/new-war-independence-against-corporate-politics/1309788086 ): “In this corporatized system, we can’t expect many leaders to heed Revolutionary pamphleteer (and ur-blogger) Thomas Paine, who said ‘Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead.’ Paine also made this timely observation: ‘Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.’”
The time has come for all of us to work together to lead, because our elected representatives, with some very notably exceptions, cannot be counted on to represent us, much less lead the way. With such concerns in mind, a few days ago, I was moved to respond to a recent e-mail from President Obama that was soliciting my support (financial) for his upcoming Presidential campaign. I wrote the letter out of conviction and principle as well as out of a sense of urgency and frustration. I had no illusions that my letter would be taken seriously by anyone receiving my e-mail, much less forwarded to the President himself, but I would like to share here what I wrote. [His mass e-mail began, “Dear Friend” so I began my response by defining my relationship to the President]:
“Dear President Obama,
I am a friend, and I am a patriotic American. I am very sad to say I’m no longer a supporter of yours. I’m not against you, but I am for low-income Americans and fellow middle class Americans. What’s true for me is also now true for many of my other friends (whom you previously counted on as your friends and supporters). Many of us who
enthusiastically and energetically supported you, are no longer among your supporters.
We are deeply disappointed that you haven’t stood up for us, and for the rest of “main street” against the Republican onslaught to take from the poor and middle class and give even more to the wealthy and the powerful corporations. I, and others, know that Republicans are fighting you every step of the way. THAT IS TO BE EXPECTED. However, we didn’t expect you to give in so easily, to compromise so far, and to stop framing the issues to support justice and fairness.
We want you to stop negotiating spending cuts, and start using your authority to explain how the wealthiest tiny percentage of individuals and corporations pay far, far less in taxes than they did 30 years ago, and how this is damaging our country and our country’s future
for my children, for our children, and their children.
I must put my energies and my money into grassroots efforts to stem the tide of economic attacks against ordinary Americans. I am putting my energies and my limited funds into supporting these efforts. In the future, I will support those who show by CONSISTENT LEADERSHIP AND ACTION that they are supporting these efforts.
As we approach July 4th, I am reminded that many years ago those who were working to form a new government, separate from European control, said “No Taxation without Representation.” Now, I and others among your previous supporters must step forward, WITHOUT YOUR SUPPORT, to free our government from its domination by powerful corporate and wealthy interests. I have a message for these people and corporations who seem to be successful even in buying your allegiance, or at least in convincing you to stand aside, while they continue to rule and gain further wealth and power at the expense of the very country to which they owe their good fortune. The message is NO REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION. We will take on the task of
exposing how a very few get more than their fair share of governmental representation, even as their share of the taxes–necessary to creating and sustaining a vibrant, functioning democracy–continues to go down while their profits and benefits go up.
John Bilorusky, PhD, Education (UC Berkeley, 1972)–parent of two middle school children and a young adult college student, husband, friend of many, head of a small non-profit educational institution, neighborhood volunteer, and committed middle class citizen”
There is much more I would like to say on the challenges with which I and so many of you are wrestling–many people under much more trying circumstances than I–but most of all I want to add that there is much to be hopeful about. Many people are starting to take action (e.g., the many people in Wisconsin and Michigan who are fighting to regain their rights to have a say in State and local issues) because they sense the urgency of our circumstances . I suspect, however, that they also see the hopeful possibilities of turning a crisis into an opportunity to transform our society for the better, to one that among other things, will support and build on the Golden Rule and social justice, on curiosity and inquiry.
Please consider reading and learning more about:
- Van Jones’ new movement/organization:
Rebuild the Dream . . .
The following is an excerpt from his website: “Right now the
American Dream is under siege. Tens of millions of willing workers can’t find
jobs. Millions of homeowners have lost their homes to foreclosure and millions
more are underwater. Instead of investing in our shared future, politicians are
giving tax breaks to the rich and then slashing vital services families depend
on. Rather than expanding protections for the middle class during these
difficult economic times, they’re trying to gut workers’ rights. But a new movement is rising all across America to fight back.” [The transcript from his meeting and video event on June 23rd in New York that launched “ReBuild the Dream” is available at http://www.rebuildthedream.com/pdf/annotated-launch-script.pdf ]
- The efforts of Senator Bernie Sanders
Read the letter from Senator Sanders (Vt-Independent) to President
Obama and check out his website: http://sanders.senate.gov/petition/uid=c1fd7f9b-abd8-4e7a-a3701867881259d8http://sanders.senate.gov/petition/?uid=c1fd7f9b-abd8-4e7a-a370-1867881259d8
- Paul Krugman wrote the following, in the New York Times just yesterday: “So here’s what you should answer to anyone defending big giveaways to
corporations: Lack of corporate cash is not the problem facing America. Big
business already has the money it needs to expand; what it lacks is a reason to
expand with consumers still on the ropes and the government slashing spending. What our economy needs is direct job creation by the government and mortgage-debt relief for stressed consumers. What it very much does not need is a transfer of billions of dollars to corporations that have no intention of hiring anyone except more lobbyists.” [ New York Times, “Corporate
Cash Con,” July 3, 2011 , http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/04/opinion/04krugman.html?_r=3&ref=paulkrugman ]
This July 4th, let’s commit ourselves to be more curious and to becoming more informed, to having dialogue with others, to forming coalitions and even movements (!) that are committed to working both within the system and outside the system. We cannot wait for
others to lead; we all have a role to play; I say that we need to demand “No Representation Without Taxation,” but we can’t wait to be represented any more than the founders of this country waited for the colonial powers in England to represent their interests. In thoughts and in deeds, we need to take the initiative.