A friend of mine heard that my wife and I had demonstrated in the Rotunda of
the Capitol on behalf of campaign finance reform. He announced that
demonstrating anywhere in D.C. was a waste of time. I heard myself say,
"Cynicism is a greater waste of time." If Doris Haddock, one of our companions,
had succumbed to such cynicism, she would not have left California, and maybe
none of us would be here today.
If a political system cannot be reformed, if the economic and social
environment cannot be changed, what is left for us? Perhaps we should just
become chameleons, changing our colors and pretending that we felt no sense of
moral obligation in face of the corruption of the country's political process by
the infusion of large doses of money that pay for political favors. My
conscience required a different reaction.
So, with 31 other citizens I went into the Rotunda on April 21 for several
reasons. First, on a very personal level, to find an antidote for the poison of
cynicism. Second, to propose in a serious way that the game of financing
political campaigns needs to be reformulated with new rules enforced by referees
with democratic integrity. And third, we entered that public space to claim our
first amendment rights as citizens of a democracy.
But there is another explanation for our decision to "demonstrate" in the
There are those among us who cannot afford to influence the political
process directly with "big money" out of our own pockets or out of
organizational coffers. Those who can are people who have a certain array of
skills and respond to certain incentives. In a broad sense, they are the
entrepreneurs, the movers and shakers of the corporate culture. But I realized
one day, when I noticed my bank balance, that I was the heir of different skills
and incentives. I don't fault those others, nor am I jealous of those whose
skills and incentives are defined by the acquisition and use of money for power.
I simply observe that not all of us can afford to participate in the
political process in that way. Our place in the culture is defined differently.
However, we are technically citizens in the same way that the others are
citizens. How then should we exercise our right to participate in the political
process, given the fact that we cannot afford to influence it with extraordinary
amounts of money? Are we cut out of the process, just because somewhere along
the line we found ourselves with different skills and other incentives than
those of wealth acquisition?
I must confess that the question haunts me. How can we sustain a democracy,
if not all of its citizens are wealthy enough to play the game by the prevailing
rules? Are our non-acquisitive skills, therefore, useless; are our incentives
counterproductive in a political sense? Are we excluded from the game that is
our common life? If it comes down to this: that political influence is strictly
a function of money, then the game is played in an arena that we cannot enter.
So we went to the Rotunda of the Capitol to protest, in a negative way, that
we felt left out of the democracy; and in an affirmative way, that we have first
amendment rights of expression. The best we can do, it seems, is to go to the
political theater and watch the performances. Is that a sensible, justifiable,
necessary conclusion of citizens of what we thought was the greatest democracy
on the face of the earth--a nation that has taken pride in itself as a
democratic polity since the revolution?
Dare I say that most of the ordinary tourists who come into the Rotunda are
persons whose skills and incentives and means are much more like ours than like
those who would presume to influence the political process with their extra
Lou and Patricia Hammann