Third Annual Convention Minutes: part 3

Part 3
Summary Proceedings
Boulder, Colorado
April 27-May2, 1999

Just Get Together
Forced out of the math auditorium by another scheduled event, the convention adjourned to the dining area of the convention center to hear some angry expostulations from Dr. Peter Montague, editor of the authoritative weekly paper, [italicize next three words] Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly, and a member of the Baltimore Alliance.

We have always been two societies, Montague said, but now "we are splitting into a society of the rich and the others." Medical miracles are for the rich; private schools are undercutting the public schools "to maintain an underclass to do all the scut work"; the educated get the good jobs, and whites behind their walls form a fully segregated upper class, leaving the rest duking it out, blaming each other, whites blaming blacks blaming Latinos, when "they really ought to be getting together because they vastly outnumber the bastards at the top."

"All we have to do to take power in the United States is get together, get together."  But, he said, "the left loves to shoot its own friends and get together and bicker and bicker," even though they might agree on 90% of what needs to be done.  Noting evidence of such bickering in Alliance publications, he called for "an organization that can by God get something done!"

Turning to environmental questions, Montague said 30% of all wildlife species in the U.S. are facing extinction in ten to 100 years; 37% of the freshwater fish species in U.S. waters are in serious danger of disappearing.

"Sperm counts in men decreased 42% in the last 50 years--we are half the men our grandfathers were, probably because of exposure to industrial and agricultural chemicals."  Personally, he said, he believes that "feeding children French fried potatoes, iceberg lettuce, and beef loaded with hormones and weird agricultural chemicals are causing them not to think very well."

"We need to be building coalitions.  We'll never be powerful by ourselves," he said.  Each organization needs to reach out to others and help them achieve their objectives "and infuse their work with our political perspective--and then when push comes to shove we'd be together."  But if it's just white people pushing their agenda it will fail. "We must open our hearts to a spectrum of different ways of dealing with our problems....In our lives, walk the talk....Livable wages don't mean $7 an hour....Let's talk about real livable wages."

"Drugs are in our neighborhoods as a means of creating and imprisoning an underclass," Montague exclaimed. "Blacks are 12% of the population and account for 14% of drug use but are 74% of the people arrested for drugs;13% of blacks have lost the right to vote."

Tests for projects being considered by the Alliance, Montague said, should be these: will a project help people get something they need and want; will it address race, age, and gender differences and help build a broad coalition; will it help people gain economic power by gaining wealth; is it essentially educational; does it strengthen environmental protections?

Miller: 'Democracy at Stake'
During an uproarious public session Friday night in an on-campus auditorium, Gene Nichol, former dean of the law school at the University of Colorado who has become the new dean of law at the University of North Carolina, "threw in" with the Alliance. His speech is excerpted here.   Ellen Miller of Public Campaign, fresh from her public-interest lobbying in the current wars on campaign finance in Washington, gave the delegates the low-down, first during a workshop, then Friday night. "It is worse than you think it is," she said.  She quoted a senior Democratic consultant as having said: "If the people beyond Washington knew how bad it really is, they'd come to Washington and burn the Capitol down.'"

"Every day democracy dies a little bit," she said. "Campaign cash determines who runs, who wins.  It's money, not democracy, that gets heard."   "It's not just the spending, it's the imbalance in who gives the money," she emphasized.  Now, 96% of the people make no political contribution of any size at any level.  Less than one-fourth of one percent of the citizens give even as much as $200 to federal campaigns.  Less than a tenth of one percent of the people make the maximum $1,000 federal contributions, which are 80% of all the money given. Citizens' groups are grossly out-spent in ballot initiative campaigns.

Industries buy laws for contributions, Miller said further.  For $14.4 million in contributions to members of Congress, she said, the telecommunications industry got $70 billion worth of additional TV channels for present channel-licensees.  For $11.5 million, the banking industry got a $1 billion subsidy to stay in the student loan business and the deep-sixing of controls on bank charges at ATM machines.  For $3 million, the airline industry headed off heightened competition among airline corporations. For $23 million, Wall Street got new standards stripping investors of rights in securities class-action suits.

"The special interests give money for favors and they receive them," Miller crisply told the convention.  "There has never been such a gap between the government and the people.  The people believe the congresspeople represent those who finance their political campaigns. Last year only 18% thought their own congressperson had not traded a vote for a contribution; only 14% think members of Congress do the right thing.  Asked whether members of Congress are dedicated public servants or lying windbags, almost half chose the latter.  Most Americans, with the exception of the Alliance for Democracy and those here tonight, have given up on democracy.  The important divide is not Republicans v. Democrats but ins v. outs...."

At this point several persons in the audience, heedless of courtesy, stood and began breaking in on Miller. For instance, Frances Mendenhall, a dentist from Omaha, called out that if Miller had her way, Steve Forbes, "the careful choice of parents who have struck it rich," could not pay for his own campaign and advance his platform of "tax cuts for me" and "low-cost workers and affordable housekeepers."

The members of United for a Fair Economy's guerrilla-theater troupe rushed up and down the aisles of the auditorium calling out "Billionaires for Forbes," taking the microphone from Miller onstage to proclaim, for example, that "Steve Forbes does not have a selfish bone in his head" and that "The Rich Shall Pay No Taxes."

This was all a put-up job and Miller, who had been forewarned, laughingly responded that such interruptions happen to her all the time--"Phil T. Rich" follows her around. Continuing, she said, "If a batter hands the umpire a wad of dough before the pitch, that's a bribe."  Concerning what happens now, she said, "we call it a legal bribe."Public Campaign's proposed reforms would apply to candidates who agreed not to take or spend private money for their campaigns.  For them, there would be free media and full federal financing.  National polls show about 68% public support for a clean-money type system, she said.  Voters in Maine, Massachusetts, and Arizona and the legislature in Vermont have approved such systems for state-level elections.

After Miller then made her call to the Alliance to be a key actor in the direct-action part of the drive for campaign finance reform, she concluded: "What I encounter as I go around the country is not so much cynicism as disillusionment, a sense of betrayal.   The rules must be changed.  Nothing short of democracy is at stake."   She received a long standing ovation.

Censoring Journalism
Another highlight of the forum was the presentation of an Alliance award for heroism in journalism to Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, the two investigative reporters for a Fox TV station in Tampa who refused their superiors' demands that they water down their prepared report on the presence of rGBH hormone, a Monsanto product injected into cows, in the milk sold at most Tampa supermarkets.  Akre said that she and Wilson submitted to doing 83 rewrites of their script across nine months before the management finally told them they would not run their report and would release them from their contract.  Wilson said management "offered us almost $200,000 and all we had to do was keep our mouth shut." Instead, the reporters put all their data on the case on a website and have sued the station, pledging to give any money they make on the suit to charity.  The case goes to trial this fall in Tampa. Alliance co-vice-chair Nancy Price, presenting the award, announced that contributions to support their suit can be sent to Citizens Fund for the Right to Know. 25400 U.S.19 North, Suite 192, Clearwater FL 33763.  "It's getting harder and harder for the people in the mainstream media to tell the truth any more," Forbes said.  To people congratulating Jane Akre after the presentation, she was heard to say, "Hey, you know?--what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

CEO to Worker 426-1
In another talk during the Friday night forum, Chuck Collins, director of United for a Fair Economy and author of numerous books and articles, asked, concerning the images of prosperity in the land, "Economic boom for whom?"  Whole communities and urban and rural areas are left behind, he said, while one percent of the people have more wealth than 95% of the rest of the
population combined. "The last time it was this bad was 1928," he said.  A CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes now on the average 426 times as much as the company's average worker, Collins pointed out. "Every time you do good for corporations, that's good for the economy.  Every time you do good for workers, that's bad for the economy.--Who's economic theory did that?"

And who gave the corporations the power, Collins asked, for example, "to tamper with the genetic composition of our food? That's what people in the Alliance are asking.   The answer: we did." But among populists, he said, the idea is that "concentration of power and wealth is incompatible with democracy."

Corporations, as in the proposed MAI treaty, "now want the rights of nationhood--the right to sue nations," he said. "They want a corporate bill of rights.  One personal right they didn't ask for is the death penalty. Union Carbide kills thousands of people in India--it no longer deserves to exist!"

Money System as the Problem
Michael Linton, the creator of the Local Economic Trading System (LETS), dressed in workclothes and sporting a braided ponytail, challenged national money systems as enemies of community prosperity because the money a local person spends is sent to banks and corporations outside the community.  "When you spend this stuff what happens? Where is it going? It goes away," he said. "--Away. That's the point of this stuff....It's going downstream."  Money, he said, is "an infinite supply of something upon which we depend. (Using it) is also the most important political act we perform every day.  The real issue with democracy has a lot more to do with this stuff than the voting stuff. Big money is going to control politics as long as we put money in the coffers of the corporations.  Why are we voting with this stuff?"

In addition, Linton said, "Buying shoes made in Indonesia: whenever you do that you are contributing to the exploitation of children in Indonesia.  "So? "Yes, folks, there is a better way," Linton said. "If we can get money moving in circles instead of straight through our community, the fact it's going around in our community means it's creating a responsible, accountable economy....It's only imaginary stuff, it's only a paper, it's only a measure.  So if you don't have any, make it up....Have checkbooks to write checks to others in this little imaginary bank."

LETS systems of the banking-accounting type exist in Australia, Britain, Germany, France, and Canada, he said, but there are none in the U.S. The 40 or so local currency plans in the U.S. are based on the devising and use of scrip of some kind, in lieu of the national currency, whereas the system Linton favors is the establishment of a debit-and-credit-ledger system for participants in a local alternative bank.

The problem with community currencies, Linton said, is that "none of the systems have had enough business participation, so people don't take it seriously enough, so as a result you have a sort of second-class currency."  Linton told the convention, however, that one can "drive the third sector with community currencies."

Subsequently, during an all-day post-convention meeting with Alliance officials and staff, Linton said that under his plan for community currency, volunteer workers and capital--$10,000 to $15,000 per community--would be needed and that the capital would be at substantial risk.  His current proposal, which is not a LETS system, is to persuade local businesses to put up the wherewithal for community currencies by agreeing to honor, for purchases from their enterprises, citizens' credits. Citizens, to get the credits, would make dollar-currency gifts in the amounts of the credits to local non-governmental organizations.  Those who want to know more about Linton's plan may reach him at Landsman Community Services, 250-338-0213/

Scott Silver, a senior in international studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a member of the Alliance, spoke to the evening meeting about militancy among college students against sweatshop labor, corporate influence in the universities, corporate misconduct in Nigeria, and his own university's investment of $67 million "in some of the worst corporate injustice on human record."

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