As we turn the last pages of a tumultuous 2021, The Fulcrum will share throughout this week a series of guest comments from a distinguished group of columnists on the current state of electoral reform and what we can do for ourselves. wait over the next year.
Clément is the president of American promise, a nonprofit advocate for constitutional change to allow more federal and state regulation of money in politics.
Amidst many lessons, 2021 has reminded us – with intense national challenges and threats of democratic collapse – that our nation faces systemic and structural crises. What will it follow in 2022 and beyond?
It may be much better—if we accept that the old ways are gone; if we’re going big enough to meet the moment; if we are rooted in shared values and face the common enemy with unity.
This is our strategy at American promise. We are a movement of millions of Americans building a multi-party, citizen-led anti-corruption campaign for the For our freedom amendment, to put an end to the political system paying big money.
In systemic crises, solutions of normal times become hopeless. And what seems “idealistic” in normal times becomes urgent and necessary. In the words of Representative Jamie Raskin, in the midst of the 2020-21 crisis, the American Promise roadmap went from “the impossible to the inevitable”. How? ‘Or’ What? With three strategies that work in times of structural crisis and transition:
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- Go big. When things fall apart, great ideas find their time. It is riskier to play games in times of crisis than to face systemic and root causes head-on.
- Go to the people. When trust has collapsed – in government, the media, or in each other – the way forward lies in decentralized, local and state networks and community. When given the opportunity to tackle the biggest problems on their own, where they live, Americans excel.
- Go together. Great results in rebuilding American democracy come from streams of citizen reform that come together, united with shared values, to confront a common enemy of concentrated power and systemic corruption.
This is not a new strategy. We are not the first generation to face brutal transformations in technologies, international agreements or social and economic assumptions that create civil unrest.
A century ago Americans faced a world war; a deadly global influenza pandemic; violent division and mutual hatred across lines of race and ethnicity; plutocracy of the golden age, massive inequalities and concentrated monopoly power; a corrupt, unelected and insensitive Senate; and the political divisions that have torn the two parties apart.
What reform strategies have worked? The “impossible”. Americans ratified four amendments to the US Constitution between 1913 and 1920. Women won the vote, we modernized the federal tax system, and we forced the Senate to face the voters in the election, ending the corrupt selection process . Political innovations such as citizen voting initiatives, party primaries, campaign finance rules and civil service protection shattered the power of the bosses and the party duopoly of the Golden Age.
This happened again in the 1960s, with the nation fracturing along lines of race, generation, gender, geography and politics, as well as the Vietnam War. Political assassinations, violence and heated riots have occurred regularly. State-sponsored violent racism sought to deny equal citizenship to black Americans. And concentrated power, bribes, and monetary corruption have led to the resignation of the Vice President and President of the United States.
Again, the Americans have ratified four constitutional amendments in a decade, and has led a transformative wave of anti-corruption and campaign finance laws, environmental protection laws, civil rights laws and more.
On the way to 2022, the same strategic lessons apply.
Go big. When American Promise began five years ago, our campaign for multi-party amendments to correct the Supreme Court’s catastrophic experience with unlimited, unaccountable money in elections did not have much luck. Opponents said, “Sure, Democrats love campaign finance reform, but you’ll never get the Conservatives on board. 2021 proved them wrong.
Just weeks after the January 6 insurgency violence in Congress, a bipartisan group of members of Congress presented the constitutional amendment resolution in the House. Senator Jeanne Shaheen followed in the Senate, supported by leaders from all walks of life in his home state of New Hampshire.
In the United States, the Conservatives, with the leadership of the former State of Senator Jim Rubens of New Hampshire, joined Democrats and Independents in their outrage at the billions of dollars in cash, much from secret sources, in the races of 2020. Last month, American Promise has joined with CAFTA to co-sponsor a national discussion on state lawmakers of the amendment For our freedom. And Republicans are leading efforts – along with their fellow Democrats and Independents – to advance the constitutional amendment in Maine, which saw a $ 200 million campaign in the 2020 Senate race.
The danger of foreign money and spending by foreign governments to destabilize America has mobilized national security leaders such as Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson and Admiral Bill Owens, who have joined the American Promise National Advisory Council. John Nusbaum, member of the American Promise Wisconsin, a Silver Star combat veteran, posted a moving call to action to fellow veterans and all Americans act before it is too late. And business people across the country are saying enough is enough and calling on others to join the American Promise Business Network.
Go to the people. In 2021, American Promise expanded its citizen and state campaigns to help Americans in every state ensuring that every congressman we need from the vote by 2024 will have the support of their constituents – across the spectrum.
Nowadays, 22 states – six of them with citizen vote initiatives – called for the For Our Freedom amendment, with Virginia embarks in 2021. In 2022, the map is widening and pressure is mounting on Congress.
Our Stand With Maine campaign helped launch the Protect Maine Elections citizen voting initiative to ban the interference of foreign government money in elections and ensure that the Maine congressional delegation works together to pass the For Our Freedom amendment. Building on our work with Alaskans for better elections we have ongoing discussions with Senator Lisa Murkowski, Representative Don Young, Senator Dan Sullivan and Alaskans across the state. We launched the Support Pennsylvania campaign to urge a 23rd state to seek the amendment.
Grassroots efforts are growing in communities across America. In Wisconsin, members of American Promise launched their own For Our Freedom campaign with a launch campaign featuring local veterans, civic and business groups in Green Bay. Minnesota American Promise members won the support of thousands of Minnesotans at departmental fairs. Members of the New Jersey American Promise worked with Rep. Andy Kim to organize a public meeting and encouraged the congressman speak out on the question in the media.
Go together. As always in America, united, we will do the job; divided, we will fight for even small gains. The best overall source for what the future of a prosperous America looks like is a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. “Our common goal commission included American Promise amendment was among 31 specific action steps to be implemented by July 4, 2026.
We have joined the Partnership for American Democracy to accelerate all of these reforms, and I am proud to be co-chair of the Integrity of elections, citizen participation and good governance pillar. We are helping to build a stronger national reform network through our work in National Association of Non-Partisan Reformers, the Alliance of Bridges, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget FixUS network, Repair the system and more.
In dark times we find purpose and persistence in doing the big, hard work for the brightest days that will survive each of us. Amid the worst violence of the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy, who was himself to be assassinated, said: to reason and principle, which will determine fate. There is pride in it, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. Either way, it’s the only way to live.
Perhaps there is arrogance in Americans who react to terrible times by seeking to “shape fate”. But maybe it is humility. The humility of not assuming we know how the story ends. The humility to learn from history, rather than thinking that our challenges are unique or that we know more than so many Americans before us.
All the best for 2022. Go big. Go to the people. Go together.
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