Since 2001, the United States has paid $1,369,814,316,604 for its deadly pursuits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. We have military outposts in Africa, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, as well as the Middle East. We have drones that can pinpoint the activity of a group of people, say, at a barbeque, and annihilate them cleanly from a great distance. We have secret prisons in other countries for those judged to be of potential harm to our nation. At the same time at home, we have a prison system that tops the world for its number of inhabitants and an incarceration rate of 30 percent for prisoners of color, which means that one in eight black men aged twenty through twenty-four are incarcerated and that one in three black males can expect to spend time in prison in their lifetimes.
These statistics tell the story of why America needs a Left that makes a difference in its policies at home and abroad. Add to the figures above the widening gulf between rich and poor Americans, a drop in union membership to a ninety-seven-year low in 2013, and a proposed cut of $39 billion to the Food Stamp Assistance Program (on which 7 percent of Americans depend), and it is easy to see that there is a critical need for effective progressives to aggressively steer our culture in a different direction.
At the same time, many fringe organizations from the Koch Brothers’-sponsored Tea Party to the Republican Congress to Rush Limbaugh, to media hate-mongers on FOX are quickening the downward spiral our country has taken. By and large, the media have been bought and sold and no longer filter information through a commitment to equality and fairness, not to mention truth. Anything stated and repeated enough, no matter its inaccuracy, takes on weight—from creationism to the denial that global warming exists, to the idea that it is lawful to kill a boy with a can of iced tea and Skittles.
Where is the Left while our country is ravaged by forces of ignorance, bigotry, and the denial of common sense? And what do we need to counter the corporate and military takeover of our government’s culture and resources?
To change the discourse and wrest back power from those who control it, the Left needs two things: a new funding strategy and a new approach to its voice.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and its recent McCutcheon decision have dealt a grave blow to the Left’s efforts to keep money out of politics and preserve the functioning of our most basic democratic processes. The effects of these rulings are compounded by the fact that those who dwell on the critical failings of our government are usually disregarded by the media. To wrest power back, the Left needs what right-wing groups have and use effectively—power, influence, and money.
Given that many affluent people support the views of and call themselves progressives or left-leaning, we could marshal our forces as the Koch Brothers do—with some mega-super-superfund, some conglomeration of citizen’s awareness groups and progressive special interest groups that work comprehensively and unitarily for change.
In the midst of writing this, I have been emailed by “Organizing for Action” about the millions the Koch Brothers have put up to fight Obamacare. I am being asked to give as little as $5 to fight their campaign. Ten times a day I receive such messages, which always make me wonder what the wealthy citizens of the Left equal to the Koch Brothers are doing? In a government, media, and culture where everything is for sale, what the Left needs is a louder voice, a single set of talking points, and an ongoing effort. Where is George Soros when we need him? What does Bill Clinton do with his speakers’ fees? Oprah, where are you?
Or perhaps the Left can organize its progressive and populist masses to give in more focused ways, by creating a new, priority fund that finds ways to not only extract the $5 and $25 donations we are asked to regularly make to the “cause of the day” but to conglomerate these funds and invest them for future use. Small donors are quite worn out with daily crises, and daily crises never run out of significance or urgency. But if I save the wolves on Wednesday and supports a woman’s right to choose on Thursday, my purse is soon emptied, and there is no focus or concentration of funds that get amassed to match the giving of large right-wing donors and corporations.
It may simply be the case that the wealthy Right contributes more to keep the government from going after their money: perhaps their self-interest motivates them to successfully contribute in large numbers in a way that the Left just doesn’t. Perhaps the line of “big money” is longer for right-wing causes than the myriad issues that individuals on the left are asked to back, but perhaps an effective umbrella organization for large, left-wing donors, one which smaller donors could also access as they wish, would make a difference in how focused the giving is.
Surely the innovative crowd-funding methods used by many young people to gather money for good causes or personal goals could be employed by a larger group of left-wing backers who give to one large fund that supports many worthy activities. Perhaps if such funds already exist, they need more visibility and publicity. The mighty Koch Brothers seem to be in the news everyday and have wrought much damage in Wisconsin and other states where right-to-work has replaced right-to-organize. Perhaps, given the poor media coverage of the Left, a great deal of money needs to be spent on ads or “give-a-thons” to draw interest to the cause of progressive good coming of a conglomeration of donors, large and small, enlisting in a massive and visible campaign.
With a concentrated and ongoing stream of money from many sources, perhaps small voices will be heard again and citizens who are tired of the untruths and cruelty of our daily lives will understand that it is in their interest to argue more forcefully when they hear the litany of lies spoken daily in Congress and by our news media.
Michael Lerner calls for a spiritual politics predicated on self-awareness and concern for one another. Our effort should be to win back the hearts of Americans who vote against their self-interest out of misinformation, prejudice, habit, or pride. We need to say to those people: come aboard. If you stand where you are standing with those that you have come to trust, you will drown. The people who are supposed to represent your interests will not offer their hands to you or insure the future of your children or even the food on your plate. The way to safety is with us.
(This web-only article is part of a special series associated with Tikkun’s Spring 2014 print issue: Does America Need a Left? Subscribe now to read these subscriber-only articles online, and sign up for our free email newsletter to receive links to future web-only articles on this topic, as well! Visit tikkun.org/left2014 to read the other web-only articles associated with this issue.)