Politicians of all stripes are sending out their Fourth of July messages this week as they do every year, reminding us of the Declaration of Independence and the struggles, courage, and aspirations of the nation’s founders as they broke away from England and created a new country.
And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Independence Day is the perfect time to reflect on the wisdom of the people who created the American democracy and the government of the United States — the more perfect union called for in the U.S. Constitution.
But it’s interesting to get those messages from politicians who spend much of their time in office bashing the government they are part of — the one created by the folks who wrote the Declaration of Independence 238 years ago — and standing with groups who openly advocate for disassembling it, with calls for states’ rights and nullification of federal laws and hints of arming themselves for rebellion against the government they loathe.
It never fails to amaze me when people openly describe the U.S. government as the enemy, as if it’s a foreign invader set on destroying America. The government is us. We are the government. That is the essence of the nation created by the men who wrote the fundamental documents that America has yet to live up to.
The decisions made by our government that represents us are not always right. They are often wrong and make it harder for people in their pursuit of happiness, particularly for the folks at the bottom of the economic ladder, but that’s not the fault of some nebulous faraway government.
It’s the fault of the people running the government, put by there by the votes of Americans in races for town councils, county commissions, state legislatures, Congress, etc.
There is recourse built into the democratic system that we celebrate on our nation’s birthday. If we are unhappy with the way our city or state or nation is being governed, the brilliant solution included in our fundamental documents is an election, where the people can choose different leaders.
There’s no need for armed revolution or secession or nullification. Elections are designed to be the check on power of leaders in a democracy, but ironically, the same people who routinely disparage the government even while they serve in it are making it harder for elections to work, to allow the people’s voices to be heard.
That is especially true in North Carolina in the last few years, where it is now harder for many of the most vulnerable people in the state to vote. The sweeping voter suppression legislation passed last session takes full effect in 2016 unless the federal courts step in — and let’s hope they do.
At the same time, it’s easier for super-wealthy special interests to determine who runs the government that is supposed to be of, by, and for the people.
Federal court decisions have allowed corporate money to control campaigns and turn elections into high stakes auctions under the false assumption that money is somehow speech.
In the General Assembly and in Congress, efforts to at least make it easier to track the massive special interest money have been turned away by the same right wing interests who used to support full disclosure of contributions.
They are not so interested in disclosure now that they are in power. They have also abolished public financing systems for Council of State campaigns and even in appellate court races, so big out of state money is now buying seats on our state supreme court.
Surely this is not what the founders had in mind—that a handful of the richest people in America would decide who makes final decisions about laws that affect only the people in North Carolina.
Then there is gerrymandering that decides the majority of legislative and congressional races before a single vote is cast in the general election.
North Carolina, a state that is roughly even split between Democrats and Republicans, now has a supermajority of Republicans in the state House and Senate and Republicans control 9 of the state’s 13 congressional seats.
That’s not real democracy. That’s manipulation of the rules of elections to thwart democracy and it is not unique to Republicans. Democrats did the same thing for decades and it was wrong then too.
A bi-partisan effort to turn redistricting over to an independent process is gaining steam and let’s hope it succeeds. But we need more than that.
Let’ s recommit ourselves to the notion of democracy, that all people are equal in our political system, the way our Declaration of Independence says they were created.
A school custodian in Robeson County should have the same amount of power to elect someone as a retail store magnate in Raleigh or a pair of oil baron brothers from Kansas.
It’s time for the folks inside and outside our political system who rail against our government to come to their senses and make it easier for average people to change it, through their voices and their votes, not the size of their wallets or the precision of their map-drawing skills.
That’s the essence of the democratic system, that money and wealth may dominate in many aspects of our society, but it’s one person, one vote in our system of electing our leaders.
Let’s get back to that quaint but powerful idea on this Independence Day.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch.