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A Call to Hope and Action Let Us Rebuild a True Populist Movement BY RONNIE DUGGER ARE RULED by Big Busi ness and Big Government as its paid hireling, and we know it. Corporate money is wrecking popular government in the United States. The big corporations and the centimillionaires and billionaires have taken daily control of our work, our pay, our housing, our health, our pension funds, our bank and savings deposits, our public lands, our airwaves, our elections and our very government. It’s as if American democracy has been bombed. Will we be able to recover ourselves and overcome the bombers? Or will they continue to divide us and will we continue to divide ourselves, according to our wounds and our alarms, until they have taken the country away from us for good? Senate Democratic majority leader George Mitchell exclaimed late in 1994, shortly before he abandoned the Congress in disgust: “This system stinks. This system is money.” The law of life among us now is what Jefferson called “the general prey of the rich on the poor.” The moment is dangerous. Democracy is not guaranteed God’s protection; systems and nations end. If we do anything serious now we might make things worse; if we do nothing serious now we are done for. The challenge of 1776 was one thing; the challenge of 1995 is another. The northern Europeans who were our country’s founders exterminated or confined millions of Native Americans whose ancestors had been living here for 30,000 years. AfricanAmericans were enslaved until the Civil War; women were not allowed to vote for 131 years, until 1920. But after the abolitionist, women’s suffrage, farmers’, union, progressive, civil rights, environmentalist, feminist and gay and lesbian liberation movements, and much more immigration, the question now is whether we can found the first genuinely international democracy. If we cannot, the corporations have us. Why is there no longer any mass democratic organization we can trust and through which we can act together? Where is the strong national movement that is ad The Observer ‘s founding editor, Ronnie Dugger, lives in New York. vancing working Americans’ interests, values and hopes? Where is the party of the common person? It’s no coincidence that within the same historical moment we have lost both our self-governance and the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, on which many millions of ordinary people have relied to represent them since the 1930s, has been hollowed out and rebuilt from the inside by corporate money. What was once the party of the common man is now the second party of the corporate mannequin. In national politics, ordinary people no longer exist. We simply aren’t there. No wonder only 75 million of us eligible to vote in 1994 did so, while 108 million more of us, also eligible, did not. What is government about? As a worker told reporter Barry Bearak last spring about the U.A.W. strike against the Caterpillar corporation, government is about “control, you know, who controls who.” Ernesto Cortes Jr., the organizer who helps people in communities in the Southwest to act together in their own interests, once exclaimed: “Power! Power comes in two forms: organized people and organized money.” To govern ourselves, power is what we need. To get it we must want it and organize for it. This is a call to hope and to action, a call to reclaim and reinvent democracy, a call to the hard work of reorganizing ourselves into a broad national coalition, a call to populists, workers, progressives and liberals to reconstitute ourselves into a smashing new national force to end corporate rule. This is a call that we assemble in St. Louis, next November 10-13, to pick up the banner where the People’s Party dropped it on July 25, 1896, and form ourselves into a broad progressive coalition, a new American alliance to take power so that, in the words of John Quincy Adams, “self-love and social may be made the same.” I would suggest for a name, tentatively, the Citizens Alliance, or \(on a cue American Alliance. But we will have to start small, “to begin humbly.” When only a few come that is enough. The women’s movement for the right to vote started when five women sat down around a table in a parlor in Waterloo, New York, six miles north of Seneca Falls. The Populists’ National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union started with a meeting of seven people in a farmhouse in Lampasas County, Texas. I propose the emphasis on Populism be cause the nineteenth-century Populists de nied the legitimacy of corporate domina tion of a democracy, whereas in this century the progressives, the unions and the liberals gave up on and forgot about that organic and controlling issue. I propose that we seize the word Pop ulism back from its many hi jackers, its misusersthe George Wallaces, David Dukes, Irving Kristols, Newt Gingrichesand restore its original meaning in American history, that of the anti-corporate Populist movement of the 1880s and 1890s. Our point, our purpose, is the well-being and enhancement of the person. We are all those who believe the corporations are becoming our masters and do not want to vote for candidates of any party dependent on them. We are all those who are tired of winning elections some of the time but losing our rights and interests all of the time. As Lawrence Goodwyn wrote in his definitive work, The Populist Moment, the Populists were “attempting to construct, within the framework of American capitalism, some variety of cooperative commonwealth.” That was, as he wrote, “the last substantial effort at structural alteration of hierarchical economic forms in modern America,” and when Populism died out what was lost was “cultural acceptance of a democratic politics open to serious structural evolution of society.” Well, like the Populists of that era, we are ready again to resume the cool eyeing of the corporations with a collective will to take back the powers they have seized from us, the power of farm or no farm, job or no job, living wage or no living wage, store or no store, medical care or no medical care, home or no home, pension or no pension. The question now is whether we can found the first genuinely international democracy. If we cannot, the corporations have us. 6 SEPTEMBER 1, 1995 e.10.00 .10. 4.4