Published on Friday, August 17, 2001
U.S. Needs A Political Revolution
by Bernie Sanders
In the midst of the summer congressional recess, Congressman Bernie Sanders asserted today that the United States needs nothing less than a political revolution that will revitalize American democracy and move the country toward social justice.
At a time when more and more Americans are giving up on the political process, and when the wealthy and multi-national corporations have unprecedented wealth and power, Sanders said, it is imperative that we launch a grass-roots revolution to enable ordinary Americans to regain control of their country.
The tragic consequence of millions of low income and working people losing faith in the ability of the government to respond to their problems, is that today the United States has, by far, the lowest voter turnout of any major country. Meanwhile, the rich and multi-national corporations are pouring billions into the political process and both major political parties. The obvious result is that many candidates who are elected end up being more concerned about pleasing their wealthy benefactors than representing the needs of working people, children, the elderly or the poor.
It is no accident, Sanders continued, that while pharmaceutical and insurance companies donate huge sums of money into the political process, American citizens must pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Those same companies and their political donations ensure that the United States remains the only industrialized nation that does not have a national health care program providing health care to all.
The rich hold $25,000 a plate fundraisers for their candidates. Why would they pay so much for a chicken dinner? The answer is, they want access and special favors. It is no accident that after raising more money from the wealthy for his campaign than any candidate in history, President Bush and the Republican leadership passed a $1.3 trillion dollar tax bill which provides $500 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. It is no accident that, rather than raising the minimum wage, the President and congressional leadership are providing billions in tax breaks and subsidies to the major oil, gas and coal companies. It is also, sadly, no accident that almost 20 percent of our children live in poverty, schools throughout the country are physically deteriorating, college graduates begin their careers deeply in debt and millions of working class people are unable to find affordable housing.
We need a political revolution in this country, Sanders concluded, one that will revitalize American democracy and move us toward social justice. We should make every effort to achieve the 60-80 percent voter turnout that takes place in most European countries, rather than the 36 percent who current estimates say will vote in 2002. Americans must all Americans enjoy a decent standard of living, rather than having, as at present, the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any major nation. It is time for a political revolution to revitalize American democracy and move the country toward social justice.
Freedom and justice don't come easy. As the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass said; Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. We can learn from Douglass, and from many of our ancestors who like he fought against the slavery inflicted on black Americans and the genocide and suffering perpetrated on Native Americans. Americans fought for decades for a democracy in which all people could vote, rather than just the rich and landed gentry. Women struggled for a century before they could fully participate in the political process. Working people fought for the right to organize labor unions.
In my view, the major struggle that we have now is for economic and social justice. Once again, Frederick Douglass anticipated the need for struggle:
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
We have the wealth and resources in this country today to end poverty, make health care available for all, and provide the best education in the world. We wont accomplish those goals, however, unless all Americans reclaim their democratic heritage by fully participating in the political process: by using the power to vote and speak and act for social justice.