BillMoyers.com is proud to collaborate with EveryVoice on a series of op-eds featuring ideas from a variety of viewpoints for making our democracy one that is truly of, by and for the people. Discover more ways to fight back against our broken campaign finance system. It’s a fight we can win.
Until recent years in Richmond, Chevron was not accustomed to having progressives inside and outside elected office working side by side for the interests of the people (rather than rolling over to corporate interests). A decade of hard-won successes, including initiatives for fair taxation; legal action requiring greater transparency; and public health, safety and environmental protections, as well as enormous local mobilizations for environmental justice and climate justice, made the corporate giant furious. Despite its rage, we persevered.
Our progressive achievements and electoral victories in Richmond have garnered national attention and we hope our story provides inspiration, and instruction, to other cities and communities. Richmond’s success is a bright light in these dark times of corporate money obscenely dominating the electoral landscape nationwide, and I remain very grateful to the voters who would not let Richmond’s democracy be bought.
Citizens United opened wide the floodgates and by doing so allowed Chevron to deluge our local democracy with its money. For Chevron, and for corporate America in general, it is important to defeat those of us working for grassroots democracy. They become threatened when a community mobilizes, as we have done in Richmond; they become threatened when elected officials are serving in office who cannot be bought; and they become threatened when a city with a hardscrabble past, like Richmond, is doing so well and improving based on the efforts of its citizens pulling together.
Many of us took not a penny from any corporation in our campaigns. We live our values, work hard to inspire and explain our views to the community, and trust in the voters who clearly have seen through Chevron’s deceptions.
Yet we know we are surrounded by a corporate-dominated society, so we continue to warn about the dangers of corporate control even as we celebrate our victories. Just last week, I joined other local elected officials and environmental activists – including the Sierra Club, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and Communities for a Better Environment — at a press conference in front of Chevron’s Richmond refinery in support of a recently filed shareholder resolution that asks Chevron’s board of directors to stop spending corporate funds in all political elections. Not only was shareholder money wasted in this past year’s election, but as the resolution states: “Chevron faces risks that include loss of goodwill, tensions with local communities, and reputational damage due to its spending intended to influence political elections.” Such shareholder efforts should take place at corporations around the country.
Imagine if elections were not allowed to be bought and public financing were the law of the land. Imagine if constitutional protection of our democracy was implemented and assured. Imagine if clean money and clean elections allowed people to mark their ballots knowing their individual votes count and feeling comfortable that the campaign season has not been manipulated by big money.
It can happen, but only if we keep demanding it. As abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”