Voting doesn’t work anymore. If it did, Americans would get what they want — or at least some of it — from Washington.
But they don’t.
Instead of the people’s priority, which is jobs, country club conservatives in Congress stubbornly fixate on deficits. Instead of ensuring millionaires and corporations pay their fair share, House Republicans passed a budget that would destroy Medicare and Medicaid.
Corporate and clandestine campaign contributions have undermined the power of traditional voting, the kind done at polls on election day. Rather than voters, politicians now serve donors — billionaires and banksters — who invest untold millions and demand returns in the form of self-serving policy.
This is demoralizing to those who cherish democracy and the sanctity of one person, one vote.
Hope, however, arrived with the debit card fee victory. The 99 percent forced Bank of America to back off its proposed fee. Average Americans accomplished this by voting differently, not at the ballot box but at the twitter account, the Occupy march and the teller window, where 1 million depositors went to move $4.5 billion from the big Wall Street banks to community banks and credit unions. They found another way to exercise their franchise and force the powerful to respond.
The 99 percent must exploit the method of this triumph to get what they need. Because politicians sure as hell aren’t giving them what they want.
The numbers don’t lie. Coin-operated conservatives in Congress have rejected President Obama’s jobs plan, parts of the jobs plan and Obama’s pitch to raise taxes on the rich to pay for it.
And yet, the electorate strongly supports both surtaxing millionaires and the elements of the jobs plan. In a CNN poll in October, 75 percent favored sending federal money to the states to hire teachers and first responders and 72 percent favored infrastructure investments.
A whopping 76 percent wanted millionaires to pay higher taxes.
In that same CNN poll, there’s another compelling statistic. Sixty-one percent said reducing unemployment was the most important issue. Reducing the deficit didn’t even come close at 35 percent.
The numbers aren’t flukes. Another survey, taken a week later by CBS found the same thing.
At a time when companies are hoarding $2 trillion in reserves, failing to create jobs and demanding tax cuts, the CBS poll provided a snapshot of public opinion on corporate responsibility. It found 67 percent opposed shrinking big business tax obligations.
That is a result of the public knowing intuitively what a report released last week proved: corporations aren’t paying their fair share. Citizens for Tax Justice conducted a comprehensive study that showed 280 of the nation’s largest publically-traded corporations paid only 18.5 percent of their profits in taxes over the past three years. That is little more than half the official rate of 35 percent, and it is lower than the rate paid by their competitors in other industrialized nations.
Thirty of the companies paid nothing. For three years.
Numerous polls over time found Americans, including Tea Partiers by a two-to-one margin, strongly oppose cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits. Yet, what is the Congressional super-committee talking about? Cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
If only the public could get their elected representatives to listen. If only they could walk into those plush Congressional offices — the way corporate lobbyists do — grab those lawmakers and get them to understand the sentiment of all those polls, the feeling of the vast majority of the electorate: Tax the rich; don’t cut the social safety net; create jobs now; worry about the deficit when the economy improves.
Traditional balloting has failed to get country club conservatives to listen to the public. To the majority. To the people who a democratically-elected government is supposed to serve.
The Bank of America debit card fee reversal suggests, however, that the majority can win with non-traditional balloting. In this case, a big bank that had been bailed out by the public after it engaged in excessively-risky betting, a bank that gave its CEO a $9 million bonus after he lost billions, announced that it had “the right to make a profit” off the backs of poor people by charging them a new $5-a-month fee to use their own money with their debit cards.
Other Wall Street banks indicated they would do the same.
Fed up, depositors said they wouldn’t take it anymore. They began transferring their money out of the Wall Street banks, participating in the “Move Your Money” campaign that urged citizens to deposit their savings in community banks and credit unions. YouTube began featuring outrageous videos of Wall Street bank branches denying depositors access to their accounts when they tried to withdraw their money to move it.
The effort was tweeted and blogged. It was cheered by Occupy Wall Street protesters who marched to bank headquarters buildings in New York City carrying thousands of letters of complaint.
Wall Street banks began backing off their new fee plans. One by one they abandoned Bank of America. Finally, it too cancelled the fee, meanwhile refusing to disclose just how much businesses it lost.
Last Saturday was the big, official “move your money” day. Of course, the Wall Street banks won’t tell how many more customers they lost. But depositors, more than 78,000 of whom pledged to make the move, made their point.
They voted differently. They voted with their feet and their wallets. And they won. They cast ballots in the only way coin-operated politicians and big banks respond to.
Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger