Beliefnet
Progressive Revival

Progressives have been blessed in the past two years with three
significant opportunities to change the fundamentals of American
society. We’ve already blown the first and are missing the second and
third.

The first, of course, was the economic meltdown. What a moment that
could have been for progressives in Congress or the White House to
challenge the ideology of “leave it to the marketplace” or “leave it to
the states” to work things out. Imagine if President Obama had told
Wall Street and the Republicans, “OK, lets test your theories right now
— lets just let the marketplace work its wonders as the banks fail.”
And had they pleaded for relief, it should have been given on condition
that they enthusiastically and simultaneously back and help implement a
single payer health care plan, the creation of a national bank to fund
no-interest loans to people on the verge of losing their homes from
deceptive mortgage loan offers and to fund socially useful and
environmentally sound new projects to offset unemployment, the funding
of a massive new WPA-style full employment program to make sure that
everyone who wants to work can and can use their talents in ways that
are societally useful, and to encourage small businesses, and the
creation of a whole new set of laws restricting banking and investment
company operations to make them respond to the needs of the society and
not just to the profit motivations of their investors. Well, that
chance was blown.

The second opportunity is now being blown by the Obama
Administration: the Gulf Oil spill. Here is a moment in which the logic
of capitalist exploitation of the planet is exposed for everyone to see.

The President should be calling this a national emergency as serious
as that of 9/11, and should declare a war on those who are destroying
the environment. He should call for a special session of Congress and
ask for emergency powers to suspend any corporate activity here or
abroad that threatens the planet Earth, under his war powers and as a
manifestation of his sworn obligation to protect and defend the United
States.

Obama should explain to the American people that we are literally
living through what environmentalist Paul Wapner calls “the end of
nature” unless we change the fundamentals of how we organize our global
economy and our relationship to the planet. Instead of seeing Earth as a
resource for human exploitation, we need to think of Earth as our very
bodies, and the damage we do to it similarly to what we might be doing
if we were cutting off limbs from our bodies. We need to cultivate in
ourselves and each other the capacity to respond to the universe with
awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of All
That Is.

That conception should be matched by environmental policies aimed at
cutting carbon emissions to 350 in the next ten years, scrapping
“pollute and trade” for a powerful carbon tax, the creation of a
national environmental board which must verify that every product made
or sold in the US is produced, marketed, and sold in an environmentally
sound way with an ES (environmentally sound sticker), the elimination
of all trade agreements that favor the US at the expense of local
farmers around the world, the use of the armies of the US as part of a
UN Force with the mandate to prevent the destruction of rain forest and
other environmentally vital parts of the globe, and the implementation
of a Global Marshall Plan to eliminate the extremes of poverty and
hunger that contribute to some of the poor being willing to destroy the
planet just so that they can (quite reasonably) feed their own
families.

The third opportunity remains: the decision of the Supreme Court in
its Citizens United ruling to overturn constraints on corporate
donations to candidates for office. The right wing majority on the court
boldly proclaimed that corporations are persons, persons’ speech is
protected by the first Amendment, and spending money is a form of
speech.

Over 80% of US voters oppose that decision and understand that its
implementation is likely to end the last vestiges of democratic openness
in American society and replace it with corporate advertising
manipulation of our consciousness.

The process of undermining democracy and control of elections by the
corporation and elites of wealth and power was already quite advanced
before this recent Supreme Court decision, so if we confine our
attention to overthrowing Citizens United we will not thereby restore
real democracy in the U.S.

Unfortunately, most progressive and liberal groups are following this
mistaken path. Correctly understanding that any legislation on the
issue of democracy for ordinary people and not for corporations is
likely to be overturned by the right-wing court we have at the moment.
But then they propose narrowly framed amendments to the constitution
that would do little more than return us to the status quo ante.

For that reason, we at Tikkun and our educational arm The Network of
Spiritual Progressives will be putting forward a new approach. We are
inviting secular progressives and liberals to join with spiritual or
religious liberals and progressives at a Strategy Conference in
Washington, D.C. June 11-13 to develop a coherent strategy for the Obama
years ahead. And a central part of that strategy is a campaign for the
ESRA: Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution.

The first Article, the Pro-Democracy Clause, of the ESRA proclaims
that protection of freedom of speech only applies to human beings nor
shall money be considered a form of speech. It then goes on to regulate
the expenditure of money in elections and to fund national elections,
prohibit anyone from buying time or space in the media during the three
months before the election but mandates major media to provide equal and
free time to major candidates, and other steps to ensure that
differentials in money will no longer be a factor in determining how
much of a candidate’s message is communicated to voters.

The second Article is the Corporate Environmental and Social
Responsibility Clause.

This would require corporations with incomes of over $100 million per
year (not smaller companies or “mom and pop” stores) must get a new
corporate charter every five years which will only be granted to those
that can demonstrate a satisfactory history of environmental and social
responsibility (toward its workers and toward the communities in which
it functions) to a jury of ordinary citizens chosen at random (because
we already know that regulatory agencies become dominated by
representatives of the very corporations that are supposed to be
regulating). Along with corporate management, employee groups and
stakeholder groups from wherever that corporation or its products reach
would present their information about the level of corporate
environmental and social responsibility.

A “Positive Requirement to enhance human community and environmental
sustainability constitutes Article three. Most notable in this Article
is that it requires of any school that receives federal support that
they teach the skills and capacities necessary to develop a caring
society manifesting love, generosity,kindness, joy celebration,
thanksgiving, forgiveness, non-violence, rational and scientific
thinking, awe and wonder at the universe, and the recognition that our
well-being depends on the well-being of everyone on the planet and the
well-being of the Earth itself. It further mandates the teaching of all
knowledge and skills required to assure that all students can contribute
to the implementation of policies that enhance the long-term
sustainability of Earth.

It will take just as long to get the shorter more narrowly framed
attempts to overthrow Citizens United as it will this broader ESRA
version. Yet in the actual struggle for change, the ESRA goes far deeper
and is far more likely to stir the enthusiasm of the American people
and the activists necessary to carry a campaign for Constitutional
reform to every corner of the country. What Obama should have learned
during the fight for health care reform — that the full weight of
corporate power gets mobilized just as heavily for moderate reform as it
would for a more appealing broader and deeper reform. And the broader
reform, precisely because it spells out what we are seeking, is much
more likely to generate popular support and to educate people along the
way to a vision of a different, more democratic and more environmentally
responsible, society.

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