If You Want to Breathe Clean Air, Senate Reform and Democracy Matter
by Phil Radford
Phil Radford, Greenpeace USA executive director, speaks at a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline Proposal outside the Ronald Reagan Building while the State Department conducted its final public hearing on the project inside.
© Greenpeace / Robert Meyers
Originally posted to Huffington Post
This week, the Senate will decide whether they will end Congressional gridlock with a simple majority, or if they will continue to allow obstructionist lawmakers to paralyze the government with partisan gimmicks. For our health, our communities, and for our planet that supports life in all its diversity, the Senate must adopt Harry Reid's proposal to reform nominations rules now, and enact more sweeping reforms of the Senate rules in the immediate future.
Reid's proposal to allow the Senate to end discussion of proposed nominations with a simple majority vote is the only sane way forward when Senate Republicans are bent on delaying and obstructing presidential nominations like Gina McCarthy's to the Environmental Protection Agency. The extremist faction isn't filibustering because they think that there may be someone better to head the EPA than McCarthy (or Sharon Block for the National Labor Relations Board, or any of the other Republican-blocked nominations); they're doing it because this is the only way they can keep the EPA from carrying out its congressionally mandated functions.
The problems of the gridlocked, broken Senate are nothing new to environmentalists. In her analysis of the failure of the 2009 climate bill, Harvard professor Theda Skocpol said, "The failure of the 2009-10 policy push for cap and trade legislation was, in one respect, quite unsurprising -- attributable (in political science 101 terms) to Senate rules setting an insurmountable 60-vote bar."
The Corporate Right knows this.
Grinding the federal government to a halt by abusing the filibuster is just one of the strategies that a handful of fossil fuel companies are using to undermine our democracy to keep their near-monopoly status in politics. While saving our democracy may seem a far cry from "Save the Whales," moving closer to the dream of American democracy may be the only way to pass meaningful protections for our communities and our planet in the United States Congress. The environmental movement must engage in this fight.
The stakes are high. While a few senators are working to ensure that President Obama's election has no consequences by blocking him from staffing the administration, the Supreme Court has already pushed forward the Corporate Right's two additional strategies to dismantle democracy of, by and for the people: suppressing the vote and unleashing limitless, secret money into elections.
This means that the voting blocs who most support the environment -- youth and people of color -- are being pushed out of the electorate, and powerful moneyed interests who fight environmental safeguards grow more powerful through keeping people out and pumping their money into politics.
The results of this bigotry and big money strategy show up in places like Art Pope's North Carolina, where the legislature has gutted campaign finance laws for judicial elections and pushed bills to suppress voters, including a measure to remove a tax credit for parents whose college-student children vote at school instead of at their permanent address.
So what can we do about all of this? For one, we can start seeing ourselves as we are seen by the forces that are hell bent on fighting the promise of American democracy -- as one movement with a shared vision of inclusion, of every voice counting, and of a government working for all of the American people.
United by this vision, a new force -- The Democracy Initiative -- was born, committed to getting big money out of politics, voters in (universal voter registration and an end to voter suppression), and reforming the Senate rules to get the government working again. Groups such as Greenpeace, the Communication Workers of America, the NAACP, Sierra Club, Public Campaign, Common Cause, People for the American Way, National People's Action and dozens of others representing tens of millions of people are determined to win back what we've lost in the past four decades.
Big Money groups are still fighting as hard as ever across the country to disempower the majority who believe in the rights of communities to be safe and self-determined. The Democracy Initiative was formed to make sure that every voice is heard, and the people, not big money, control the future of this country. You can join this fight today by calling your senators and telling them that you support Senate rules reform now to end gridlock in Washington.
(Watch the Netroots Panel "The Three Keys to Reclaiming Democracy" in the Video Below)
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