A Teachable Moment Lessons from the Crushing Initiative Losses by Spruce Houser
Many good folks gave their all to the campaigns on behalf of Ballot Measures 23 and 27 (health care reform and labelling of genetically engineered food). It was difficult to see these excellent causes not only defeated but trounced by 4 to 1 margins. In the sad aftermath of such crushing blows, there is a powerful temptation among many activists to throw up their arms in despair and give up hope that any truly progressive campaign which aims at achieving meaningful changes in our society can be successful. It is directly to such despair that I speak.
The “common denominator” that unites these two initiatives in defeat is the fact that extremely large influxes of money from both corporations and wealthy individuals were allowed to support huge media blitzes in favor of a "no" vote. If one extends this analysis to look at the recent history of other progressive initiatives in Oregon, it becomes quickly obvious that this "decimation by media blitz" is no isolated phenomenon. In fact, this common denominator extends to one progressive initiative after another.
Many who read this open letter are, to one degree or another, already familiar with this basic pattern. My purpose is not so much to present a new revelation as much as it is simply to point out that right now may represent a very important "teachable moment" offering a rare opportunity to build a more unified and therefore more effective progressive movement in Oregon.
The lesson that is presenting itself to be learned, as it has after every progressive Oregon initiative which has been destroyed by big money, is “united we stand, divided we fall.” Unless progressives in Oregon are able to unite forces to defeat this domination of the electoral process by the wealthy, this tragic pattern will continue to repeat itself over and over.
Now, while these staggering losses are fresh in the minds of those who witnessed the corporate dismemberment of these initiatives, is the perfect time to appeal for such unity. There is an overwhelming need to address this huge structural problem in the electoral process. Rather than divide the limited energies and resources of the progressive movement into several different “issue” campaigns for yet another election cycle, we must come together to prioritize and focus our collective energy on the structural defect that will continue to defeat us if not successfully corrected.
The currently proposed ballot measure for campaign finance reform will apply only to spending for candidates. But if it is worded properly, it may be able to set the stage for a subsequent effort to reign in the power of big money over initiative campaigns. Many readers of Alternatives Magazine are connected to progressive groups and networks of all kinds. I urge all readers who may be moved by this plea for strategic unity to please consider sharing this message, in whatever way seems fitting to you, with your colleagues through these networks. The challenge of defeating the power of big money is already an awesome task. If we continue to allow our energies to be divided, it will be an all but impossible task.
The system is broken. Before we attempt to win any “issue” campaign, no matter how close to our hearts it may be, we must first fix the system.
May we move toward unity.
Spruce Houser has been a peace and environmental activist for 25 years. His work has been heavily influenced by the teachings of Jesus and Gandhi in their advocacy of nonviolent resistance. It is his belief that activism for a better world is how compassion is made real. He also believes that political movements aimed at social change will only succeed to the extent they are based on the foundation of Spirit.
His activism has run the gamut from organizing nonviolent civil disobedience against nuclear power and nuclear weapon facilities to producing a documentary for PBS. His personal experience as a participant in several progressive initiatives crushed by corporate money led him to join forces with Lloyd Marbet six years ago in opposing this structural domination of the electoral process.
Houser is also working with others to create a fully accessible, non-profit retreat center and residential ecovillage in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon. Retreats and workshops on personal growth, sustainable living skills, and spiritually-based activism will be open to all on a free will donation and barter basis. He can be reached at: [email protected]