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Commentary | Perspectives on Election 2000

It Feels Like One Big Business Party

Protesters are up against big money in trying to restore democracy to the political process.

August 11, 2000|RANDY HAYES | Randy Hayes is president of Rainforest Action Network

Monday is the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where thousands of environmental, human rights, labor and campaign finance reform advocates will gather both in the streets and at the Shadow Convention hosted by Arianna Huffington. We of Rainforest are not gathering to show our support for the Democratic Party. In fact, a large number of us were in Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention at the end of July. Rather, we come to express our deep concern about the state of our democracy.

Candidates for national offices are expected to spend about $3 billion on campaigns for Election 2000, raising far too much of this money from giant corporations with legislative agendas that often go against the public interest. These corporations are pouring record amounts of money into both major parties' coffers in order to purchase influence, no matter what the outcome on election day. Despite this multimillion-dollar corporate buy-off of our lawmakers, corporations would still like us to believe we have a democracy in America and that our votes count more than their money.

Sadly, politicians and corporate "leaders" have merged, reducing our political system to a democracy theme park. This leaves us with the Republican side and the Democratic side of the Big Business Party, two sides of the same coin. It feels that way, at least, on global economic policy such as the World Trade Organization.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, citizens concerned about clear air, clean water and healthy food have voted, signed petitions, written or called on members of Congress and even worked to build some productive alliances with business groups in the hopes of reversing the trend of ecological destruction. With some success, we vote "one dollar, one vote" in the marketplace to pressure companies such as Home Depot to agree, for example, to not sell old-growth wood. But on most counts, the situation continues to worsen.

Much of the pressure that is tearing apart nature and remote rain forest tribes around the world stems from the runaway consumption in the U.S. of oil, forests and other natural resources. The U.S.-led economic model of endless growth is at the core of our ecological problems.

Writer Edward Abbey stated that growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell, killing entire ecological systems and entire species. Instead, our economy should work within the limits of nature, since nature cannot work in an economy without limits.

The most important environmental policy is economic policy. Whether talking about Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Al Gore or George W. Bush, none of the corporate-sponsored leaders have embraced this truism.

Why? In the 1998 elections, individuals and political action committees representing the energy and mining industries outspent environmental interest groups by 50 to 1. National priorities in this country are being set by billion-dollar environmental pariahs and multimillion-dollar campaign contributors such as Occidental Petroleum, Archer-Daniels-Midland, Enron, Lockheed Martin, Philip Morris and Citigroup. In elections, the voices of the people are no longer decisive. Is this the spirit of our Constitution?

Citizens from labor unions and social-change groups came together in Washington, D.C., Seattle and Philadelphia for protests against the WTO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Republican Party. Those citizens are working to build the public pressure needed for real democracy within our national political system. Our elected officials have shown us that they will not change by themselves. People power is needed to force a change.

Americans do care about our democracy, our Constitution and ending campaign finance corruption. Whether it's saving the rain forest, improving health care systems or maintaining a sound economy, rebuilding a democracy of the people--and not big business--is key.

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