BOSTON MAYOR : THE LAST DAYS OF CITIZEN ACTION ?

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^ citizen action in a classic citizen campiagn ; john Connolly being blessed by the black Ministers’ Alliance three weeks ago

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As I look at where John Connolly’s campaign stands now, in contrast to Marty Walsh’s, the thought strikes me : these are last days of citizen action in Boston elections. No matter which man wins.

A true Citizen Movement — moms for school transformation — faces a vast army of interest groups, established powers, and institutional stubbornness. The candidate of Moms raised pretty fair money, but, until last week, when, faced with a sledge hammer of money opposite, he agreed to take his own “outside” money, he found himself confronted by an array of money scandalous in its immensity. This money array has not entered the vote arena out of any goodness of heart. It defends institutional hardball and, let it be said, ripens the thousands of people who staff the money-disgorging institutions which feel threatened by Citizen action.

It used to be, in America, that money had no place in elections; that its presence therein was considered scandalous, even criminal. Candidates shunned campaigning; it ws thought unseemly to stump and door-knock. The office sought the man, not vice versa. The common custom was that holding elective office was an honor and a duty, onerous and of necessity disinterested as much as possible. Obviously those days have long since vanished into bat belfry cobwebs.

Yet even once money came into politics — via Mark Hanna and his vast donation organization for William McKinley in 1896 — and even as the man began to seek the office, by Woodrow Wilson’s time at the latest — citizen action was still the driving force. Money paid for printing campaign lierature. it paid election day ward heelers. But money did not in that era invent interest groips, pay for think tanks, assemble voter profiles, control newspapers. Today money does all of these things.

Example : the Tea party, which would have been a very small, albeit extremely sulfuric, anger cult had not Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers, and the Heritage Foundation vacuumed millions of corporate dollars and spewed them out to the Tea party’s organizers. The Tea Party is fake citizen action. It gets all of its heft by way of media outlets (and their talk show charlatans) which exploit the Tea “movement” in order to generate advertising dollars. The entire thing is fraudulent, utterly bogus, a stain upon whatever honor remains in our political system.

Money endows the vast institutions of learning that have grown up in America ever since the 1862 Justin Morrill Act that created land grant state colleges. Money is the motive force behind the so-called churches whose talk-show host-type pastors have pushed so vociferously into our current politics. We like to think of academics and pastors as avatars of citizen action. They certainly were such in the Abolitionist movement and later in the 1890-1920 progressive era of social reform — the grand decades of true citizen reform action. Even then, of course, reform movements faced stubborn opposition; but with sledgehammer money absent from the fight, citizen action triumphed.

Not so today. At the Presidential level, Barack Obama trumped money institution oligarchy only because he represented a long prior citizen movement — civil rights — and was its climacric event. Once in office, however, Obama found himself blocked at every turn by fake ‘movements,” millionaired media, profit center “churches,’ and billionaired proganandists.

Here in Massachusetts, the cataclysmic US Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren was a fight between money movements and only money movements. Even with outside money excluded, the Warren campaign based itself in the theory that how voters in other states voted for Senator should dictate how Massachusetts voters voted. This was a radical parliament-arization of a system set up to be nothing of the kind ; it should have been shown the door ; yet it resonated, because in nation as drowned by institutional flood, it now really does matter to voters in Massachusetts what Senator voters in Oklahoma or Wisconsin vote for. It matters because there really are no longer any states with state-specific interests. There’s only nationwide pressure groups funded by billionaire money streams.

Senator Warren’s vote-getting operation also drew upon an NSA-like data bank in which every voter found him or herself identified, categorized, boxed, and labeled. This we will all now have to live with. It is nice for a campaign to try to identify its voters; that’s how one gets elected. But to maintain a data bank as invasive as Warren’s — and which has now found its way into the Walsh campaign — is an invasion of privacy every bit as intolerable as the snooping done by the NSA. Voter data as invasive as Warren’s does not come cheap. It is fueled by huge money,. It is said that Warren raised 52 million dollars to defeat Scott Brown. 52 million ! In one United states Senate race !

I call it corruption. Not of the old criminal kind, to be sure. But corruption indeed. Corruption of the very basis of our electoral system.

So now we come to the Walsh campaign. If it looks to you like a labor union, State House, developers and deal makers, local version of the Elizabeth Warren campaign, do not scratch your head : you see exactly what is. The Walsh campaign is the artillery of institutional power, the infantry of entrenched buddy buddy, and — almost now an after thought — a scout platoon of local labor unions : upon all of which veessel is found a beautifully carved bowsprit named Marty Walsh, a man with a laudable life story and a reputation for integtrity.

Competing against this huge ship of state with its gorgeous bowsprit, we find the good ship John Connolly. What is Connolly’s camapign but a throwback to the days, almost 100 years gone, of citizen action ? Of reform, of betterment ?

Watching — and liking — Connolly’s campaign I am struck by its historicity. It’s the kind of camapign that I, decrepit old as I am, studied 50-60 years ago in school : a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it is. School moms want to dramatically reform the schools. Candidate wants to reform, even remake City Hall for a very different era. Candidate leads with passion and policy and decent but not obscene money. Moms in tennis shoes gather to help him.

This, dear reader, was what we of my day learned was citizenship.

We now see the result. The candidate of citizen action stands very much an underdog, while the candidate of institutional goniffs struts the streets as an over-dog.

I fully expect that even if John Connolly wins, he will, like Barack Obama since 2009, find himself and his citizen reformers blocked at every turn by immovable institutions employing tens of thousands of people hard-assing to defend their benefits, security, and control; by interest groups determined to chomp the city budget into morsels of pay raise; by the State House crowd, which has always wanted to dictate Boston’s governance; and by the money caches which in nasty secrecy are now pouring their mints into preventing the thing most dangerous to corrupt government : citizen action.

—- Michael Freedberg / here and Sphere

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^ institutional high hand : Tom Keady, whom i knew way back when, and as sharp a political mind as I have met in my life, now Boston College’s Director of Development, said tyo be “the architect: of the Marty Walsh campaign.

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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