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When Obama was elected and the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress, we expected sweeping changes, including the restoration of America’s commitment to human rights, dramatic changes in environmental and energy policy, an end to the Iraq war, and a strong infusion of support for healthcare, education and human services. Not much of it happened.

The absence of significant change was staggering. What could possibly explain it? What was wrong with the Party of the People? Why wasn’t the President leading us forward? And where was our brighter future? We waited.

Wall Street was bailed out. General Motors was bailed out. There was a stimulus bill. Few of us felt its impact. It all seemed like one stopgap measure after another. At best two steps forward and one step back. Not bold, not change, not even hopeful.

And then the Oil Spill made it oh so clear. BP had been exempted from established safety measures. Huh? More probing revealed that in reality our government regulators essentially work for the big companies they are supposed to hold accountable for environmental and human safety. Former oil company employees make the decisions on permits and waivers and the special favors that lead to the sort of disaster we now have in the Gulf.

The final insult was learning that when the regulations are written, when the legislation is created, it is created by the oil companies for the oil companies. How helpful of them. Their faithful representatives in government service are later rewarded with lucrative oil company jobs.

In essence, we learned that there is no regulatory oversight, investigations aren’t even done. Who would do them? The oil companies themselves, of course. So much for government by the people, for the people. What we have is government by the corporations for the corporations. The United States of America has become “The United Corporations of America.”

Many of us remember a time when our government had clout. When regulators sparked fear in the hearts of corporate manipulators and retired on their government pensions, not their stock options.

As someone who has lived through the steady decline of our government institutions, I think this process began during the Reagan administration.

Reagan pursued the dismantling of the Federal Government with vigor and celebratory glee, and the unraveling has continued, sometimes quicker, sometimes slower, but steadily until it is finally impossible to miss the damage that has been done. 

Our government is corrupt. We look to our elected representatives for bold and decisive correction. Most of them look the other way, mumble some platitudes about the realities of how things work in Washington, and do little or nothing to change the status quo.

Nearly all of our elected representatives, on both sides of the aisle rely on corporate and special interest money to fund their campaigns. They tread lightly where their donor’s interests are concerned. Those few who speak out are national heroes. They are few, and no amount of fury on their part is going to turn the tide that is sweeping American democracy away, in service of a bottom line that makes a very few richer at the expense of all the rest.

What can “we the people” do to turn this tide and take our country back? We have to liberate our elected officials from their corporate campaign donors. We need Congress to pass the Disclose Act, and the Fair Elections Now Act. I don’t feel hopeful they will.

Why would people with established corporate funding histories vote for clean elections? Well, they wouldn’t. But if we push for voter-owned elections at the state level, we can send our “clean-election” representatives to Washington, where they will push for clean elections at the national level, because they can.

If you want your country back, join the Clean Election movement in your state or municipality. Go online to http://www.publiccampaign.org and learn about publicly-financed campaigns. You can also find out about and connect with your local clean elections organization. Washington Public Campaigns at http://www.washclean.org and The Non-Partisan League of Spokane are two local organizations committed to election reform.

This is not a partisan issue. Right now none of our votes count. The powers that be like to keep us divided, but we are united in this: we want our government back.

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