What You Gave Obama Could Have Been Put to Good Use

The most remarkable thing about the Occupy Movement is that it is happening without funding.  Yes, donations are starting to pour into Occupy Wall Street, but not at the level that could really boost this campaign to replace plutocracy with popular participation.  And most of the other occupations around the country are poor or penniless, with their futures in some doubt because of that status.

The movement that won women the right to vote got a huge boost when a supporter left $2 million to Carrie Chapman Catt for that purpose, and Catt was able to use almost half of that amount after holding off relatives of the deceased donor in court.  The peace movement that gave us the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928 was funded by robber barons and others to the tune of many millions of 2011 dollars per year.  The civil rights movement depended on funding from its supporters. 

Yes, money can be misspent.  Money can corrupt.  Money can be used to co-opt and misdirect.  Well-funded campaigns can fail to find speedy success.  But money can also build communications systems, hire lawyers and organizers, train them, pay legal fees, bail people out of jail, produce national conventions of General Assembly representatives, and feed, clothe, and shelter dedicated activists creating outdoor communities in winter.  That kind of money is hard to find, and especially hard to find without corrupting strings attached to it.

I have an idea where to look.  In 2008 candidate Barack Obama took three-quarters of his money from people who gave a total of $200 or more (although many of them gave multiple donations of less than $200 each, producing misleading claims that “small donors” were providing half the campaign funding).  About 90% of the money from those who gave $200 or more came from people who gave $500 or more, many of them much more.  And much of the money, no matter the size of the individual donation, came in bundles from big-shot fundraisers or came labeled with the employer of the “donor.”  Thus Goldman Sachs got credit for over $1 million, J.P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup over $800,000 each, etc.  You might get a word with a presidential candidate if you pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend a dinner, but do you think your phone call will take priority over that of a bankster CEO?

Actual small donors may have given Obama some $180 million.  That is an amount of money that will not create a presidential candidate willing to tax the rich, end the wars, or move the military funding to jobs and education and environmental protection.  Putting that money into a national election has a bigger impact on the people giving than on the candidate receiving.  It creates in the donor the illusion of participating in a process that has been completely financialized but which still claims some one-dollar-one-vote connection to representative government.  This delusion is deadly, not because one candidate isn’t always even worse than another, but because of what could have been done with that same money.

It would be entirely possible to spend $180 million, or even $5 million, in a way that would stand a good chance of radically improving all the candidates and everyone talking about them or voting for them.  By properly funding independent principled activism, we could move the entire culture in the right direction.  Better elections would be more likely to follow a better culture than would cultural advances be to follow more heavily funded elections.  And there is no clearer way to find money without strings attached than to get it from Obama funders, who asked for and received nothing last time around.

So, here’s my advice: spread this message.  We’re not against elections, and if you want to fund an exceptional congressional or state or local candidate, we won’t stop you.  Central to our demands are reforms that would allow clean elections.  But more good would be done right now by funding activists than by funding politicians.  And you don’t have to fund the kind of activist groups that invert democracy and take their directions from politicians.  You can fund principled, independent, transparent movements that seek to advance the agenda of 99% of us.  Fund an occupation.  Fund pro-occupation independent media.  Fund organizations that have promoted this agenda prior to this moment, not those who have just latched onto it with less than convincing sincerity. 

The point is not that you picked the wrong candidate.  You picked the wrong field of operations. 

Let’s not waste our money and hope.  Let’s invest it in ourselves and change.