We Can Fix This. We've Done It Before. Re-imagining Government

When I talk to people who work in Washington, DC these days, I'm struck by the resignation. The political/policy professionals with whom I interact regularly are discouraged by the political posturing that undermines serious efforts at addressing national needs. They've counted noses and can tell me why nothing can happen in the next month, before November, before the end of the year, before the next presidential election. They tell us why we should give up. The fatigue is palpable, heavy, and contagious.

But outside of Washington, it feels different. People are angry, and there's energy in their anger. There's possibility in their frustration. Their impatience smells of change.

Across the political spectrum, the consensus is strengthening that the rules are rigged against working people. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is so popular because she speaks to the experience of ordinary Americans.

Across the political spectrum, the consensus is strengthening that the rules are rigged against working people.


People remember that the big banks that sold exploding mortgages were "rescued," but the millions of homeowners who bought those mortgages were left in the cold.

They see Congress extending tax cuts for the corporations that provide them with large campaign contributions, but failing to extend emergency unemployment benefits for over three million Americans who have been searching for work for more than six months while eating through their savings and selling off the assets accumulated over a lifetime just to live another day.

They are outraged that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and individuals are free to spend millions of dollars to influence Congress and state legislatures, but unions can't require the people they represent to pay dues.

They are appalled at corporate managers who approve the sale of defective products or ongoing workplace safety risks that cost lives and walk away with "slap on the wrist" fines, while poor people who can't pay civil fines do jail time.

They decry rules that say student loan debt cannot be forgiven in a personal bankruptcy, but corporations and cities that declare bankruptcy can escape their obligations to pay workers the pensions they contributed to their entire lives.

A lot of rules today simply don't stand up to American values of fair play and common sense.

But any good student of American history can tell you this isn't new.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are brilliant statements of our ambitions; we continue to work to expand and improve our democratic institutions in order to realize our ambitions. We've made enormous strides in improving the living standards and quality of life for an increasing share of our residents. But the expansion of opportunity was never pre-ordained. It has always been a tough slough. We've had heartbreaking periods of retrenchment and glorious leaps forward. Reform isn't easy and is often slow.

What history teaches us is that forward movement requires engagement and energy – and perhaps that anger at injustice and a commitment to use democratic institutions to re-write the rules and set things right begins that process. In every era, democratic government has been the instrument for lasting change. When our political structures fail to address the needs of the people, we change them; we expand the electorate, we change our voting laws, we elect senators directly. Our lurching and imperfect history has arced toward greater inclusion, increased opportunity, and expanded opportunity. And when that path is blocked, when certain factions gain too much power, we rein them in.

It's time. Let's de-rig the system, figure out the rules that need rewriting, and get to work.

It's time. Let's de-rig the system, figure out the rules that need rewriting, and get to work.


As a reminder to the discouraged and disheartened, we are starting a new blog post series. In it, we'll harvest stories from the past about how we expanded our democracy or identified a problem and fixed it. We want to remind our readers and allies that democratic governance is always a work in progress – because the world is always creating new collective challenges for us to solve. By bringing the stories of struggle – and success – from the past into the present, we hope to remind our readers that government has been and still can be the tool for achieving our collective aspirations.

It's up to us to make it work for working people again.

back to Blog

AMEN! Thanks Katherine for that wonderful article!
Katherine McFate, please run for office!
We are at a time when satan is running out of time ! GOD said you will no when the time is almost end because things will be backwards and people will think it's ok to go this way ! What is right is wrong and what is wrong is right ! I don't see how people keep voting ! These last years have been the worst years in all my life beside lost my son and my mother ! The people who are so call running this country have and still is running it to the ground ! They have dig a whole that only GOD can fell it and tell you the truth I believe he don't want to ! They have turn there backs on him and walk in a demon foot sept and it is sick !!! They forgot or just don't want to believe who started all of this from the door ! It's going to talk the rafth of GOD to really get the people made leaders to no who he really is ! And he is not nothing to be play with ! The DUM Goverment don't evening see what is really going on ! The are about them self and money and that is all ! And the love of money is EVIL !!!!!!!!!!
...hear hear! Simply voting out the "incumbent bums" as many are led to believe isn't the answer as often just a new set of "bums" will take their place. Those who have real conviction usually end up being lone voices in the political wilderness and ignored unless they come around and "conform" with the status quo. Remember the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"? It was a film where the main character, (a local leader of an organisation modelled on the Boy Scouts) gets picked over a political boss's "stooge" to fill the vacant seat of a Senator who had died while in office. It was hoped that this "clean cut" junior senator (played by James Stewart) would both please the people and be easy to manipulate. Well to make a long story short, that is far from the case as the plot unfolds. The film is uncharacteristically darker than most of Capra's works. When it premiered in Washington DC, it was unfavourably criticised. Both the press and politicians cited the film as being not only "un-American, but "pro communist" because it portrayed corruption within the US government. the senate leader at the time remarked that the film was not only 'silly and stupid" but was also a "gross distortion of the Senate" and "makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks". Even Joseph P Kennedy (father of JFK and then ambassador to Great Britain) wrote Capra that he feared the film could "damage America's prestige in Europe". Yep, truth really hurts some times. Unfortunately in RL there are few if any "Capraesque" happy endings and often it's the "bad guys" who end up winning because they have the power and money to do so. It's been seventy five years since the film's debut and we are still seeing this play out time and time again. If any one member of today's Senate or Congress comes close to Mr Stewart's portrayal, it is Senator Warren. Of all the officials I wrote to including the President (even multiple times), she was the only one who took time to personally reply, and I'm not even a resident of her state. We need a real overhaul, not just a "changing of the guard". We need the influence of "big money" out of government, including lobbying (which is effectively sanctioned bribery) and PACs like those set up by industries and individuals (like the Koch Brothers). We also need term limits for Congress to prevent the "entrenching" of power that has been allowed to occur. We need a rewriting of the job description for members of Congress and the Senate which forces them them to actually work for their salary instead of recessing every two weeks (like they used to effectively "run out the clock" on the EUC issue). Furthermore, no one member in either house should be allowed to "decree" which bill goes to a vote on and which doesn't. That is an absolute despotic abuse of power which violates the entire checks and balances system the government is supposed to operate under. If the President is required to function under such restrictions on his/her power, so should Congressional and Senatorial leadership. Better yet, as the citizens of Kosovo demanded back in February, we need a from of non partisan "management" in government that is answerable to the citizens, not the big money interests and power brokers. We need a restructuring of taxes once and for all closing the loopholes the wealthy and big corporations abuse which have allowed them to enjoy a "free ride" of record profits/income on the backs of hard working Americans. Institutions such as the banking industry need to be re-regulated to avoid the "too big to fail" syndrome which allowed them to do as they pleased without worrying about the consequences (which led to the recent economic collapse we are still feeling on Main Street). ...oh, and above all, the Federal Reserve needs to be dismantled, or at the very least seriously restructured, as it was nothing but a ploy under the guise of Federal legislation which was crafted by the big banking interests of last century (during a then "secret" meeting at Jekyll Island Ga.) to basically control the nation's monetary policy. This call is not only being made here at home, but abroad as well. Only then will our votes really begin to count for something. The title of another Capra film (adapted from an old George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart play) should say it all: "You Can't Take It With You".
"They are outraged that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and individuals are free to spend millions of dollars to influence Congress and state legislatures, but unions can't require the people they represent to pay dues. ....." That Supreme Court ruling gives me (individuals) the right to donate money to organizations that support causes such as Right to Life, Second Amendment, and Religious Freedom. Without it only the ruling class has the power. The union issue is the Right to Work. People should have the option to join or not to join a union. They shouldn’t be required to join a union in order to work.