--June 17, 2004
More than three years ago, on January 20, 2001, I joined thousands in protest as George W. Bush was inaugurated the 43rd President of the United States. It was a cold day that broke into a chilling rain as Mr. Bush prepared to occupy the White House, but I remember being hot with righteous anger as I emerged from the DC Metro at Dupont Circle to hoist my sign in furious dissent.
Most of the speakers at Dupont Circle that day stoked the crowd's fury, reminding us of the particular slings and arrows of the Florida election debacle. At the moment of our highest collective dudgeon, Doris Haddock took the stage. Popularly known as Granny D, and running as a candidate for Senate in 2004, Haddock refused to merely validate our anger. Instead, she employed rhetoric in the most civic sense, seeking to temper our anger with strategic assessment and pulling us out of the missed opportunities of the 2000 election to refocus us on a task we could yet accomplish.
I was fortunate enough to record her speech that day, and on the occasion of her decision to run for the office of Senator from New Hampshire, I am proud to share with you the words she spoke that day.
As I am old enough to have seen and felt a third of our nation's history, let me tell you that there has always been a sufficient supply of raw deals to keep us toasty warm with rage, if we are only capable of rage instead of loving action. Let me tell you about anger: if you find yourself one day in charge of a company or a community or a kingdom, and you find you have enemies who would try to bring you down, here is your best strategy: keep them angry about little issues, so that their energies will be spent before they get to the big issues that could truly threaten you.
There are indeed people who use their wealth and power against the interests of our human community. They must now be entertained by the fact that so many people are upset by the outcome of this election, when in fact they were set to win either way it came out. It was the old rigged coin toss: heads I win, tails you lose. They laugh if you fight about the outcome of that toss. They laugh because the real issue, so much bigger, might pass with little notice or resistance.
Our imperfect union, our ever-wobbling republic, beset as it is by occasions of corruption, assassination, poor judgement and faulty election, moves ever forward toward the dream of human kindness, fairness, equality and peace. Our nation moves upward despite all its errors and deficiencies because it is somehow blessed, is it not?, as a society founded upon a dream that has proven more durably inspiring than can ever long be damaged by any sad episode of corruption. Our secret is that this dream has always been better than its dreamers. Together, with our constitution and our shared expectations, the dream has moved us forward. America is a more fair, a more just place than it was ninety-one years ago when I was born.
What is the real issue? What battle must we see through all these destructions? It is the fight to preserve that dream -- the fight to preserve the elements of representative democracy required to continously enact that dream into law.
If we choose to be angry, let it be in defense of our standing as a self-governing people. Let it battle against those who in exchange for campaign contributions sell policy and sell access to power which belongs rightfully to all of us. For how can we serve each other's needs and preserve our very Earth if we allow greedy interests to steal from us the reins of our own democracy? There is the issue, my friends: not the theft of an election but the theft of a democracy.
During the Continental Congress' convention, Ben Franklin I am sure you have heard, looked at a half-sun carved on President Washington's chair, and said that he had some confidence that it represented a rising sun, not a setting sun, for our country. But we look at that symbol today, and think about the condition of Congress, and it might suggest something else. I understood it when I looked up into the Capitol Rotunda on the day I was arrested. Arrested there while reading from the Bill of Rights. For the sun streamed through the high windows. Here is a house that should hold the bright sunlight of our democracy, and it is now turned into a house of political prostitution.
There is a house in Washington they call the Rising Sun. And it's been the ruin of many a man whom Bribery has undone.
Never has there been a time in the history of our planet when we so needed an intelligent, honorable leader who will cast self-interest into oblivion. We can no longer afford the bribery that now runs rampant in the temple of our democracy. When a Representative or Senator takes a contribution from an industry or a group of companies or an immensely wealthy individual, a contribution that will help ensure their political future, a conflict of interest has been created. They know it and we know it.
Now, I would tell you that we need a good law against this bribery, but we already have a fine one. It is U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 11, Section 201: "Bribery of Public Officials." It is short and delicious: "Whoever, directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official with intent to influence any official act; Or, being a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act, shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, whichever is greater, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States." 18-11-201.
Under the unambiguous provisions of this law, political parties that extract protection money from industries are in violation of federal bribery law and require prosecution, as do lobbyists who curry favor through donations, and as do elected officials and candidates, if the promise legislative support in exchange for financial support.
Now, which Attorney General will dare enforce this law? For eight years, the Democrats' Attorney General would not. Will the Republican Attorney General do any better? Heads they win; tails we lose.
Here is the issue for our anger and our energy. We must put an end to the bribery that poisons our democracy and poisons all of us and our very Earth. Let us not be distracted from this mission. We have come to a time when we must purify our public life, at least to the extent that a free and proud people can do so.
If you ever worked for a public official and you were in the room when the candidate agreed to soften or change a position to satisfy a major contributor, let me know about it at GrannyD.com. If you ever worked for a lobbyist and you were in the room when someone decided to offer money to a public official as a way to influence a vote, let me know about it at GrannyD.com.
Let us gather our evidence, so that no Attorney General can again hide from the obvious truth. Let us fight to win, with only as much anger as we need to sharpen our resolve. We shall end bribery as we know it. We are going to do it through anti-bribery actions all across America, and Americans will gather in Washington to finish the job. They will arrive not in anger, but in great, American joy. A fine day it will be when we break those bonds of corruption that now keep Americans from their proper destiny as a self-governing people.
My one foot's on the platform. The other's on the train. I'm going down to Washington to cut that ball and chain.
We shall do it for all who have given their lives to the betterment and the defense of our great idea: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Let's say that again together: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We shall do it for our children, for our grandchildren and for our great grandchildren, who need for us to be brave and take action at this critical moment.
We shall do it so that old Ben Franklin, looking down from his cloud, will smile again to see that the sun is rising yet on our great experiment, and that our great Capitol building is filled with the warm light that ever streams from our people's hearts.
Thank you very much.
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