Category Archives: Bull Moose Actions

What the Bull Moose Movement is going to do about problems.

Letter to Representative Nadler

Dear Congressman Nadler,

Thank you for your service to our district.   You have long been our Congressman, and will likely serve in that capacity until you choose to retire.  That is why we are writing you to express concern with the state of campaign finance reform in the United States, and your own role with respect to this issue.

While you have generally supported progressive legislation regarding campaign finance reform, including the Fair Elections Now Act, I wonder why you do not set a stronger example for your fellow Congressmen with your actual fundraising behavior.  This election cycle (09-10) you have raised nearly a million dollars, including over $277,000 from PACs, which we believe have a deleterious effect on the democratic process.   Everyone knows that you will win any primary or general election challenge easily, if one even exists. Do you really need to raise this much money, especially from PACs?

The recent D.C Circuit ruling in Speech Now, following on the heels of Citizens United, will allow for unlimited donations to PACs, increasing their undemocratic roll in the election process.  Why would you embrace the PAC system, when other Democrats have been able to fundraise sufficiently without using them?

Your two biggest donors, according to OpenSecrets.org, are Newmark Knight Frank and the Loews Corporation.  The former describes itself as a major global real estate investor; in fact, real estate is the largest source of your contributions.   We have long understood the real estate lobby in New York to be opposed to the interests of renters, who make up the overwhelming majority of your constituents.  If we are inaccurate in that assumption, please let us know.  More troubling is the Loews Corporation, which touts itself, among other things, as a major oil and gas explorer.   In fact, Loews is a majority shareholder in Diamond Offshore Drilling, which, as the name suggests, engages in off-shore drilling.  We are not sure why your fundraisers feel that you need to bring in money from these dubious sources, and regardless of your voting record, it troubles us to think what kind of access these corporations believe they are buying.

Mr. Nadler, you will have our support for Congress in 2010, as you always have. But with the system in Washington as broken as it is, we need more representatives who will lead by example, particularly when their stature and electoral situation affords them the ability to do so.

Sincerely,

Janos Marton and Cristina Castro

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An Earnest Letter Writing Campaign Begins

This week we are going to begin participating in a tradition as old as the republic- writing a letters to our elected representative.  We are not sending an email, or an electronic petition, or a form letter signed on the street, but rather a real letter, with stamps and everything.  There is general consensus that elected officials and their staffs are more likely to respond to snail mail, probably because the extra effort that goes into sending a letter demonstrates a more intense commitment to an issue than an email.

Our first set of letters will deal with the issue of campaign finance reform.  Some progressives will dislike the idea of focusing critical energy on people like Jerrold Nadler (the recipient of our first letter). After all, isn’t he one of the good guys?  But these letters are not intended to be adversarial, and as an important Congressman from Manhattan and Brooklyn, Mr. Nadler seems like a perfectly appropriate official to send our questions to.  Furthermore, if a self-described liberal with little election opposition cannot practice sound fundraising practices, who in this Washington climate can?  The first letter, dealing with some of Mr. Nadler’s major donors, will be sent tomorrow, at which point its contents will be posted on the website.  We will also post any response his office sends us.

The Bull Moose Movement’s main goal is increasing civic engagement, and not focusing on the top-down model of elections and advocacy for specific bills.  However, if indeed letters are a more substantive way to engage elected officials than other approaches, that is a worthwhile tool to pass on to people looking to advocate for themselves and help formulate the policies that will affect their lives.  Rather than push for individuals to co-sign pre-written letters, we will push for people to write letters reflecting how they feel about their government’s policies- if the politicians will listen.

Anyone Can Organize

To achieve true progress in America, we need a dramatic increase in civic engagement. Changing how millions of people approach the democratic process can feel daunting, and over the past few weeks, some folks have written me that they support the Bull Moose Movement in spirit, but because of work or family obligations, don’t have time to ‘take to the streets.’  I am sympathetic to peoples’ concerns that they can’t participate.  Activism has traditionally been seen as a time-intensive commitment to long meetings, knocking on strangers doors, chanting in the streets, even risking arrest.  Many people have children to raise and long hours to work, or live far from the urban centers where such activism often takes place.  The Bull Moose Movement, however, still wants you involved.

The Bull Moose Movement recognizes the need for robust organizing online and in the neighborhood.  The neighborhood is the community we lean on in our daily lives, and neighbors, whether they are friends or strangers, share many of the same concern.   Reaching out within the neighborhood is vital to producing long-term systemic change.   Online we can find treasure troves of information, like-minded people and organizations, and pool resources.   The two pillars of organizing can be implemented by anyone, anywhere.

Promoting civic education and reform in your neighborhoods is easy, because you can start by engaging the same people you already know- the folks in your schools, offices, parks and local stores.  I worked out of a coffee shop some morning last fall, and marveled at the social network of mothers who would rendezvous with their young children in strollers every day.   It will be awkward at first to talk about social and political issues with certain groups of people, but rather than lecturing your hardware store owner on financial regulatory reform, ask him how his business is going in the current market.   Ask your child’s teacher what obstacles she is facing in providing your child the ideal education.  Talk to your neighbor about the plan you read about to rescue underwater mortgages.  Ask a friend to come with you to your representative’s next town hall meeting.

Similarly, anyone stuck at home with the capacity to read this post has the magic of the internet at her fingertips.  I’ve written previously on how online organizing needs to graduate from its current state, which is overly reliant on steering a passive audience to large list-serve, to a platform for interactive forums and planning.  If you come across an article you think other Bull Moosers should be sharing, post it on the Facebook Wall.  Reach out to fellow Bull Moosers in your area. Email other group members who write or post things that interest you.  Although I’ll admit it feels a little weird to have burgeoning relationships with folks across the country who I’ve never met in person, this is 2010, and we should all start getting used to it.   Finally, use the Bull Moose website to promote your local contributions civic engagement.  In the next few weeks, one of our members from Wisconsin will be have a page of the website devoted to her project teaching self-sustainability.

And any successful movement needs to have highly visible and energetic supporters who do take to the streets and engage the public, and we have our share of experienced traditional activists in the organization.  But if that’s not you, don’t worry.  We’re all in this together, and all hands are on deck.  I look forward to organizing with all of you.

Moving On Up- Pols’ lust for power trumps duties of office

This entire political era is so awash with corporate funding that no single election or piece of legislation can fix it.  That is why we must begin the work of a generation, empowering people through civic education that in the long term will change the American public’s expectation of their political leaders, a process discussed in this ongoing series.

In the first piece, The Bull Moose and the Sneaky Corporate Beast, we looked at the rationale for corporate influence and recognized that whether corporate influence comes in the blunt for of an Exxon commercial or a below the radar donation to the Chamber of Commerce, it is an adversarial force that is not going away.

In the second piece, Sense of Entitlement, we observed another corrosive aspect of today’s political culture, the elected politician’s belief that he or she is a reverent figure, not a public servant, a worldview derived in part from a lavish corporate-funded  lifestyle that allows elected politicians the opportunity to avoid their actual constituents as much as possible.

In the third and most recent piece, Politicians Are Crack Fiends for Cash, we assessed the politician’s desperate needs for constant campaign cash, a need that inevitably plays into the hands of cash-rich corporations looking to make a sound investment.

There are plenty of theoretical legislative remedies available to address the problems described above, but the Bull Moose Movement wants to focus on non-legislative remedies that empower citizens, and don’t subject them to the counter-incentivized good will of politicians.  In the last piece, we encouraged constituents to demand that their officials not hold political fundraisers during the first year (or first months) of their terms, so that they can focus on legislating.   Today’s focus will be on the politician’s constant quest for higher glory.

While it is unclear how many elected officials at one point harbor dreams of becoming president, there is no question that most salivate at the prospect of moving up the ladder- better pay, more perks, and a better corporate escape parachute in the event of political misfortune.   This is not inherently wrong; politicians have chosen the profession of politics, and they want promotions in their line of work just like we all do in ours.   The problem is that in today’s political culture, the most important criteria in a candidate’s electoral viability is his or her fundraising prowess, incentivizing a pol to fundraise rather than focus on doing his or her job well.  A politician elected to a four-year term may want to run for a higher office at the end of those four years.  That requires beginning a campaign in earnest two years beforehand.  To do so requires serious fundraising in the year leading up that two year stretch.  All of a sudden, that pol has thrown away three of the four years the voters elected him for in order to pursue higher office.

Getting politicians on the record that they will commit to serving out their term is surprisingly difficult.  Hillary Clinton famously refused to rule out running for president, though in her case the Senate was quite obviously a stepping stone from the beginning.   In the case of local politicians, citizens should expect greater humility.    In the spring of 2009, I moderated a forum for the candidates running for New York City Public Advocate at Fordham Law School.  The position of Public Advocate, while full of potential, had been under-utilized by the incumbent, and a major criteria for the primary electorate was a candidate who would restore some weight to the office.  When I asked Mark Green, the presumptive front-runner and eventual loser, whether he would pledge to focus on the office rather than prepare for a 2013 mayoral run, he dismissed my question as “ridiculous”, saying that no candidate should ever have to forswear running for higher office during their term. I respectfully disagree.

Barring an extraordinary circumstance, like an opportunity presented by death or scandal, an elected official cannot do a good job while constantly preparing to run for the next higher office.  The amount of time that fundraising and campaigning require causes elected officials to miss legislative votes and focus on publicity stunts rather than draft meaningful reforms.  The body of significant work most election-driven pols accomplish is negligible.

As noted in the Sense of Entitlement piece, however, politicians just think they are so invaluable to us members of the public that we would rather have a year and a half of hard work out of Mark Green as Public Advocate than four years from one of his opponents.   They don’t realize that taxpayer dollars are paying them to do their job.  How would your employer feel if you spent half of your workday going to interviews and searching the web for a new, better job? What if you took off for three weeks of paid leave to look around, explore your options?

I know that despite Mark Green’s arrogant retort, I’ll be asking every politician who asks for my vote how interested they are in doing their job, not using my vote as a stepping stone.  I hope for a better day, when all candidates who come before the electorate can brag windily about their actual achievements in office, not hide behind good fundraising numbers they accumulated while they were supposed to be doing their jobs.

Internet Organizing- the Power of Email

A simple person to person email remains the most undervalued tool in the rapidly evolving world of online political organizing.  Major political campaigns and advocacy groups have gotten into the rhythm of sending out impersonal mass emails spouting the outrage de jour, coupled with a donation request.  Facebook Groups and Causes allow mass groups of strangers to commiserate and vent.   But as with any form of organizing, nothing trumps person to person contact, a tool increasingly available to strangers online.

When our group declared the Bull Moose Movement’s mission: empowering communities through civic education to reduce corporate influence, we were pretty sure that Google, Facebook and indie media would turn up a number of likeminded groups, and they have.

Rather than simply adding a likeminded group to a blogroll, or joining all the right Facebook sites, we have been trying to reach out personally to all writers, activists and organization that share our values.

As obvious as that strategy sounds, it represents a distinctly minority view of online organizing, in contrast to the more pervasive “get rich quick” schemes, like “1,000,000 people for X.”   The Coffee Party initially seemed quite unprepared to handle the explosion in its membership in the aftermath of New York Times and Washington Post articles, though it smartly began pushing for March 13 meet-ups to test the actual people strength of its 80,000 person online membership.

Online platforms like Facebook, MyBarackObama and the Coffee Party allow a lot of people to get on the same page in a hurry.  But progressive change is always a slow, laborious process, and organizers should be constantly looking for and reaching out to long-term allies in the fight, particularly to bridge geographic and generational gaps.  Organizations, even large ones, should make themselves accessible by email, and not have visitors fill out pre-set forms that get sent into the void.  Indie journalists unquestionably should have email contact information at the end of their articles so readers can interact with them.  If all these elements are sharing information, collaborating on actions, and working off the same playbook, change will come faster than if isolated grassroots groups go it alone against powerful, organized adversaries.

All it takes to get things started is a simple email. The tool stares us in the face all day- now we just have to learn how to use it.

-Janos Marton (rovingstorm@gmail.com)

The Impending Commercial Real Estate Calamity

and what we can do about it…

Commercial property values are down 40% since 2007.  Elizabeth Warren explains that a commercial real estate storm is brewing, because as these stores struggle to get by, their loans are coming due.    Warren predicts that banks are set to losing over $300 billion in the coming years from commercial real estate defaults, especially local banks, which will in turn either need government help or risk serious instability.

The banks are thus still in hot water with all these mortgages underwater, but commercial real estate renters are in trouble too.   It comes as no surprise to anyone who has walked around an urban neighborhood, driven past a strip mall, or waltz through a major mall that business is way down.  The recession has seriously cut down on consumer spending, particularly on niche items that make up so much of the small business sector.  Nevertheless, commercial landlords have often kept rents as high as they were during boom times.  In New York City, for example, rents skyrocketed year after year, and even freezing them now is of no comfort to small businesses that have seen such a drastic decline in revenue.   Small business have to respond by cutting costs, which means cutting back hours and health-care benefits for employees, or laying them off.

The 2008 crash taught us a lesson on the interconnectedness of all things financial and political in America.  The commercial real estate crash, which will either be a decent sized problem or a major one, will affect local banks, small businesses, jobs and health-care.  So what can we do?

Well, at the Bull Moose Movement, we start with the basics.  To me, that means reaching out to small business in the community to find out how they are doing.  What are their rent situations?  What are there mortgage situations?  Is there a way they can work together better, the way the Chamber of Commerce facilitates business in smaller towns?  Get creative in the questions you ask.  I’m not going to pretend I have answers to a calamitous impending economic crash, but I do know that if we call ourselves communities, we could do a better job checking in with our local businesses to see if they are going to be ok.

Weclome to the Bull Moose Movement

Welcome to the movement that is fighting to bring our core democratic values back into our communities and stopping corporations from hijacking our political system.  On this website you’ll find:

* How you can get involved with the Bull Moose Movement, including our events, actions and meet-ups.

* A library where you can read the Bull Moose Movement’s  favorite articles about the corporate influence on American government, and groups fighting back.

* The Bull Moose Movement platform.

* How to get in touch with the Bull Moose Movement.