Sharpton vs. Citizens United: Do Marches Work in a World of Money...

Sharpton vs. Citizens United: Do Marches Work in a World of Money Politics?


As I recently wrote in the New York Times, the Citizens United decision has led to an unprecedented saturation of money in politics. The effects of money in American politics was already quite pernicious, but this ill-considered decision released a flood of anonymous money which completely upends the ability of the non-elite 99% to have any meaningful say in politics.

Or, does it?

While money moves the world, it is not the only way for the bottom 99% to have their messages heard or their points made. To their credit, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party (albeit its corporate origins) each rose to the level of everyman consciousness and got their agenda on the evening news.

Their protests and marches galvanized media attention and drove the political debate for months. Politicians had to take sides and that is meaningful. Just looking at how the Tea Party drives a divisive wedge in GOP primaries, you would be mistaken to believe that money is all that matters.

Each of these movements, of course, owe its origins to more successful movements to extend basic human, civil and economic rights to African Americans, Chicano Americans, women and the gay rights movement. These earlier efforts did not have money as an ally; instead, it was elbow grease, blood, patience and strong beliefs that helped each of these movements reach (some of) their political goals.

Besides marches, you have important, although often somnolent conferences and panels that bring together ordinary Americans with high-profile celebrities in order to dramatize a political cause. Instantly coming to mind is Tavis Smiley’s now-cancelled State of the Black Union and pretty much anything featuring Cornel West.

The moral is that anytime you can focus the political media’s eye on your cause you can strike a blow against the cynicism that money is all that matters.

For instance, Mitt Romney is set to follow John McCain as the latest Republican presidential nominee to fruitlessly appeal for votes he cannot get at the NAACP Convention, but it matters because Romney will spend a few very uncomfortable hours with the NAACP and we get the chance to see exactly how out of place Romney is around people outside his cloistered social circle who do not own NASCAR teams or have car elevators in their vacation homes.

Money matters more than it should in American politics so it is up to the 99% to use their energy for marches, protests, conferences, and panels to orient the political agenda around their concerns. It is their only choice.