I chose to have our Kickoff Rally here in MacArthur Park, in view of the Korean War Memorial, for a very personal reason.
Throughout my years of activism, I have given many interviews in this spot, and I don’t think I’ve ever explained why. I do so to honor the memory of a Korean War veteran who, more than any other person, is responsible for me standing here today.
Jack Robert Boyde, or “Uncle Jack” as he often referred to himself, was my college advisor and History and Archaeology professor. He started out as a coal miner, became a labor organizer, fought in Korea, went to college on the GI Bill, and went on to become an extraordinarily gifted professor.
As I progressed through college, I found myself spending more and more time with Jack not only in class, but working for him as an field supervisor at one the the university’s archaeological sites, and ultimately, helping him do maintenance work on some rental property he owned in Pittsburgh.
It seemed as though I was constantly on the road with him in his dilapidated Chevy pick-up, but this time was time well spent. I believe I learned more about humanity from this gruff, salt-of-the-earth man from western Pennsylvania than I did in all my years before or after knowing him.
Jack’s knowledge of history came not just from textbooks but from a lived experience of the struggles of the working class. He didn’t just teach history, but lived it. He fought for worker’s rights in the coal fields and steel mills of Western Pennsylvania. And by his generosity, decency, and humanity, he showed respect for the poor and struggling that he came across in everyday life.
I remember once when we were doing archaeological survey work in rural West Virginia, we came across a run down house that looked as if it were abandoned. But upon closer inspection, we realized that there was a family living in this shack.
As we were heading back to our hotel that evening, Jack had us turn into the grocery store and proceeded to buy four bags of groceries. When we asked him how we were supposed to eat all of this food, he said, “It’s not for you.” He had us drive back to the run down shack, put an envelope with $200 in one of the bags and told us to put them all on the porch. “And don’t let them see you.”
Jack fundamentally changed my outlook on life by his teaching and his example of simple human decency towards those less fortunate. Although I certainly never aspired to run for political office when I was younger, I wouldn’t be standing here right now if it weren’t for Jack.
Jack taught me two important lessons: decency and duty. Not only by his duty to his country through military service, but duty to his fellow man as well. Jack would never have admitted it, but truly, he was his brother’s keeper. All of us here have a similar obligation. We are called to go out and stand up for these virtues.
Unfortunately, the virtues of decency and duty are rare in modern American electoral politics. There are many elected officials who have forsaken their duty, or at best allowed themselves to be lulled into a distorted understanding of what their duty is and to whom their allegiance is owed.
There are still others outside the realm of elected governance whose duty is to themselves alone. Unfortunately, this latter group have found themselves in the position to influence the former for the sake of enriching themselves.
These two groups, the super-wealthy donor class and the legislators who serve them, have a mutually beneficial relationship to one another. They have developed a kind of co-dependency on one another that neither are able—or willing—to break. Unfortunately, neither of these groups see themselves as anybody’s keeper but their own, with little regard for anyone outside of their exclusive relationship.
When governance loses sight of its most basic of responsibilities, we the people are led down a short route to chaos.
President Theodore Roosevelt noted this same problem over one hundred years ago, noting that “behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”
This is a very apt description of the abuse of power we are seeing in our post Citizens United world. Are we doomed to to continue down this path of Ayn Randian-exploitation of our political system, regressing backward in spirit and deed, to the time of the robber barons of President Roosevelt’s day? Or shall we as a unified people, take a nobler path forward towards progress?
I often tell my students that progress is the idea that today should be better than yesterday, and tomorrow should be better than today. In almost every period in American history this concept of progress has held true with advances in racial, gender, and marriage equality, as well as reforms in labor and education. These were born of our desire to realize the fullness of the American promise and are largely due to the activism of ordinary Americans like you and me. These are ours because we demanded them. These reforms propelled our country forward.
Tragically, today we see real signs of regress. New Federal data tell us that our life expectancy is now actually declining. We see an ever-increasing chasm in the incomes between the rich and poor. We see a widening achievement gap between racial groups.
Also, there is now a growing distrust of the free press being fomented by the very government which is charged with its protection. The integrity of our courts is now frequently questioned by our own government. The integrity of our intelligence community is frequently questioned by our own government. And most shameful is the reality that American is being pitted against American with regard to national origin, ethnicity, and theology. This, too, is being perpetuated by our own government.
Most progress-minded peoples of the world work towards the eradication of such destructive ideologies. We now have stumbled backwards in this regard. This is the work of the invisible government!
A recent Princeton Study found that for the past thirty years or so, the preferences and needs of the American people have had virtually no impact on governmental policy. In other words, our voices have been drowned out by those of large corporations and a small number of economic elites in the political donor class that have gained for themselves a stranglehold on virtually all policy coming out of Washington.
Simply put, when it has become very clear that the real drivers of public policy are no longer the multitudes of “we the people”, but rather “they the few”, America’s claim to being a representative democracy is seriously threatened. Though still a representative democracy in theory, the United States has become an oligarchy in practice.
This is not the political system that the Constitution established. This is not the system for which untold numbers of Americans like Jack have felt duty-bound to fight for. This is not the system for which untold numbers of Americans have died.
Evidence of this unfortunate and disturbing trend can be readily recognized by noting the disconnect between the wants and needs of the American people, and the lack of responsiveness by Congress.
66% of Americans want an increase in the minimum wage. But, Congress will not act
62% support tuition free public college education. But, Congress will not act.
70% of Americans want robust regulation of the Financial system. But, Congress will not act.
85% of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, want campaign finance reform. But, Congress will not act.
60% of Americans want universally guaranteed health coverage such as Medicare for All. But, Congress will not act.
They have forsaken their duty to the American people.
Who holds such power over our Congress that they are unwilling—or afraid—to do the will of the very people that they are duty-bound and sworn to serve? This is the Invisible Government.
So who makes up this Invisible Government in 2017? They are the special interests and economic elites, the billionaire donor class, the Wall Street banking cartel, the NRA, and the Super PACs such The Club for Growth and, the front for the Koch brothers’ political agenda, Americans for Prosperity. These are the Invisible Government. The Supreme Court has empowered these entities through its corporate-centric rulings, and in doing so, has sown the seeds of oligarchy and reaped the demise of true representative democracy.
The invisible government’s policy priorities usually stand in stark contrast to what we as citizens actually want.
How many of you here today wanted to eradicate internet neutrality, or to sell our internet browsing history without our consent?
How many of you wanted to make our internet privacy a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder?
How many of you wanted to weaken the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau?
How many of you wanted to roll back the Fiduciary Duty Law Protections that protect our savings and our retirement plans?
How many of you wanted massive tax cuts be given to the super wealthy at the expense of social safety-net programs for our most vulnerable such as Meals On Wheels, and Food assistance?
How many of you wanted the representatives of this state to roll-out insulting and damaging healthcare proposals that would set up people with pre-existing conditions for financial ruin, gut the Medicaid program, and leave 32 millions citizens without coverage?
You and I didn’t want these things. These were sired by the Invisible Government of which President Roosevelt spoke and born of this Congress. When the puppet masters of the Invisible Government pull the strings, the Paul Ryan House and the Mitch McConnell Senate spring into action! They are cowering before this Invisible Government, which dictates virtually all of the policy coming out of the Republican Congress.
You see, after hundreds of millions of dollars of special interest money are poured into congressional campaigns by wealthy donors, it is now time for these Congressman to “pay the piper.” And there is one pinnacle demand that Americans for Prosperity and this economic elite donor class makes: tax cuts for the wealthy come first, always. These are the “core values” of invisible government. These values direct virtually all policy in budget priorities, in labor, in education and in healthcare.
So how can we know the extent to which our own legislators share Americans for Prosperity’s “core values”? Happily, Americans for Prosperity proudly maintains a handy scorecard illustrating how obedient our legislators are in carrying out their bidding.
As it turns out, our current Arkansas Second District Representative French Hill has an Americans for Prosperity score of 100 percent! And unfortunately, Arkansas’ entire Congressional delegation—a Congressional delegation that represents the second poorest state in the nation—has a 100% score from Americans for Prosperity whose avowed mission is to funnel wealth to the economic elites by gutting programs that comprise the essence of a civil society.
Real Americans never prosper when Americans for Prosperity wins.
So if we truly want to move forward and make progress as a society, we must first repudiate these demands of the donor class. We need to address the underlying causes of gross inequality in our society and fight for big ideas instead of offering small, “feel-good” legislation, which is often put forward to distract from the essential immorality of the Invisible Government’s demands.
They have told us we are foolish and naïve to embrace these big ideas.
They tell us that it is normal that one in four children and seniors in Arkansas don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They tell us that is what private charity is for.
They tell us we don’t understand economics when we ask for a living wage. But, we are no longer asking. We are demanding.
They tell us we can’t afford to strengthen Social Security. But, we are no longer asking. We are demanding.
The Invisible Government has cast aside the War on Poverty for the War on Drugs and cites this as the cause for violence in communities instead of poverty.
They tell us that the minimum wage should be whatever the market will bear. But we are no longer asking for economic justice. We are demanding it.
They tell us that “anyone can succeed in America” while refusing to strengthen public education and telling us that it’s too much to ask to think Americans could have debt free higher education. But we’re no longer asking. We are demanding.
The Invisible Government tells us we are foolish to even consider guaranteed universal healthcare like Medicare for All. They tell us that not every citizen deserves healthcare, and that if people want healthcare, they’ll be motivated to go get a better job.
They tell us we should accept the fact that 32 million people will not have access to healthcare. They tell us that every other developed country on the face of the earth is mistaken in guaranteeing universal healthcare to their citizens. But we are no longer asking for universal healthcare. We are demanding it.
We’re not demanding anything that should not already be ours.
The first step to controlling the Invisible Government is to acknowledge that it exists. It time to stop pretending that child hunger, a vanishing middle class, and increasing poverty are normal. These are not normal. It’s time for us to reject this false ideology.
President Roosevelt concluded his observation by saying, “To destroy this Invisible Government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”
This must be our task as well.
Many Americans don’t realize that legislators have it within their power to enable this corrupt system or to disable it, to grovel before it or to fight it. Even if the Supreme Court won’t reverse its rulings that have created the fertile ground on which the special interest control of the electoral system has grown, individual legislators have it within their power to refuse to participate in this system and to choose a new path forward.
So, the second step in gaining control of the Invisible Government is changing the types of people we send to Congress. These people must have a record of fighting the Invisible Government and not participating in it.
I became involved in politics in 2010 because I was aghast by the arrogance of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, allowing unlimited special interest spending in elections and effectively muting the voice of the people.
I formed a group named after the Arkansas state motto called Regnat Populus, which is Latin for “the people rule.” All of my political work on citizen initiated ballot measures, state ethics reform, and collaboration with local and national democracy activists has been to promote the simple idea that the citizens should direct their political destiny.
In my congressional campaign, I will not allow myself to become an servant of the Invisible Government. I will only accept contributions from actual people because a U.S. Representative should be beholden to the people of the United States. My election and reelection will be in your hands only.
As long the people are divided, the Invisible Government can thrive. As long as the people work to defeat one another, the less likely they can defeat the Invisible Government. As long as we are made to believe that it is imperative to wage an unrelenting and unwinnable culture war on each other’s values, the dystopian values of the Invisible Government will prevail.
We must join together and show them that they cannot divide us! We must rise up and show them that Arkansans will vote for their own best interests!
Our right to the fullness of the democratic process is to elect individuals from our communities to represent our needs in Washington. This is the foundation of our representative democracy.
Our voice in this process is our right. It is not given to us by any government. We are born with this sacred right. It is ours by virtue of our very humanity—a humanity of created in the image and likeness of God. Governments can only recognize this sacred right or violate It. But, they cannot take it away. It is ours alone. It is our duty to preserve this right for all of our people.
We must empower those that have given in to apathy and despair and have quit participating in the political process. We must demonstrate our intrinsic decency and never allow our sisters and brothers to doubt their value or their right to the fullness and opportunity that our great country and our great state have to offer.
We are now starting to see a new path forward being blazed by people across the country that are running for office to change the status quo. We are now seeing citizens, hailing from all walks of life, rise up to run for Congress. After the proposed congressional healthcare bills were introduced, there have been physicians that have stepped up to announce House runs. We also see pastors, community activists, teachers, and iron workers stand up to represent the voices of their communities.
A movement of citizens is beginning to gather for one purpose: to simply tell the truth. To acknowledge the existence of the Invisible Government; to stand together and declare that the emperor has no clothes!
Make no mistake, the forces we are fighting will bury the state in money. Americans for Prosperity will fill your mailbox with flyers, and they will blanket the airwaves with soul-killing 30 second political ads, but that just shows how desperate this Invisible Government is to control this state and its people.
But in the end, they can’t buy your vote, or your neighbor’s vote, or the vote of all the people you’re going to meet and tell about our campaign. There is no moneyed or established power in the end that can overcome the collective will of the people.
So join with me, and let’s show the Invisible Government in Washington why the motto of the State of Arkansas is The People Rule.