Who has power?
Elected officials: they write, vote for and sign laws, they decide how much money will be collected from whom and how it will be spent, they decide on starting and stopping wars, i.e., lives and deaths of people.
Who else has power?
Anyone who can affect the decision of an elected official, e.g., to change a vote from Yes to No or vice versa.
How does one do that?
By having money and using it wisely.
How does one use money to affect policy?
One: by directly lobbying the elected officials. Two: by buying off the media.
I understand how One works, but Two?
Elected officials think that the press reflects the thinking of the people. Afraid of losing re-election, they will do what the people say to them via media.
But the media does not reflect what people think!
Correct, but elected officials did not know this until recently, and thus used the press as a proxy to get information about the popular sentiment.
But didn’t constituents always have the ability to contact their representatives directly?
Yes, but most don’t know this fact, and very few use the opportunity. One constituent letter has no power in comparison to the strength of all the national media outlets. And often constituents are not aware that their opinion on a matter is not unique, so they are shy about voicing it.
So, money wins. What can we do?
The world is changing. When a senatorial office cannot do any business because their phones are ringing off the hook continuously for several days, their faxes are clogged, their e-mail inboxes are full of thousands of messages, and their mail is brought into the office in large bags or boxes, all of them from constituents, all asking the elected official to change the vote from Yes to No, they perk up and pay attention. This is a completely new and surprising level of constituent interest that baffles them. But they listen. And they tend to do what their constituents tell them. Sooner or later they will realize that what press is saying has nothing to do with what citizens really want. The press has lost all its credibility with the people, it is now also slowly losing credibility with the people in power.
This kind of thing has already happened a number of times over the past couple of years. Laws have been passed or blocked because of such concerted action. People won or lost elections due to having a tin ear or not when voters chimed in on their office telephones.
But where did that action come from?
From organized groups of people.
How did they get organized?
They found out about each others’ existence online, realized they are not alone or in a minority, they built their own communities online (mostly on blogs, but also forums, mailing groups, social networks…), and this is where they organized the actions. From outside, it looks like a handful of bloggers incited a citizen revolt. But from the inside, it is the citizens who organized themselves using those blogs as tools. Bloggers are not Martians who just fell on Earth. Bloggers are citizens, silent until now. Popular blogs are just tip of the iceberg – the community boards for citizen organizing.
What about money?
Money is not the source of power any more, or at least not as much as it used to be, and it is going to be so more and more in the future. If an elected official gets money from a lobbyist one day for the Yes vote, and gets 10,000 calls from constituents next day for the No vote – who is he going to listen to if he wants to get re-elected? If he has any brains, he will listen to the voters. Voters will vote next time, voters will fund the campaign as much as necessary, and voters never forget. Lobbyists can shove it. Easy arithmetic.
Irrelevant any more. Citizens discovered a way to find information outside of press. Using this information, those same citizens discovered a way to go directly to elected officials to exert their influence. And not listening to them always incurs a steep price at the polls later on.
So, why have money any more?
To have a place to live in, to have food, clothes, hobbies, travel the world, learn…. It is not money that will be the source of power in the future, but the strength of the community you belong to – how many people you know (and they know you) who hold the same beliefs as you and are willing to perform necessary action as needed. That is the source of power in the future. Networking, not hogging money. A large network of people will both, as a collective, have more money than a single entity, and will also need less money to achieve the goal in the first place as they can keep their elected officials hostages – as the Founders envisioned – just by being organized and vocal.