Guest Post by John Paluszek
It’s now apparent that Tunis and the many newly-“Occupied” cities are virtual neighbors – not geographically, of course, but in the newly-aroused global Vox Populi Community. These “neighbors”, although in vastly different societies, have common fundamental demands: “justice”, “fairness” and “voice”.
In this historic year of 2011 something seminal seems to have entered the global ether. The successful October Tunisian elections remind us that what began in the January demonstrations in Tunis has spread throughout North Africa, the Middle East and, in the U.S., first to “Occupy Wall Street” in New York and then to “Occupy” cities across the country and well beyond. Fundamentally, that “something” is the eruption of long-repressed and/or greatly frustrated citizenry demanding change – existential change of governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (with Syria and Yemen in the wings) and systemic adjustment in many other countries.
The ultimate outcomes are varying greatly. Autocrats have fallen, economic systems are being shaken. Establishment leaders everywhere should wonder whether, truly, “this time it’s different” — whether the evolving global network society is not only transmitting, but also magnifying, the power of public opinion. (Mark Twain once wrote that some think of public opinion as “the voice of God.”)
Bridging The Divide
Our good friends at Bridging The Divide, the Washington D.C. based international non-governmental-organization linking civil society across international borders on behalf of peace, rights issues and good governance (www.bridging-the-divide.org), have put the case compellingly. David R. Holdridge, CEO: “Sovereignty is not what it used to be … Now the technologies and a youth fed up with war and despair are silently, but inexorably, creating a union … They are, in historic proportions, going on line. They are accelerating daily the great trade in ideas over The World Wide Web.”
The epic changes achieved in North Africa this year, once thought a quixotic mission, should give inspiration to the currently exercised vox populi in the U.S. Whether sitting in at “Occupy” sites or inactive but confounded by what appears to be a largely dysfunctional national government, these Americans might well consider a commitment to perhaps an equally quixotic – and yet seminal – mission, “Get Special Interests Money Out Of Politics.”(Surely, to be sustainable, the “Occupy” movements must soon articulate a specific, focused message and a political destination that will resonate among the middle class and the political center.)
Americans For Campaign Reform
The “special interests” mission has, of course, been addressed in fits and starts for decades. But now, the great national attention being paid to perceived vast economic disparity in America – think, “the 99% vs. 1%” – presents an opportunity for renewed action and long-delayed impact. An epicenter for this admittedly Sisyphian effort may well coalesce around the non-profit Americans For Campaign Reform (www.ACRreform.org).
ACR, chaired by four prestigious former U.S. Senators – Bill Bradley, Bob Kerrey, Warren Rudman and Alan Simpson (two Democrats, two Republicans) – is a non-partisan organization championing public funding as an alternative to the special interests campaign finance well ingrained in U.S. national politics and magnified by last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
ACR has summarized this systemic national issue quite well: “Congress hasn’t solved the most pressing challenges facing our country…because our leaders must cater to the special interests that fund campaigns.” Championing public funding for federal races – President, Senate and House – ACR seeks citizen support for proposed legislation, The Fair Elections Act (S.752 and HR. 1826), to achieve what Senator Bradley envisions: “the power rest[ing] with voters, not with special interests.”
Or, to interpret this goal in another vernacular, ACR seeks the triumph of the marketplace of ideas over the influence of the dollar.
Americans can gain inspiration from those people abroad who, with courage and perseverance against all odds, are grappling with the momentous challenges they have generated, nothing less than evolving fundamentally new political systems to improve their quality of life.
John Paluszek, senior counsel at Ketchum, is APR, a Fellow of The Public Relations Society of America and immediate past-chair of The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.