12.30.12 Root causes: use your money to make a difference

For many years, one of my household’s largest annual contributions has gone to Common Cause, the national organization dedicated to political reform, including getting money out of politics, redistricting reform, and the like. My feeling was that no matter what one’s favorite cause might be — from hunger to abortion rights to the environment — only political reform could get us there, that this reform agenda was the root cause underlying all the other ones. (Our other largest annual contributions have gone to the ACLU, a local homeless shelter or food kitchen, and anti-global-warming organizations.)

At the end of the year, my email inbox fills with appeals from many worthy organizations. Today I received one that gave me a new insight. The email from Sum-of-Us made the same argument I have made for years about political reform as a root cause, but this time targeting corporate power:

“At the end of the year, I reach for my wallet to give to good causes. I might give to the homeless shelter down the street, or I might buy a piece of rainforest in the Amazon, or donate for livestock for farmers facing famine in Africa.

But sometimes it feels like those donations are just a Band-Aid, addressing symptoms but not causes. Because those homeless families, that beautiful rainforest, and those starving farmers all have something in common: Their problems have root causes. And increasingly in our society today, those root causes are related to corporate power and corporate greed.

It’s not random fate that the family in the shelter down the street went bankrupt — it’s because the parents were fired from their jobs after the private equity firm that owns their employer put short-term profit over long-term prosperity. That piece of the Amazon is disappearing because fast food giants’ demand for cheaper and less sustainable beef is causing more and more rainforest destruction. And droughts are wreaking havoc on farmers’ land across Africa — not to mention many other parts of the world — as the fossil fuel industry continues to deny climate change and pump dangerous greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

So my ask for you is this: This year, as you think about your end-of-year donations, give to those good causes like the homeless shelter and the livestock. But reserve a portion of your giving now and for the coming year for strategic advocacy and campaign work — for groups like SumOfUs that are working to address the root causes of the massive problems we face, not just the symptoms.” [emphasis in original]

Even as I despair that much of Common Cause’s agenda is unachievable: you can’t get money out of politics as long as there is money in politics, I believe there is hope in taking on corporate power head on. We need organizations like Sum-of-Us and Public Citizen.  To a certain extent, these guys are not taking on the system, as Common Cause is. Rather they are fighting instances of corporate abuse case by case.

This fight is necessary: big business is the greatest single source of evil in our society today. From the Koch Brothers’ enterprises, to the gun manufacturers that underwrite NRA extremism, to the energy companies that fight tooth and nail against all efforts to mandate renewable energy sources and reduce consumption — even the money from corporate interests that fund politicians who vote to dumb-down the education system and consolidate media into a single pro-corporate bullhorn — billionaires and the corporations they control are making life worse for everyone else, every single day.

I am not calling for reducing support for Common Cause, but rather for adding to the mix organizations whose major purpose is combatting corporate evil. Please join me in doing so.

©2012 Keith Berner

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