There are lots of ways to change Congress that falsely appear easy, that would alter the rules and patterns of behavior if only Congress were already fixed and willing to make the changes, or if we owned the television networks, or if people could suddenly hear what they're paid good money never to hear. But I've got a way to change Congress that is actually easy.
Congress lacks leadership. There is a progressive caucus, but it has never fought for anything. It doesn't fund its members' campaigns. It doesn't withhold votes needed for passing bills. It just does rhetoric. There are committees, but they don't subpoena, they don't send the police to pick up witnesses, they don't fine witnesses who refuse to answer questions. Congress thinks oversight was an oversight. If asked to put future generations into debt to fund wars, Congress asks "Would you like a side of drones with that?" Congress doesn't want power.
But what would happen if we were to put some people in Congress who would stand up and fight like you and I would? For example: David Segal. Here's a guy who says that if we put him in Congress he will vote against any bills that fund our foreign wars, and he'll work to de-federalize the National Guard. Asked how he'll keep that up if the Democratic Party promises him a million dollars for his campaign and various other rewards for funding wars, Segal replies by describing how he'll push back:
"In Rhode Island I've tried to develop alternative structures for legislators to lean on when the leadership makes such threats. I am the lead organizer for our progressive caucus. I founded a political action committee to support members of our progressive caucus so that if funding from sources dries up at leadership's request because something was done to offend them, that we would have at least some degree of money to fall back on to help fund our campaigns nonetheless. We've run ten, twelve races relatively modestly in the last cycle and hopefully we'll be able to do something in the forthcoming cycle."
When it comes to the Citizens United ruling and limitless corporate spending on elections, Segal says he would cosponsor Rep. Donna Edwards' amendment restoring free speech to people, not corporate persons. But he also recognizes the need to work around the institution you are trying to fix. He is the only state legislator in the 50 states who has gone into his state house and proposed calling a Constitutional Convention to undo corporate personhood and the application of free speech rights to the spending of money on elections.
Asked if he would restore oversight and checks and balances, including introducing articles of impeachment for Jay Bybee, who authored memos authorizing aggressive war, torture, and warrantless spying, Segal replied:
"Yes, of course. I don't think it needs to be said, but yes, of course, I think that Congress should make broader use of its oversight power, something I wish had happened here around the state of Rhode Island more readily. But yes, there's no reason to tolerate the abuses of power that defined the Bush administration."
Segal knows what he's up against, but he would bring into Congress something it has been lacking:
"I'm an organizer at heart and I don't go into this naively and think that as a freshman legislator at the federal level you can just go around and wrangle all of your longer-standing colleagues and get them to do something different than they have done before. But my goal, if I get elected, is to be an organizer to help build solidarities among members and help strengthen the Progressive Caucus so that it can stand stronger up against leadership when it comes to war funding, when it comes to health care, and so on."
Can David Segal do this? Well, the First Congressional District of Rhode Island is going to elect a Democrat to Congress in November, that's guaranteed, and it won't be the incumbent, who is retiring. There are four candidates in the Democratic Primary, which is not until September 14th. It doesn't take a high percentage to win a four-way race. And almost nobody votes in primaries, so not many people have to be reached. Rhode Island is also a tiny little place, and we're only talking about half of it, so not too much ground has to be covered. Segal is an organizer with an impressive team already on the ground. What he needs is money, and yours spends just as well in Rhode Island as anybody else's, and is better spent there than in your own district where the choices range from Tweedledum to Tweedledimwit.
I know that you think the weak link is in the Senate, not the House. But oversight is done just as well (or poorly) from either side of the hill. Blocking bills that damage our country is most easily done in the House, and the Senate is not needed at all. And nobody like Segal is running for the Senate. Backing lousy Senate candidates against really really lousy Senate candidates is nice. Putting a progressive activist into the House would be game-changing. Moving the debate to the left would mean dragging the Senate partway in that direction. Allowing the right to monopolize the microphone cancels out most of the advantage of electing new mediocrities. It's time we got serious.
I don't care where you live. I don't care how deeply you've given up all hope for Washington, D.C. You're going to want to help put David Segal in Congress, and you easily can. Just go here and give $5 or $50 or $500: http://votesegal.com
Here's audio of an interview I just did with David Segal: mp3.
Here's the transcript:
Swanson: This is David Swanson and I'm speaking with David Segal, candidate for Congress from Rhode Island, and someone I think that political progressives from around the country might want to be taking an interest in. David, thanks for speaking with me.
Segal: Thank you, and thank you for saying all those nice things.