Cooking Frogs and Citizens’ Rights

Michael Kagan

When i* was farming in Kentucky, my neighbors would go down the "hollers" to the heads of the creeks to "gig" frogs. Upon their return home, they would proceed to cook them for dinner. Instead of bringing a pot of water to a boil and then putting their catch into it, they would put the live frogs into a pot of cold water and raise the heat. That way, the frogs would not jump out of the hot water, but would get used to the increasing temperature until it was too late and they were cooked. Pretty ingenious, but what does that have to do with our rights as citizens of this country?

Over the last few decades, we have seen, and accepted to some degree, changes in this country. Being gradual, they don’t seem like too much of a problem, except for those directly affected. Reagan broke the union of the air traffic controllers, but we still managed to fly around the country. The Savings and Loan Crisis in the late 1980’s devastated many small investors, but few of the criminals or beneficiaries suffered. This showed, in retrospect, what bankers could get away with, and they stepped up their game in the 1990’s to push for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. That opened the floodgates for pillaging the home loan industry, throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes, ruining lives, equity, our economy, and chances for the realization of the American Dream.

The World Trade Organization demonstrations were broken up by police with weapons, creating more chaos than would have happened without the tear-gas and riot squad gear. Wait a minute! Don’t citizens have a right to free speech and assembly? Why should they have to fear clubbing and rubber bullets?

Early in the Bush-Cheney administration, people who objected to their policies and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were rounded up into "free-speech zones", often great distances from where their target officials were located. Thus their protests were ineffective. So much for the right to speak one’s mind. (If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make noise?)

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure that everyone had access to a polling place without a "poll tax". We have seen nefarious schemes, going back at least to 2000, where eligible voters have been purged from voting rolls or prevented from voting if they were believed to prefer Democrats over Republicans. Parts of the Voting Rights Act have been obliterated by legislatures and courts, making it more difficult for many people to vote. Once again this past year, many voters in targeted districts found long lines at polls, or had to travel long distances to find a voting machine (both of which can be seen as a poll tax), or were deemed ineligible because they didn’t have the proper government-issued ID. Wait a minute! Haven’t we fought wars overseas to make sure citizens can vote? If it’s good enough for other countries, we should have that right, too. Where are our purple fingers, like those of the proud, enfranchised Afghans?

With the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the case of Citizens United vs FEC, we learned that money is more important than people, and that corporations are people. Now we have foreign governments and corporations weighing in on, and determining, our electoral process. More slights to us as citizens.

Since Reagan’s efforts against the air traffic controllers, there have been many other examples of anti-unionism. Every time a factory is shut down and rebuilt in a country with drastically lower wages, US workers get scared about their job security. They accept whatever conditions and payment the bosses insist upon, as that way, at least they still have jobs. They don’t support unions, don’t want to pay union dues, and even accept the "right to work for less" doctrine of their legislatures, while tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks are given to the employers.

There used to be in this country a vibrant, investigative journalism, in which reporters dug for the truth, double-checked their sources, and informed the populace. Beginning with the Bush-Cheney crowd, reporters became stenographers; instead of questioning and researching, they merely took down what was being fed to them. If they expressed doubt in what was being said, they were denied access, which could cost them their jobs.  Hey! Part of the First Amendment guarantees a free press, right? And it’s the FIRST amendment for a reason; a free press and free speech are crucial in a democracy that depends upon informed voters. Or maybe our elected officials don’t really want informed voters, especially if they’re going to vote for the other party.

Now we have fake news, alternative facts, and news-by-tweet. We are fed statements that are alleged to be true because of the person saying them. As the saying goes, the first casualty in war is the truth. Apparently, we have been at war for over 15 years, as the truth is becoming harder to find.

So we have not been happy about what’s been happening, and we protest this or that action after it’s been taken. The people who want to deny us our rights are way ahead of us, planning and plotting the next denial of our rights. We have to play catch-up, but it’s often too little too late. We need to break this cycle of action-reaction! We must be pro-active! But how can we get ahead of the curve when corporate lobbyists and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC, funded by the right-wing Koch brothers) write legislation for our elected officials to rubber-stamp?

Recently, in my article entitled Time to Make Lemonade, i wrote about, and linked to, a group called Indivisibles. These former Capitol Hill staffers took the lessons of the Tea Party and encourage us to follow their successful ways of working the system. Having registered The Pierce Progressive as a local chapter of the Indivisibles system, i get updates on proposed legislation, and have been making calls to our representatives in the other Washington, letting them know how i want them to vote on various issues or cabinet nominees.

But these "representatives" need to hear from thousands of their constituents in order to overcome the influence of campaign donations. Everyone reading this article must make a few phone calls a week, so that Murray, Cantwell, Kilmer, Heck, and Smith know that there are real live voters who support them, who "have their backs", and who set the agenda. This can overcome the influence of money; dollars and corporations do not vote. WE the PEOPLE vote, and we demand to be heard and obeyed!

Let’s not allow ourselves to be boiled slowly, like those frogs, losing our rights one after another! Let’s turn the euphoric, impressive show of strength, solidarity, and determination of the Women’s Marches around the country and the world into progressive, positive, constructive action!

*[Editor's note: The use of lower case 'i' for the first person pronoun singular is not a typo. The author prefers the lower case.]

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