Hebert and Weingarten on economic justice and money in politics
Bob Herbert and Randi Weingarten agree that reducing the influence of big money in politics would positively impact nearly every social justice cause in America. Herbert, a former New York Timescolumnist, and Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president, shared this sentiment in front of several dozen educators, union activists, and progressives at a Dec. 1 event for Herbert’s new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. The book chronicles the corrosive affect of poverty, a poor labor market, and stagnant wages on our society.
Regardless of one’s politics, the most important issue in the United States is employment, Herbert said. More Americans working at good jobs would resolve or alleviate many social ills. He then directly tied today’s economic inequality to political inequality.
The author read from his book on how Bill Gates used his wealth to convince policymakers to adopt his “small school” reform. The small schools were “academies” crammed into a single education complex (often a converted high school). The academies pushed failing students into larger schools that had to fight over the limited resources, such as classrooms, that one building could provide. This effort failed to significantly increase college attendance or build community at targeted schools and was abandoned with little fanfare. The driving force behind the movement was Bill Gates’ funding, rather than the needs or voices of the community. Herbert used this as an example of one’s political power being directly tied the size of his wallet.
When pressed on the meaning of low turnout in November, Herbert said we must organize our communities because politicians are dependent on voters, not just money. But he recognized that voting is not enough to change society, and both he and Weingarten acknowledged that mega-donors like the Koch brothers are drowning out average voters.
Public financing of elections, such as matching small donations, would increase the political power of millions of Americans that are currently left out of the electoral process. Clean Elections would both empower the middle and working classes and curtail large private donor influence on elections. When everyday people have a bigger voice, better working conditions and jobs will not be far behind.