An American Manifesto

American democracy is withering on the vine. Not because of any basic flaw, but because democracy is incompatible with the malignant capitalism that that has come to shape our society and control our political system. As citizens, we have a choice: we can do nothing and watch our democratic traditions die out, or we can act together to regain control of our country. We have a long and honorable revolutionary tradition, so we do not have to be victims. This manifesto is a call to action from one ordinary American to all others who love liberty. It is a call to unite and determine our future by taking it out of the hands of those who value only money and power. It is a call to rescue our democracy.

America today exhibits clear signs of a nation in peril, bogged down in needless, costly wars abroad and beset by economic stagnation at home. Terrorist attacks of 9/11 triggered an expanded military empire and an intrusive national security state. Financial institutions driving a casino capitalism crashed and burned in 2008. The worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression followed. Collectively, these events have distorted our political economy and wounded our democracy. Voters are angry, confused and divided not only over policies but over the very role of government. An imperial presidency, a dysfunctional Congress and a corporate-oriented Supreme Court have aggravated existing problems and created a cynical and distrustful public.

Plutocrats, taking advantage of a society in crisis, have tightened their hold on the economy and reshaped governance. The political economy, rooted in advanced capitalism, is now geared to serve the minority of Americans who control most of the wealth. Although our Republic retains the trappings of democracy, it has morphed into a Corporate State where ultimate authority is in the hands of a ruling class. Its operatives ? in and out of government ? determine domestic and foreign policy. They prop up an economic and military empire that spans the globe, but is reeling from recession, debt and seemingly permanent military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The wisest among the prior generation of leaders saw it coming. President Dwight Eisenhower, Senator William Fulbright and historian William Appleman Williams warned of military-industrial-congressional complexes, imperial presidents and debilitating empires. C. Wright Mills dissected the emerging power elite that was beginning to dominate the political economy at home and project its influence abroad. But for more than a generation, no one ? in or out of government ? has done anything to stop what is at heart an anti-democratic movement.

We know that the Corporate State’s concerted assault on ordinary Americans will only worsen if left to its own devices. Whether it prevails depends entirely on whether those of us who love and value democracy allow it. Fortunately, the American experience includes historic achievements that can be a source of strength to all those working to change direction and advance the public interest. There are, of course, no guarantees that attempts to stop the corporate juggernaut will succeed, but there is reason to be hopeful. We have overcome serious challenges in the past and emerged stronger for our efforts. We should remember that we are the children of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, and Martin Luther King and act accordingly.

A grassroots, non-violent peoples’ movement is our best means of achieving the kind of structural, long-overdue changes we need. The goal of such a movement should be nothing short of radically reshaping the federal government. We must curtail corporate abuses, establish a democratic congress, rein in the military, and curtail the imperial presidency. These are essential measures for breaking the corporate grip on the political economy and creating a democratic America. The ruling elite will make every effort, including authoritarian methods and draconian policies, to hold on to power. We will be labeled radical extremists and worse. Our strength will come from creating a counter force based on organization, discipline, persistence and nonviolence.

Seven specific fundamental changes could put the nation back on track and provide a new democratic impetus to the political economy:

1. Abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a one person?one vote direct democracy. American democracy has been hogtied by interests that hate and fear it. It is up to us to rescue and broaden it.

2. Abolish all constitutional and legal provisions granting corporations equal status with persons. Corporations are not people, and treating them as such distorts the legal process, corrupts the political system and perverts our society.

3. Within two years, reduce the number of nuclear weapons in stock by half and close half (roughly 370) of existing overseas military installations. Plan further reductions and closures over a five-year period. The US does not need ? and cannot afford ? an empire, military or otherwise.

4. Adopt a matching public-private method of campaign financing for all federal elected positions. Allow individual contributions of no more than $100 per registered voter until total donations equal the government allocation. States would be encouraged to devise a similar system for state elected officials.

5. Adopt a constitutional provision requiring majority approval in both Houses of Congress before sending the American military into battle. Require one year of military service or civilian community service for every able-bodied American before they reach age 25.

6. Revamp US foreign policy to comply with international law. Begin in the Middle East and Central Asia with the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Provide financial and material assistance for rebuilding and aid to refugees. End support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and work toward a two-state, or preferably a one-state solution.

7. Demand a fair, progressive federal tax system that is simple and free of loopholes for corporations and the wealthy.

Now is the time to wake up and break out of our political straightjacket. We must not fall into the trap of waiting, hoping that a political savior will come on the scene. America does not need a Julius Caesar, unless we wish to continue retracing the path of the Roman Empire. Nor can we afford to await some triggering “spark” that may or may not materialize in our lifetimes. Democracy is in jeopardy and the time to make a concerted effort to resuscitate it is now. If we do nothing and continue to accommodate the drift toward corporate fascism, our fate is clear. Our children will not forgive us, and we, and they, will die strangers in a strange land.

Wayne A. Clark blogs at An extended version of this article can be found there.