This duopoly is a problem, certainly, but what feeds the problem, plays party to it, allows it to flourish, is the mainstream media and the total lack of involvement in any story that is not within the very limited confines of the ruling party. This was ever apparent Saturday, when Rocky asked for any representative of the media present to please raise his or her hand. In the small meeting room on Rittenhouse Square, in the heart of Philadelphia, the city where democracy was born in this country, not one hand was raised. Not one media outlet spared a few hours to cover a third-party candidate. Over 30 press releases went out to local media in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Over 30 press invites were also sent out. Not one was answered. Not one journalist took it upon herself or himself to look outside the contrived and limited scope of the Republican and Democratic parties to hear a different voice for the people. A voice that doesn’t “feed from the same trough of special interest money.” A voice that isn’t from the 1%, but belongs to the other 99% of us.
But it isn’t even about just one candidate. It is about presenting the American people with a choice. Not the ability to vote for one corporate puppet or another, but the choice to hear from someone with a different point of view. And what’s more, with all the power held by two major parties, two major parties that decide together what the political discourse will be, how can we expect to hear anything outside of the small confines of that box? Within the box, we will discuss, in the most general and contrived way possible, to what degree the government should regulate a woman’s reproduction. We will discuss to what degree we should allow gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people the same rights as the rest of us. We will discuss how much money should be spent on foreign wars. We will discuss how much money and power should be given to the EPA. What we will not discuss is whether the government should be allowed to regulate a woman’s reproduction at all. We will not discuss the pervasive bigotry against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the United States and how it could be alleviated with a federal statute against discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as a firm stance on giving GLBT people the same rights as everyone else in terms of marriage equality. The idea that money should be spent at home instead of in foreign invasions and U.S. hegemony will be left completely off the table. The sentiment that not only is global climate change real, it is also imminent, and possibly the most pressing challenge confronting us today will not be talked about in such clear and certain terms.
THIS is the platform that the mainstream media has left for you, the American people. They have given you the soundbites provided by the ruling class and have perhaps criticized one ruling party or the other, but they have never stopped to ask whether a system set up in such a way as to allow power to only two wealthy parties with merely rhetorical differences should even be allowed to continue in the first place. They have never stopped to ask whether or not there are other voices; voices speaking for the people and not just for the powerful.
During Rocky’s speech, he used this anecdote: The story goes that in 1787, as Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a woman stopped him and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A Republic, or a Monarchy?” He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Essential to keeping that Republic is a strong media as a watchdog for the government. Without that media, a media that digs and muckrakes to find the story beneath the story and who questions the status quo; without that, a Republic simply cannot survive.
On the fringe, independent medias across the country and internationally work day and night on little pay to ask the questions that our mainstream media will not. News organizations like Democracy Now!, Truthdig, Mother Jones, and so many more do all that they can to expose the crimes of the ruling class and shine a light in the dark corners of politics, of which there are many. However noble their efforts, the majority of U.S. citizens simply do not see this work. They are content to remain in the confines of the box as defined by the ruling elite.
So finally, it is not just the media that I am calling out today, but also the American public. It seems that most citizens will only contribute the bare minimum of their efforts to keep our Republic. If that modicum of political activism does not enact the changes that we desire, then we throw up our hands and say that it is all for naught and the cause is lost. “What more can we do?” We ask. We cast our votes for the party that we feel is slightly less despicable, slightly less abhorrent than the other and when we are ultimately let down and nothing of consequence changes, we give up and decide that it simply cannot be helped.
Yet this is not how change happens. Never in the history of this country has great change been imposed from the top down. Always change has happened because of people on the ground. People working at the grassroots making the determined decision that they will no longer be crushed by the boots of the ruling class and will instead link together to cast off their oppressors. The end of slavery, civil rights, the women’s suffrage movement, the labor movement, and now the GLBT movement all began at the very bottom of society. These movements started because the people most oppressed decided to make change happen. Only when the people stood up and demanded something better, did the government respond by changing the system.
It is not impossible. All across the world, people are fighting for the basic right to human dignity. The Arab Spring inspired countries around the globe to risk their lives for that freedom. Here in the United States, we mustn’t even risk our lives, but must simply be heard and take action. We must not give in and give up so easily. As Rocky said in his speech Saturday, “We just have to get off the couch.”
Alyssa Röhricht blogs at Crash Culture: Political Train Wrecks for Political Junkies