Victory in California!

Wolf Pac Victory! (Graphic Credit Todd Erickson)
Wolf Pac Victory! (Graphic Credit Todd Erickson)

Just last week California became the second state in the nation, following Vermont, to call for an Article V Constitutional Convention in order to address the issue of money in politics.

There are two ways to amend the Constitution. One of them is introducing and passing legislation through Congress — something they do stupendously. Or two thirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention where three fourths of the states must ratify any amendments to the Constitution. Harvard Professor, scholar, and activist Lawrence Lessig has argued in support of a Constitutional Convention.

On June 23, the California State Senate voted to adopt such a resolution and in doing so became the second state in a historic effort to unravel the influence of capital on Congress and our republic.

Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D) of the 43rd district in Los Angeles initially introduced the resolution, AJR-1 (or Assembly Joint Resolution 1) on December 3rd, 2012. However, the bill was almost immediately sidelined in committee and from there it did not seem as though it would ever see the light of day again.

But that is not the beginning of this story. What started everything in motion was that Cenk Uygur, in conjunction with his popular online news show, “The Young Turks” decided that they were fed up and would not take it anymore! They decided to put together an organization of people from all across the political spectrum all with the same dream of having free fair and open elections. In order to convey how dissatisfied and determined the group was, they adopted the name, Wolf-PAC. That’s where it all started, with the people.

The people at Wolf-PAC met with Assemblyman Gatto in 2012 and because Gatto was sympathetic he introduced the bill. However, he did not have the political capital to fight for it, and there were heavy interests against it with only minimal organizing supporting the bill. It was easily sidelined. This is how the bill stayed until early 2013.

What had happened in the intervening year? Wolf-PAC became a serious force to be reckoned with. Cenk was extremely successful at recruiting people through his online news show, which is where I became affiliated with the organization as a volunteer. In the year between when the bill was sidelined and when it started on its way through committees to the floor a popular movement materialized at the grassroots level. The type of which, in my opinion, we have not seen in the United States since the Populist party of the early 1900’s.

The organization is bare bones. It only had one or two employees to begin with, Mike Monetta, the National Director of Organizing was the only one I knew of personally. He put together online training seminars that could be easily administered once a volunteer had been through the training themselves. More like rabbits than wolves, our ranks multiplied. Ordinary people who had little or in some cases no political experience stepped up to the plate to become the leaders of this movement. One in particular, Alison Hartson, is a school teacher who initially started training other volunteers, then became a regional organizer, and would eventually rise to the position of statewide organizer for California!

Under Alison’s leadership (and a few others) California citizens put on the full court press. We contacted legislators directly, met with their staff, and representatives and lobbied on behalf of the bill. I personally met with my state Senator at the time and asked him to vote yes on the bill (he did!). We organized phone banks to people inside of the representatives districts and on a human level explained why they should be concerned about money in politics. We asked that they contact their representative. It’s extremely easy to conduct outreach when 90% of the population agrees with the reason you’re calling.

In addition to organizing phone banks, Wolf-PAC CA organized a rally at the capital during the Judiciary Committee where they had roughly 60 volunteers come and express support for the resolution. Nobody dared to speak out against the bill. It was an amazing turn of events. The bill went from being effectively silenced without ever seeing the floor of either chamber for discussion to sailing through committees like a seagull over the ocean.

Volunteers of Wolf-PAC could be heard rejoicing immediately after the vote, much to the chagrin of legislators. Cenk, of cooooourse, covered the success of the bill on The Young Turks. And with that — there are two down and thirty two to go. One more in the books for the good guys. Many other states already have resolutions introduced, and many more are on the way.

These were my immediate reflections upon hearing the news. I am supremely impressed at the ability of everyone involved as citizens to recognize the need for action and to answer the call. Let it be known that civic duty and social responsibility in the United States is not dead, it is alive and well!

The organizing and leadership skills displayed by Mike, Alison, Kathy, Will etc. is reminiscent of the populist movement. This was a true grassroots effort embarked upon predominantly by people who are not and in some cases have never been involved in politics. People who saw a fundamental problem in our system and assembled as is their first amendment right to receive the ultimate redress of their grievance. Not only did this group get a bill introduced into the legislature — which is an impressive feat in and of itself – Wolf Pac CA (and those from other states that helped out) managed to get a resolution passed in both chambers! We are the populists of our day, and we are making moves to reinstate one of the most important pillars of government — free, fair, and open elections.
I remember a conference call, probably a year or so ago, where Alison playfully posed the hypothetical question, “what you do to celebrate AJR1 being passed by both chambers?” At the time, it seemed so far away — an unattainable dream, an oasis in our desert of desperation. Now that we have climbed to mountain top, now that the promise land is still 32 states and a convention away but close enough to see there is time to pause for celebration. But we must also redouble our efforts to allow other states to liberate themselves from the chokehold of the elites. Together we will win, and we will reform this country. I am so proud to have had even the slightest part in the effort. My only regret is that I did not do more.