Why You Should Join ‘Fed Up New Yorkers’
Wake Up! You’ve Got the Power!
Fed Up New Yorkers is a publishing project and a political plan, the purpose of which is to lessen Big Money’s grip on our political system and on our society.
Since the early 1970s, Big Money — by which we mean the super-rich and the corporations they control — has poured billions of dollars into electing compliant politicians and hiring former members of Congress, Pentagon officials, and other insiders as lobbyists. The latter are used to distribute cash to their former colleagues in return for tax loopholes, defense contracts and regulatory exemptions, and to enable Wall Street’s bankers to get their hands on whatever “entitlements” Americans have managed to hold on to.
Harry G. Frankfurt, a Princeton University professor emeritus of philosophy, wrote in his 2005 book On Bullshit that,
“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows it, and most people think they can recognize it, but often they can’t.”
George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security suggests that though Frankfurt was correct, when the issue hits close to home, bullshit has its limits. Bush attempted to give Wall Street a trillion-dollar pot of our retirement savings from which to skim fees and profit.
It was a step too far — even Tea Partiers want their Social Security and Medicare. But Republicans will be back, selling the idea of individualized personal accounts with the focus group-tested slogan, “It’s your money, don’t let the government tell you how to spend it.” They will sell this scheme to a gullible public, and especially to young people, by promoting the idea that by the time they’re ready to retire Social Security will be dead unless the Republicans save it, not by “privatizing” it but by “personalizing” it.
Bullshit is the life’s work of Republican consultant Frank Luntz, who was apoplectic over the poor Republican sales job.
Luntz admonished his clients, Bush among them: “Don’t talk about entitlement reform or controlling the growth of Medicare and Social Security, talk about how to save and strengthen these programs so they are there when voters need them. After all, they paid for them.”
Our “Hacks & Flacks” feature will profile the legions of propagandists who devise the schemes and the packaging to convince Americans to vote against their own interests. As the legendary political commentator Molly Ivins once remarked, “Those who deliberately corrupt our language for political advantage deserve some special ring in hell.”
At the local level, recent New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was a master of this kind of political propagandizing, positioning himself as “Mike,” an ordinary, common-sense guy who rode the subway like everyone else and was looking out for the interests of “cops, firemen and teachers,” not Wall Street or the super-rich. (Frank Luntz was one of his many political consultants). As with Bush, Bloomberg went too far in his attempt to blame the 2008 financial crisis on government rather than Wall Street: “It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. … It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and to give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.”
His message: The bankers didn’t do it and the public didn’t lose any money. It wasn’t credible.
Most New Yorkers — all but the economic elite and New York Times columnists — were appalled by Bloomberg’s attempts to transform New York into what he called a “luxury city.” They were furious at the proliferation of unaffordable luxury condominiums, at the sterile landscape of banks, drugstore chains and high-priced restaurants that replaced the city’s small retail businesses in neighborhood after neighborhood, and most of all at the overturning of term limits. But they didn’t bother to vote, and Bloomberg was able to eke out a narrow victory in an election with the lowest turnout in New York City’s modern political history.
Many people don’t vote because they don’t think politics matters. They’re wrong, of course. Right now, politics may be the only thing that matters: Unless we use the shrinking political space that remains open to us, we will not be able to arrest the slide into oligarchy, or worse. That’s why Big Money spends so many billions of dollars on elections, lobbying and shaping public opinion.
Maybe you already know that politics matters a great deal but you don’t vote because you think your vote doesn’t matter. And there you have a point.
But consider Tea Party voters: They know their votes matter. NRA members know it too. The political plan of Fed Up New Yorkers is rooted in the same principle that animates these conservative and extreme right-wing voters:
When even a small minority of organized voters feel so passionately about an issue that they will base their political behavior on it, they can prevail over a large majority of unorganized citizens who disagree with them but don’t feel so passionately that they will vote a politician out of office on the basis of his or her position on the issue.
Non-voting progressives and moderates who are open to reason are the sleeping giants of politics. That’s why politicians and the people who finance them spare no effort to propagandize and mislead them, and if all else fails, throw up roadblocks that make it more difficult for them to vote.
We Don't Need More Brilliant Policy Ideas -- We Need a Political Plan
There are countless well-documented, brilliantly articulated policy proposals for dealing with issues such as wealth and income inequality, militarized police forces, poverty, perpetual war, global warming, crumbling infrastructure, collapsing schools and the manifold other problems the country faces.
It’s good to have them. Progressives have to know what they want. What’s missing is the political plan to move these proposals forward. That plan requires a grassroots progressive movement that targets selected politicians for defeat.
The Tea Party, the NRA and other right-wing groups know this strategy well. For instance, take the electoral defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was ousted by an unknown, underfinanced candidate supported by a small group of committed Tea Party members.
We have also seen how effective this strategy can be when marshaled in the service of progressive interests. When, for example, energy companies came to Dryden, a rural town in New York’s Finger Lakes region (population 14,500), and began paying landowners for the rights to drill for natural gas using the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a small group of residents organized, collected enough signatures to oust the local elected board, and forced it to impose a zoning ban. The state’s highest court upheld the ban. Shortly thereafter, a reluctant governor imposed a statewide ban on fracking, and state legislators have not dared try to overturn it.
Dryden is widely thought of as a legal victory. It was, but more important is the grassroots political effort by a small group of local residents that made the legal victory possible in the face of well-financed, legally and politically sophisticated fracking interests.
The Dryden story underscores the fundamental truths that inform the Fed Up New Yorkers project:
- Politics almost always trumps law. Following the decision of the State Court of Appeals, state legislators could have passed a law authorizing fracking. They didn’t because the political risk was simply too great.
- When informed and committed voters threaten elected officials with the loss of their jobs, they can prevail over Big Money’s insider politics.
- Leaders with payrolls to meet can’t always be trusted to tell their constituents (or congregations) the truth.
- These principles are not the exclusive preserve of grassroots right-wing movements.
Coinciding with the opening of the state legislative session, this first issue of Fed Up New Yorkers was distributed in the first week of January 2016. It will be published monthly thereafter.
This 24-page newspaper is being circulated in Albany, where between January and June every significant economic and political interest in the state seeks to advance or block legislation and vies for a piece of the state budget. But some of the most important decisions are made during the months that the legislature isn’t in session, the period during which, ironically, the media pays the least attention to state politics. Fed Up New Yorkers will be there, paying attention.
In addition to Albany, the paper will be distributed in select legislative districts. Voters who live in certain pieces of political geography have much greater political leverage than others. In national elections, these areas are the early primary and battleground states. In New York State, they are the legislative leadership and marginal districts.
We’ve reviewed election, demographic and other relevant data with experienced New York political consultants. We have not yet decided in which districts we plan to distribute the paper, but we will in the coming months. In the meantime, here’s an example of recent political history that will illustrate our thinking:
In 2014, control of the New York State Senate turned on a handful of districts in which a few Democratic incumbents organized themselves as a legislative voting bloc, the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). They persuaded potential labor union primary opposition to back off by promising to vote with the Senate Democrats to organize the chamber and thus to elect a Democratic majority leader. This is the legislative vote that matters most: The majority legislative party gets the lion’s share of everything politics has to offer to the insiders, while the minority gets table scraps.
After the election, these IDC members voted with the Republicans for a Republican senate majority leader in a so-called “power-sharing” arrangement. One of the many consequences of that betrayal was that housing policy — rent regulations for more than 2 million people and the issue of affordable housing more generally — remained heavily tilted in favor of the real estate lobby.
In at least one of these Senate districts, a few hundred votes in a Democratic primary would have defeated one of these IDC members. That senator is up for reelection in 2016.
Our distribution plan for Fed Up New Yorkers is a function of our political objective, namely, to hold elected officials accountable to progressive voters in their districts. Most primary voters don’t know the story of the IDC deception, but in 2016, they will. Then it will be up to them.
We Think We Can Move the Political Needle
When Bloomberg engineered the elimination of term limits in 2009, we published the first issue of Fed Up New Yorkers, a modest eight-page paper that voiced opposition to third terms for Bloomberg and the City Council members who sought them.
Though a small paper with limited circulation is barely noticeable in New York City, our immediate goal was to defeat a City Council member who sought to ride Bloomberg’s action into a third term for himself. Thus the 25,000 copies of each of four issues were distributed mainly in that councilman’s district, which includes Lower Manhattan and Tribeca. It drew considerable attention, not least because of the striking, full-color editorial cartoons on the cover of each issue.
The paper hammered away at the override of term limits and was the main reason for his defeat in the Democratic primary.
Taking Fed Up New Yorkers statewide is a good and feasible next step. It won’t take long to find out whether we’re on to something — November 2016, to be precise. And if we are successful, Fed Up New Yorkers can be replicated around the country.
— Neil Fabricant, Publisher