Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
One hundred years ago, at the dawn of the last American Progressive Era, the United States was a very different place– a place of inequality, discrimination, and wealth disparity, author and historian John Nichols told a gathering of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) in June.
Although slavery had been abolished in 1865 (#13), the rights of citizens were established in 1868 (#14), and the right to vote for all men was established in 1870 (#15), the majority of Americans could not vote.
At the turn of the last century, women and adults 18-21 years of age were barred from voting, and because of racist, state-level machinations and poll taxes, many African Americans and poor Americans of any color also were kept from voting. In addition, citizens didn’t have representation in the US Senate, since Senators were chosen by robber barons in back room deals (not elected by the people).
This sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? Are Republicans trying to take our country back to 1900? Consider these current scenarios:
The energy and activism of the Progressive Era (1900-1929) brought many positive changes and new Constitutional Amendments; it’s up to those of us in the New Progressive Movement to fight back against new regressive and discriminatory laws to save our country.
“We are no longer a democracy in this country,” Nichols told the Southern California audience. “When Barack Obama can be elected president of the United States by a 5 million vote margin, by a landslide in the electoral college, and [by a larger margin than any other recent president, including Ronald Reagan]– when we have landslides of that order, and we cannot get basic economic and social justice, then something has gone horribly awry.
“Our democracy has been diminished! It has been turned into a ‘dollarocracy’ where those with immense wealth may lose an election and then move back into position to win it by other means, this is fundamentally wrong!”
Nichols said he is tired of “tinkering around the edges” and called for fundamental change in the form of three Constitutional Amendments. In the early 1900s, progressive pushed for and won Constitutional Amendment #16 creating federal income tax in 1913; #17 establishing direct election of US Senators in 1913; and #19 giving women the right to vote in 1920. With these fundamental changes, we went from a country where most people couldn’t vote, where the wealthy chose US Senators, and where the robber barons hoarded their wealth (rather than sharing a portion to help build our country).
According to Nichols, it’s up to the new wave of American Progressives to stand up and change our country for the better by working toward these three new Constitutional Amendments: 1) abolish corporate personhood and establish that money is not speech; 2) guarantee the right to vote for all American citizens 18 years of age or older; and 3) eliminate the Electoral College and establish direct election of the President of the United States.
Let’s get busy. The time for tinkering is over.