Friday, November 21, 2014

The Power of People - Lessons from 'The Godfather III'

Listening to President Obama announce executive action to grant deportation reprieves for up to five million undocumented immigrants brings the massive power shift taking place in Washington into focus.

It's a pretty gutsy call for a President that fully understands the power granted to him by the Constitution, even if it did make Republicans even angrier than they normally are on any given day.

It made me think of a quote from the 'The Godfather III'.

Even though the first two Godfather films are both cinematic masterpieces that would be hard to measure up to, III is clearly not the best Godfather film.

(In all fairness to Francis Ford Coppola, Paramount paying Robert Duvall the money he deserved to reprise his role as Tom Hagan and casting Winona Ryder as Michael Corleone's daughter instead of the-then theatrically inexperienced Sofia Coppola might have helped, but that's another blog.)

In the 3rd act, just seconds before a loyal Corleone family assassin named Calo prepares to execute Don Lucchesi, the chief enemy of the family (by plunging a pair of eyeglasses into his neck), he whispers to the victim:  

"Power wears out those who do not have it."

Aside from Michael's tearful confession of guilt over having murdered his older bother Fredo, and his reconciliation with his ex-wife Kay, for me Calo's quote was the most important takeaway from 'The Godfather III'.

For those Americans who deal with the day to day struggles of existing paycheck to paycheck in a still fragile economy with a recovery that's been limited to large corporations and the wealthiest 20% of the population, it's easy to feel worn out by what's taken place in Washington in recent years. 

A Republican Congress that's been the most unproductive in history have spent their time in office opposing the President at every turn, shutting down the government, blocking important legislation from being voted on and passing useless ideological legislation like voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than fifty times.

These days the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right wing legislative think tank fronted by the Koch brothers, wields far more influence on Capitol Hill than average Americans do.

The news this morning that House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican cohorts are using their new majority to sue the President over his Constitutionally-guaranteed use of executive power to implement aspects of the Affordable Care Act makes it pretty clear that we can't depend on this Congress to work on relevant legislation that's actually going to make a difference in the lives of average Americans.

The GOP are masters of illusion. They've succeeded in creating unprecedented gridlock in Washington then espousing a false narrative that government is dysfunctional, overreaching, burdensome and needs to be "tamed".

They've manipulated voting districts through questionable gerrymandering and illegal voter ID laws to make it easier to elect conservative candidates with numerical minorities that don't actually represent the demographics of geographical areas - remember about 31% of the population elected this Republican majority into office.

If you never read it, check out Tim Dickinson's excellent November, 2013 piece in Rolling Stone entitled, "How Republicans Rig the Game".

The end result? Many Americans are turned off by politics and feel too discouraged to even bother casting votes or participating in the election process.

Far too many Americans have bought into the myth that they are powerless, when in fact it's the average citizen who wields the real power - people just need to recognize the power of their voices and their actions and choices.

The evidence is all around us. Let's look at a couple examples.

The abuse of civil forfeiture laws by police around the nation has gotten increased scrutiny by media and average citizens as people push back against law enforcement abusing the right to seize people's personal property without a warrant or just cause. HBO's John Oliver explained it brilliantly on a recent episode of his show.

As the Washington Post reported, just this past Tuesday the D.C. city council voted to overhaul the civil forfeiture policy of the nation's capital by granting property owners new rights and taking away the right of police to bank the proceeds into their own departments to eliminate the motivation for officers to over use their authority.

Or take worker's rights. Republicans may have struck hard at the power of unions and fought to support a federally mandated increase in the minimum wage, but average citizens can express support for fair wages and workers rights by choosing not to shop at places that abuse those rights.

As Think reports, twelve different major retailers will be open this Thanksgiving to get the jump on Black Friday holiday shoppers, but at least eighteen other major retailers have responded to public pressure to respect and support the American family by granting employees time off on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

As Bryce Covert reports in today's article:
"Instead of shopping at Macy’s or J.C. Penney, for example, consumers have the option to go to Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus. Instead of Walmart, Kmart, or Target, they can go to GameStop, Barnes & Noble, or Bed, Bath & Beyond. Instead of Sports Authority, shoppers can get outdoors gear at Patagonia or REI."

Click the link above to see the list of retailers.
Is this what we want holiday shopping to be like?
We may live in a market-driven economy, but Americans have a choice not to be a part of the insane frenzy of people trampling each other to get inside a store to get a shopping bargain that will still be available in the same store or online the next day.

We can have a choice on what kind of country we want to be.

By simply taking some time to carefully look at how the major retailers treat their workers in terms of wages, benefits and time to spend with families on major holidays, average Americans can change the way even the largest retailers operate.

It may take a little time but sharing that information with friends and family, or spreading the idea on social media or maybe driving just a little farther can have a huge impact.

There's nothing wrong with heading out to shop for bargains on the day after Thanksgiving, but we don't have to act like crazed stampeding animals with no civility when we do it. 

Those are just a couple examples. But the power and the responsibility starts with each of us.

If the Republican party continues to duck their Constitutionally mandated responsibility and use their legislative power to draft laws on behalf of and for the benefit of ALL Americans, that power is going to wear them right back out of office in 2016. 

But it's not a one-way street. As American citizens we have a responsibility to use our power to cast our votes during elections for school boards, local town and city councils, state legislators, state ballot initiatives, governors and especially Congressional representatives; as this past election has taught us.

It's not just politics either. We can vote with where we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars and shop, adding our voices to petitions, giving money to charities, or just contacting businesses or companies when feel something they're doing isn't right.

Remember the loyal Calo's quote, "Power wears out those who do not use it."

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