Demonstrators tell Rep. Young to stop corporate corruption

08/10/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Young isn’t exactly known for progressive politics. But this didn’t stop a group of protesters from calling on him to help stop corporate influence in Washington.

Pinellas resident Peter Hilley quoted the late historian Howard Zinn as he spoke about the pitfalls of corporate influence.

“That our most deadly enemies may not be hiding in caves or compounds abroad, but in corporate board rooms and government offices, where decisions are made that can sign millions to death and misery. Not deliberately, but as collateral damage of the lust for profiting power.”

Hilley spoke where more than twenty protesters were gathered in the complex that houses one office of the twenty-term U.S. member of Congress. Demonstrator Winnie Foster of the Sojourner Truth Center in St. Petersburg brought a prop with her.

“I’m carrying a mop because I would like to give a mop to our representative, Bill Young. I was here when he first ran for office, and I remember part of his announcement was that he was a graduate of the Hoover Institute. Well, we know now that the Hoover Institute was that training program for Hoover Vacuum Cleaner salesmen. I want to him to know the difference between sucking up dirt in a vacuum cleaner that gets hidden in a bag and a good mop I fresh water, sweeping out the corruption.”

Brought together by progressive group, demonstrators were hoping to get Young to sign the Fight Washington Corruption Pledge. Joe Illingworth, Counsel Coordinator for MoveOn in Pinellas, said the group is launching the anti-corporate campaign out of frustration over the lack of progressive policies on Capitol Hill.

”We found in the past years, we were trying to get through a green, clean energy program and a healthcare program for all…like the rest of the world has gravitated to, that it’s impossible to do with the huge amount of inappropriate corporate influence that we have in the United States Congress.”

The so-called progressive policies that do pass, he said, are bogged down with industry-friendly provisions. Illingworth said look no further than the prescription drug bill passed during George W. Bush’s tenure.

“The Medicare bill did not allow the government to negotiate for favorable prices, in spite of the fact that they were buying huge, huge quantities. So, a lot of these things just don’t happen right when the industry regulates itself.”

Illingworth said that the influence of large corporations on lawmakers means lax industry regulations, which ultimately spell disaster. Even those disasters not human-caused, he said, are made worse by lopsided policies that favor big business.

“Even Katrina, certainly the corporations didn’t cause the hurricane. But having ineffective leaders, having an untrained director, prevented a good alert from being sounded before the hurricane hit New Orleans.”

Peter Hilley said the economic collapse demonstrates the Howard Zinn quote he cited.

“Financial institutions successfully beat back attempts at regulations on these complex things we know now, called derivatives. Well, we know where the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act has led us, rampant gambling on Wall Street. It basically led to an implosion of the global financial system.”

The Fight Washington Corruption Pledge calls for three things. The first is overturning the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizen’s United case, which gives corporations First Amendment rights. The second is to vote for the Fair Elections Act, which levels the playing field for candidates who don’t have inexhaustible campaign war chests. The third is to pass a measure that would limit the power of lobbyists. Speaker Cher Tanner said while they may not be able to convince Representative Young, the key to a successful campaign is getting people interested one-by-one.

“So, it takes lots of us one persons to come together and we have no idea when the tipping point is, but we need to reach out to more than just speaking to the choir.”

Asked how the movement can woo the likes of the tea party, which is just as upset at the government but points the finger at progressives, Illingworth said the key is to show how detrimental corporate influence has really been.

“When I grew up, in grade school, you were taught that what’s good for general motors is good for the country. We found out what general motors thought was good for general motors wasn’t even good because they went bankrupt.”

Some demonstrators later met with a representative from Young’s office, who after some discussion said she’d give the congress member the message. Young is running against Democratic state senator Charlie Justice for the District Ten Congressional seat. The bulk of Young’s campaign contributions come from the defense industry, which accounts for almost one-fifth of Young’s war chest. Young did not respond to our repeated requests for an interview.

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