The Puppet Show of Democracy: How Corporate Interests Override People’s Power

“Corporate marionettes and government puppeteers.” Sound like a B-movie? Unfortunately, it’s a reality we’re grappling with in America today, and it’s far from entertaining.

Do you remember that ’79 episode of The Schoolhouse Rock? series called “Three Ring Government”? It painted a charming picture of the U.S. government with its executive, legislative, and judicial branches, all held in check by a system of balances to prevent one from becoming too powerful. An idealistic portrayal for sure, but in reality, our government functions more like a three-ring circus, contorting the concept of democracy and often leaving the power of the people in the dust.

Let’s look at Oregon, where Community Rights Lane County, a devoted group of community activists, has been trying to halt the decades-long practice of forest ecosystems being showered with toxic herbicides. However, despite their best efforts and evident public support, the three local branches of government have repeatedly favored corporate interests over people’s will, turning a blind eye to the environmental damage and the health risks posed to the community.

Similarly, in Ohio, local communities have spent years crafting legislation to stand up to fossil fuel and big agricultural corporations. Yet, their rights-based laws, despite being endorsed by local signatures, were blocked from appearing on the ballot over 15 times across eight different communities. All this under the watchful eyes of elected officials and the courts, trampling the political rights of Ohioans and favoring corporations.

Down south in Georgia, a coalition named “The Vote to Stop Cop City” sought to halt the construction of a controversial police training facility in Atlanta. Despite overcoming the daunting task of collecting 77,000 valid signatures in just 60 days, the City of Atlanta decided to block their democratic efforts through a lawsuit.

Now, you might think that the courts, the guardians of justice, could turn the tide. But, unfortunately, they often act as another cog in this machinery that obstructs direct democracy. Cases abound where courts have turned down appeals that seek to protect citizens’ political rights, with one-sentence dismissals erasing years of efforts by communities to institute laws for their own betterment.

The rules, it seems, change based on the nature of the initiative and those championing it. The government, in tandem with corporate interests, is using state preemption laws to disqualify initiatives that challenge industry control, effectively stifling the people’s constitutional rights to petition and pass laws directly. A disheartening revelation is detailed in the book Death by Democracy.

It’s high time we acknowledge this government-corporate circus for what it is. We don’t need this illusion of democracy, this farcical performance. We need systems that advocate for communities, for individuals, for the environment. We need to move away from a system that legitimizes corporate stranglehold and towards a real democracy that respects, protects, enforces, and upholds the will of the people.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and reclaim our power. Let’s show them that the power of the people is stronger than the people in power. After all, we all have a moral responsibility to protect our homes, especially when those in government won’t.