In a new Ted Talk, Harvard professor turned corruption fighter, Lawrence Lessig, makes the case for calling a mayday for our country. Lessig begins with a sharp reminder that "there is a flaw at the core of the operating system of this democracy," which he has described in detail in numerous other talks, including his last TED appearance. However, he is no longer talking of abstract measures against corruption. Instead, he is now talking about taking real action.
On May 1, Lessig will launch a campaign for a new “Super PAC to end all Super PACs.” He is not the first to use this line, but what makes it so bold is the scale. Lessig purposes to raise enough money to secure 218 representatives in the U.S. House and 60 U.S. senators who are committed to fundamental reform.
At the average 2012 rate, if the PAC were to cover the entire campaign, it would amount to $973 million. Taking into consideration that candidates can raise at least some small dollar money and the efficiency of scale, this number would drop significantly. If millions of people were actually engaged, it would drop even further.
Raising $500 million in this day and age is no longer a major challenge. The challenge is in bringing people together. In his talk, Lessig challenges us to think not of our role as individuals or professionals, but as citizens.
In Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech, Citizenship in A Republic, the most famous quote is the Man in the Arena:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds
Yet, Roosevelt wasn’t talking about thought leaders like Lessig. He was talking about ordinary, hard working individuals (emphasis added):
Today I shall speak to you on the subject of individual citizenship, the one subject of vital importance to you, my hearers, and to me and my countrymen, because you and we are great citizens of great democratic republics. A democratic republic such as ours - an effort to realize its full sense government by, of, and for the people - represents the most gigantic of all possible social experiments, the one fraught with great responsibilities alike for good and evil. The success of republics like yours and like ours means the glory, and our failure the despair of mankind; and for you and for us the question of the quality of the individual citizen is supreme.
As individuals we cannot all be corruption fighters, environmentalists, fiscal policy experts, election reformers, or any other specialty required for creating a strong and sustainable country. Yet as citizens, we each have a responsibility to the institution of our republic. An institution that we all know to be broken, but have no clear direction for fixing.
What we have been lacking is a clear and unifying purpose. For far too long we have fought separate battles. I personally am a member of over a dozen different movements all working toward the same root issue of fixing our politics and government.
As an individual who sought to launch a campaign without first forming a solid team, I can tell you that the go it alone approach is just too hard. If we are going to form an organization to elect or convert 278 individuals committed to fundamental reform, then we will need a representative body that is large enough and that uses a process immune to the problems that plague the institutions we seek to fix.
Whether or not Lessig’s "Mayday for our Republic" is the tent that can finally bring these groups together is an honest question, but it certainly is big enough and bold enough.
Photo retrieved from Motherboard