The idea of politicians wearing the logos of their “sponsors” has been floating around the internet in the form of pictures and videos for several years now. Two weeks ago in California, we decided to make those memes and videos a reality.
We reserved the free speech zone on the south steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento and with the help of 30 volunteers, created what Huffington Post called “The Most Hilarious Political Protest I’ve Ever Seen”.
In California, there are 80 Assemblymembers, 40 Senators and, of course, the Governor. So, we printed 121 lifesize cutouts, each representing one member of the California State Legislature and with the help of VoteSmart.org, we compiled all the data about who those representatives had taken money from.
From there, we placed the stickers of prominent contributors on each cutout to create the NASCAR driver look. Then we embarked on the Herculean and somewhat comical task of setting up 121 cardboard thin cutouts in gusty winds on the Capitol steps. A combination of duct tape, courage, and perseverance was applied to the challenge, and after 45 minutes of scrambling, the delegation was on its feet.
It was almost a “you had to be there” moment. The beaming faces of delegates innocently smiling from the steps, all while gaudily arrayed in the logos of hundreds of special interests and corporations. It seemed as though each legislator had cornered their niche in the sponsor market, one wearing Chevron, BP, and Shell; another the California Teacher’s Association, California State Council of Laborers, and the Union of American Physicians & Dentists.
The police officer in charge of Capitol security approached a member of our group and mentioned that we should be prepared to be swarmed by lunchtime as word of this display had almost certainly spread through the representatives’ offices. He was right. It started as a trickle of staffers who would walk by and surreptitiously snap photos on their phones and then begin madly texting. Then a number of legislators themselves made passes by the display, hands stuffed in their pockets, glancing from cutout to cutout. Invariably they would find their own face in the sea of logo covered figures and smoothly turn down the pathway towards lunch. Nonchalant; unphased. Or that was the desired appearance.
But others stormed out of the side exit of the Capitol building with looks of glee on their faces. When they saw the display they would erupt with laughter, clapping staffers on the back and exclaiming how comical it all was. Senator Robert Hertzberg went so far as to find his cutout in the crowd and pose for a picture, giving the good ol’ boy’s thumbs up.
People did begin to gather; fifty cell phones snapping pictures. Some laughed, most shook their heads. Many approached us and just said, “Thank you.”
We are not alone in our outrage. In recent years the extent of the influence that money has on our government has grown out of control. In 2012, President Obama raised $750 million for his reelection campaign, enough to send a man to the Moon. Hillary Clinton’s fundraising goal for 2016 is $2.5 billion. In California, most races for the State Assembly raise more than $500,000 per candidate. Senator Hertzberg has raised more than $7 million since he first took office.
The system breeds corruption and it’s time to end that. In 2016 our proposed initiative, the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act, will be on the ballot to end the legal purchasing of favors and return California to the great state it once was. We’ll do this by creating Neighborhood representatives, each representing very small districts with a ratio of 1 representative to just 5,000 citizens instead of the current 1 representative to every 500,000 citizens.
If we want to fix the system, we need to do something radical. We need to totally turn the tables on the entrenched political establishment by returning 100% of the power to the people. This can only be accomplished by making the legislators we do send to Sacramento accessible and by totally removing the need to raise campaign funds.
We are not done staging events with these cutouts. They will be making appearances all over the state at moments that will make our legislators cringe. We are taking our state back from big money, and it’s about to get real awkward.