hearts and minds

September 25, 2015

Destroying the Movement in Order to Save It?


Some leaders of Wisconsin Move to Amend have just publicly announced that they are dis-affiliating from the national Move to Amend organization, and they are forming a new organization which they are calling “United to Amend”. The reasons for this action are not clear to me, and the reasons that I have been given are, on their face, not sufficient to fragment this so important, strong and growing non-partisan, truly grassroots Movement, which has such widespread public support.

Despite some personal frustrations that I have felt when connecting with National Move to Amend, and despite the fact that I have not been informed about what Wisconsin MTA’s problems with National MTA have been, and/or vice versa, I don’t think that disaffiliating from MTA is the right thing to do, and I don’t think that National MTA requiring that affiliates agree to a memorandum of understanding is the wrong thing to do. In fact, a memorandum of understanding is exactly the right thing to do, in order to establish and maintain a necessary discipline, to continue to deserve the people’s trust and respect, and to keep affiliated branches of this national organization from unilaterally surrendering, compromising or contradicting our core principles, and derailing the Movement’s strategy – in other words, using the name, intentionally or not, to mislead the people. And it seems that opposition from some individuals to agreeing to the memorandum of understanding is their expressed reason for encouraging disaffiliation from Move to Amend.

National MTA has been a bright and steady beacon, standing strong and uncompromising for our core principles. Give them an “A-plus” for that. That’s been pretty rare in these latter days of supposedly independent grassroots organizations rationalizing “pragmatic” surrender and abandonment of their founding principles, and opportunistically sucking up to captured subsidiaries of major parties and sources flush with funding and “influence”.

What’s the problem with MTA? Is it that National sticks to our core principles, and prepares for the long struggle? Is it that certain “leaders” of MTA affiliates have been misled down the primrose path towards wedge-issue partisan politics? Or is something else at the root of this schism?

Looking back at the health care reform “debate” in 2009-2010, a national memorandum of understanding might have helped prevent, or at least expose, how the insular leadership of the only official Wisconsin affiliate of Physicians for a National Health Program betrayed and disappeared the core principle of PNHP and the Single Payer Alliance and the broadly supported non-partisan grassroots movement to organize around and establish comprehensive health care for all in the form of HR 676 – Medicare for All. The Madison based leadership of the only official Wisconsin affiliate of the Single Payer Alliance turned its back on the core principle of the single payer solution to the health care crisis, which is that comprehensive health care based on medical need, not on ability to pay, is a human right, and instead followed like a puppy the DNC party line, promoted by the compromising, deceitful, well-funded Healthcare For America Now! led in Wisconsin by Robert Kraig’s Wisconsin Citizen Action, whose disingenuous tune “progressed” over several months, starting with “I’m a single payer supporter, but single payer isn’t possible – instead we’ll all get under the big tent and work for a ‘robust’ public option”. Soon he was crooning that “the public option doesn’t really need to be ‘robust’”. Finally, he had no trouble changing his refrain to “we don’t actually need a public option”. And Kraig still beats the drum for the tiered, class based (rather than needs based), corporate administered, for profit health care we currently have, and an outrageous federal government mandate that all of us must purchase the over-priced, seriously faulted, confusing products that privately owned mega-corporations are selling to enhance their profits and further consolidate their market share (combined with a massive taxpayer subsidy of these corporations). The Single Payer Alliance, and the people, badly needed some “memorandum of understanding” discipline in Wisconsin during that crucial health care crisis “debate”.

Getting back to MTA, our Movement to Amend needs national leadership, solidarity, and disciplined adherence to certain basic core principles as much as it needs to develop and increase internal democracy, openness to ideas, and real diversity in our non-partisan determined struggle for democracy and government that is of, by, and for the people. Our core principles are that (1) only human beings, not corporations, have Constitutional rights, and (2) legalized bribery and corruption of government officials and policies, and of elections and political parties, by corporations and the super-rich must be stopped. Our method and our goal is focused on informing and organizing the people of America to demand a Constitutional Amendment that will establish those core principles.

Not everyone agrees with those core principles, and not everyone agrees with the Move to Amend strategy. In particular, neither major political party agrees with both of those core principles, and with that strategy. Neither does the Chamber of Commerce or ALEC or ANY corporatists. And a lot of so-called grassroots organizations which claim to be “non-partisan”, are clearly and obviously anything BUT non-partisan. Many people who are involved in politics are also involved in a search for personal status and for a career. The core principles, and the strategy, of Move to Amend, are very compelling to an awful lot of everyday people. That definitely attracts the attention of opportunists who have personal objectives, and who have political analyses that diverge from, or even conflict with our core principles and our strategy. And these opportunists are not always gonna tell you and me, up-front and publicly, exactly what they are up to. It’s not unheard of for devious individuals to pay lip service to core principles, at the same time that they are undermining those principles and the strategy.

Whatever their private or underlying reasons or motives are for disaffiliating from Move to Amend, it would very much surprise me if they would simultaneously and clearly, openly, and publicly disavow the core principles of our Movement. Certainly not right now! Regardless of their motives, that would be just stupid. Too many people actually believe in the integrity of Move to Amend, and in the core principles, and in the strategy of growing the non-partisan Movement where it really counts – directly among the people – not by hanging out with the corporate-controlled politicians and their parties, and the mass media moguls.

We had better keep a wary eye on these individuals in Wisconsin who think that it’s a good idea to disaffiliate from Move to Amend, to see that they truly do adhere to, and do not compromise or surrender either of those two core principles, or the non-partisan, people-centered strategy of Move to Amend.

Divide-and-conquer is an obscene tactic used by plutocrats, aristocrats, and fascists. But that tactic can only work if we do it to ourselves. We ought not allow our Movement to be divided, to be told that Move to Amend is failing our cause, without a very, very compelling, over-riding reason. Fragmenting and discrediting Move to Amend is not something that you can just blow smoke about to accomplish. We the people can’t afford to be that gullible. Hands on the table. Let’s see what you got.




  1. It might have been helpful if you had had a real conversation with someone from the affected Wisconsin groups (pl.; there’s more than one) before writing about their supposed “disavowal” of MTA’s “core principles”, which you identify as the following:

    “Our core principles are that (1) only human beings, not corporations have Constitutional rights, and (2) legalized bribery of government officials and policies, and of elections and political parties by corporations and the super-rich must be stopped. Our method and our goal is focused on informing and organizing the people of America to demand a Constitutional Amendment that will establish those core principles. ”

    Those are in fact the very core values which we in Wisconsin, to the best of my knowledge, all continue to strongly support, contrary to the impression conveyed by your piece. Indeed, it is precisely the tactics and priorities of national MTA that are NOT encompassed by the above core values, and which national MTA had unilaterally decided to codify in their MOAs, that led a majority of us in the affected groups to begin questioning our future relationship with the national organization.

    The South Central Wisconsin group of which I am a member was founded independently in 2010, immediately following the Citizens United decision and prior to any affiliation with MTA. Our subsequent decision to affiliate with MTA was based on our understanding that we were all united by the above shared core principles. It was only much later, when new strategic principles and priorities as well as other top-down mandates began emerging from national MTA that had NOT been part of our prior understanding of the relationship, and that seemed to force us in directions that struck many as tactically counterproductive or as diluting our laser focus on a Constitutional Amendment, that we began an agonizing internal discussion (one that lasted many months) about whether we should disaffiliate. We attempted to negotiate a compromise relationship with MTA that would allow us to continue to exercise some autonomy in setting tactical and strategic priorities appropriate for our communities (this is known in some circles as “local control”), but we were mostly rebuffed.

    Please remember that Wisconsin has seen some of most successful and productive MTA groups that have emerged in the wake of Citizens United. My own group was responsible for two of the very first major ballot referendums in the entire country – one for the city of Madison and one for Dane County – in April 2011. And we have played direct or supporting roles in a largish number of successful resolutions throughout Wisconsin since then. It is a bit insulting to be treated as some kind of whiny upstarts that are somehow destroying the movement.

    I have no significant leadership role and do not speak for fellow members even of my own group. Speaking only for myself, it was precisely my desire to remain true to the above core values of our organization and to not make compromises in the service of a more sweeping ideological vision imposed from above that led me to support disaffiliation. Disclaimers aside, I believe that was how many of my fellow members felt as well.

    Comment by Grant — September 25, 2015 @ 8:18 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks, Grant. You described it well why our group disaffiliated and how difficult it was to come to the conclusion we did.

    Here’s some of my take on it.

    The national MTA leadership had started before we joined them and they had earlier had the dual focus of the amendment and another focus of social justice (if I am remembering correctly what I was told). When we joined them, they were only focused on the amendment work. That they have gone back to the dual focus and made demands of the affiliates to do the same was a difficulty for our volunteers who were already giving their time and effort to just the amendment focus.

    Since our group agrees that the social justice work is necessary to get enough voters to know why we need their votes, we do work on this as we are able in the communities where we educate and foster local referendums and resolutions. National wanted us to take extensive training for the social justice work and to change our membership and leadership in ways that would require a significant amount of time on that rather than on the amendment focus we were busy enough with.

    Equally important in my mind is that our group believes in “transpartisanship” (working with people of all political persuasions) while national leadership has decided not to put effort into working with people of conservative political persuasions. We think we can’t get the votes needed without support from voters of all political persuasions.

    Like Grant said, we also believe we need local control rather than top down control that does not take into account who’s doing the work in our state and who we are working with in the various communities.

    We still plan to work with the national MTA organization in any way that gets us all to the amendment. And possibly would some day be able to re-join them in a newly created membership role.

    Our group hasn’t changed anything we have been focused on all along. We have voted to join the new national organization United to Amend which is being developed by leaders from around the country who share the same mission.

    When we first found out that our only option was to meet the demands of the Memo of Understanding, I couldn’t imagine a divided effort. It really worried me. What changed my mind was realizing that there already were several national organizations working on the amendment and that we were all less vulnerable to attack if there were many of us to go after rather than just one big target.

    As long as we have a one-person-one-vote democracy, we will get to the amendment sooner or later. It’s all about the numbers. We need people to do the work to educate other people. And we need educated voters to vote. Help in any way you can!

    Comment by Lynette Jandl — September 26, 2015 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  3. I can speak only for myself as to reasons to have supported disaffiliation.

    The national Move To Amend organization is an authoritarian and autocratic organization that does not permit democratic choice of leadership or decision-making. It deliberately mischaracterized broad, multi-chapter concerns as the work of a small group of malcontents. On its website, it suppressed free exchange and discussion among members of different chapters.

    Their recent strategy of “upping the ante” to expand efforts into broader social justice and anti-oppression agendas is counter-productive to enlisting broad, transpartisan support for the People’s Amendment. The thousands of people who signed Move To Amend petitions signed their support for the provisions of that Amendment. Few knew of national Move To Amend’s perspectives And broader commitments, and, I think, far fewer would have signed had they known.

    The first chapter of Move To Amend to secure passage of city and county referenda in support of a Constitutional Amendment to declare that money is not speech, and that political contributions and expenditures may be regulated, as well as that only natural human beings, not corporate entities, enjoy Constitutional rights, would not have disaffiliated from national Move To Amend without lengthy deliberation, and without compelling reasons.

    Nor would the many other chapters in other states that have disaffiliated have done so without good reason.

    Comment by Michael Olneck — September 26, 2015 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

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