The simple plain-looking unadorned book, Raising Hell by Jamie Court (Chelsea Green Publishing Company 2010), comes as a must read for anyone interested in a guideline and toolkit for winning “Grassroots” campaigns, getting citizen ballot initiatives turned into law and for making one’s vote count and voice heard over that of the corporate lobbyist, though this reviewer has reservations about certain points raised in the book.
Jamie Court authored, Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Person Freedom . . .and What You Can Do About It (Thatcher/Putman, 2003) and co-authored Making A Killing: HMOs and The Threat To Your Health (Common Courage Press, 1999), and is President of Consumer Watchdog, a nationally recognized consumer-advocacy organization and has been involved in numerous grassroots campaigns for decades and knows the subject he writes about better than most anyone else in the country.
What Court describes takes dedication, honesty and perseverance and he stresses this, letting the reader and political activist know what they are getting involved in, and letting them know it is no easy task which they have set themselves to perform. Five steps are described to bring about change by everyday voters. First one has to Expose the opponent for what they are, using concrete facts to tear down the false image they construct of themselves. This gets followed by Confrontation where opponents get met on the battleground of values and debated in an unfolding campaign. This is often where a campaign can be won or lost.
Advocacy groups trying to make changes bring up the Third point—Waiting and Forcing their opponents to make mistakes, and then shaming them in the eyes of the public and forcing the politician or politicians to do what the advocacy group thinks is right if they want to stay in office as an elected official. The Fourth point follows from the Third point. Make The Mistakes An Issue. Focusing on the mistakes of opponent politicians creates a wedge and leverage, publicly shaming the politician and forcing them into the advocacy viewpoint.
Persistence has to be the vehicle advocacy groups use to tip a campaign in their favor, keeping their teeth suck into the tail of their opponent until they or the voting public comes to the terms of the advocacy group, and is Court’s Fifth point.
Everything else in Raising Hell follows from the five points above. For an outside group promoting change: Don’t Worry About Your seat at the Table; Find the Rock to Throw through the Window. Court is at his best here, using personal anecdotes to show how the Internet has produced a major paradigm shift, allowing advocacy groups and individual voters to throw lots of well directed rocks through the political establishment window, forcing politicians to do what they were elected to do, and not what their chief financial contributors want and pay them to do. The small well spent $14.95 the book cost is worth the price for what Court describes about using the Internet to induce political change. He explains how social networking, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, et cetera can be used effectively and inexpensively to get the advocacy voice heard.
Since the 2008 election, and even more so since 2009, the Internet and social media have quickly and effectively propelled simple exposures, confrontations and mistakes to create big changes New York Times said could not have been achieved otherwise. The Internet is an immediate reflection of public opinion without filters, translators, or amplifiers. It encompasses a multi-media effect—sound, camera and action! A mistake by Howard played over and over by the media effectively sank the Howard Dean campaign from winning the Democratic nomination for President in 2004. That was seven years ago, and now even the smallest of mistakes can be amplified entirely out of proportion.
The full title of this book is The Progressive’s Guide To RAISING HELL how to WIN GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGNS, PASS BALLOT BOX LAWS, and GET THE CHANGE WE VOTED FOR. In smaller print further down is a direct democracy toolkit. This books is for citizens of any political persuasion who desire to change the established system. What the hell does Progressive mean and why is it in the title? It is certainly not Teddy Roosevelt Progressivism which came out of the Republic party, and the party Roosevelt was in when he served as President. If it means voters rights and rights for the common citizen, it is Populist and not Progressive. The description of a political Progressive is as meaningless as calling someone a Liberal or a Conservative, a Neo-Conservative or Neo-Liberal. What politics boils down to in this country is whether one advocates for rights of individual natural people who vote or whether they support a system whereby corporations are given personhood by the US Supreme Court and allowed to use uncontrolled sums to promote their agenda. When stated that way, even Tea Party members don’t support corporations.
If one reads history, they quickly learn that the United States of America was not founded as a “Democracy” nor was it ever intended to be a “Democracy.” The US is a Representative Republic which is a far cry from a “Democracy,” especially when one considers the limitations the writers of the constitution and the Bill of Rights put on who was eligible to vote and hold office—white male property owners, which excluded well over fifty percent of the population. Court has been around politics so long, he has apparently lost sight of that.
Way too much space gets given in the book bemoaning the alleged fact “Progressives” helped put Obama into office, and he has not lived up to the “Change” he promised. Well Excuse Me! Mister Court, you have been around politics long enough and should have internalized the old adage, DON’T listen to what politicians say, but look at what they have done! When Obama ran he had a record. Not much of a record, not extensive, but surely sufficient to know that he wouldn’t rock the boat or change anything, being a product of the Illinois political machine, and already having resorted to some dirty politics. Sure. He’s erudite and speaks well, but should you believe him? This reviewer took the time to review Obama’s record and consequently did not vote for him, nor could he vote for McCain after looking over his record. The two party system is broken and well beyond repair, if anyone is serious about bringing change, they need to work on tearing down the system so it can be rebuilt based on people and not corporations. “Throwing rocks through windows,” as Court puts it.
Reforming the broken health care system is one of Court’s top priorities. He also emphasizes that to get change made effectively, the advocates for change need to keep the message personal, and change will much more likely take place at the local and state level before enough momentum gets established to move the entrenched politicians in Washington. Showing American voters and politicians how they can save money is a sure way for advocacy groups to get state laws passed. The two most populous states in the union, California and New York often lead the way, and the rest of the states follow.
American Medical Association if you want to get all 7,000 CPT codes and try to decipher your bill. Transparency in billing and disclosure is very hard to argue against.
Another proposition which shouldn’t be difficult to convince the public and state legislatures to accept is a little financial transparency. Start with something simple like, “Would you like cash back?” How many people say yes? How many people realize they are normally charged a $2.00 fee for accessing their own money? If you want twenty dollars cash back, you are paying ten percent for the use of your own money! How about making companies which “give” cash back disclose how much of a fee they charge, and maybe giving a percentage figure depending on the amount one wants back. It would still be a two percent charge on your own money for wanting a hundred dollars back. This would stop the legalized theft from the public’s bank accounts!
This book is in the best tradition of pamphleteers from John Paine to John Brown and from Jack London to Upton Sinclair, Tom Hayden and countless others, and a book anyone serious about real change needs to read. This review would be remiss if it didn’t write something about the publishing house printing the book. Chelsea Green sees publishing as a tool for cultural change and ecological stewardship. The company aligns its manufacturing practices along with its editorial policies, using chlorine-free recycled paper and vegetable based inks when possible. Invest in and enjoy this book!