A decade ago, some barons of the media establishment designated themselves America’s official arbiters of political truth. One of their tools is PolitiFact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times and several other major newspapers, which issues an award for the year’s most outrageous falsehood. Last year’s election was infested with so much disinformation and dishonesty, however, that PolitiFact’s 2016 Lie of the Year was not a single prevarication, but that cluster bomb of whoppers collectively branded “Fake News.”
Just as troubling as fake news is the media’s systematic omission of grassroots news that people could really use. What’s missing is real news of the ordinary Americans in practically every zip code, who are finding innovative solutions to big problems that the elites do nothing about. Uplifting local actions are blooming throughout our land, yet most people are unaware of them or the results: that people and communities everywhere are breaking the corporate chains that shackle them. Here are a few examples:
Inequality. In 2014, American CEOs earned 350 times more than the average worker, creating the world’s greatest income gap. Washington’s response to the grotesque inequity has been to blow political hot air at it and hope it drifts away. It hasn’t. So, in December, the mayor and city council of Portland, Oregon, decided to stop talking about the ever-widening gap and actually try to shrink it. They added a surcharge to the local tax bill of any corporation that gives its top exec more than 100 times the median pay of its rank and-file employees, providing a financial incentive for corporate boards to seek some balance and at least to consider pay fairness. The main sponsor of the provision called it, “The closest thing I’d seen to a tax on inequality itself.” The mayor called Portlanders problem solvers willing to tackle big issues and test new ideas that can be adapted and refined by others: “Local action replicated around the country can start to make a difference.”
Public Education. With Betsy DeVos, the right-wing ideologue and billionaire Amway heiress, now leading an all-out Trumpster charge to destroy America’s public schools and privatize educational opportunity, what chance is there for school kids from low- and middle-income families? Don’t despair, for there is hope in local people’s common sense commitment to the common good, as presently being demonstrated in San Antonio, Texas. A few years ago, Mayor Julian Castro launched a democratic process for ordinary citizens to decide the best way for the city to invest in its future. After weeks of city-wide conversations, San Antonians chose a single priority: Invest in our children’s future by expanding quality, full-day, pre-kindergarten education for more of the city’s children. This was no small task, for the government of this extremely rich state is run by boneheaded tea-party Republicans who constantly shortchange our public-school system and refuse to fund more than half-day pre-K programs. So where to get the money? The people did what the anti-public-school halfwits said would never happen – they taxed themselves, voting for a 1/8th of a cent sales tax hike that put $31 million a year into the successful experiment called Pre-K 4 SA. San Antonians recognize the wisdom of the old bumper sticker: “If you think educations is expensive, try ignorance.”
Corporate Power. Trump and his like-minded congress critters are gearing up to unleash corporate profiteers from practically all restraints that protect us ordinary people, our natural resources, and even our core values from their greed. But they might want to ponder how North Dakota voters reacted to a similar power play last year. At issue was a monumental 1932 state law that bans nonfamily corporate farm ownership, reflecting the people’s desire to maintain family farms, healthy rural communities, and sustainable agriculture practices. Nostalgic hogwash, growled Big Ag lobbyists, who got obsequious legislators and the corporate-funded governor to overturn the eight-decade-old ban on industrial ag. In turn, progressive forces, led by the North Dakota Farmers Union, plowed the grassroots, recruiting volunteers to put on last June’s ballot a referendum giving common voters the final say. And speak they did, loud and clear: 76 percent of North Dakotans rejected the corporate powers and the politicos who served them, restoring the outright ban on corporate-controlled farming.
These “real news” stories show that it is possible to build progressive power in cities and the states. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a tremendous resource for communities that want to build their economies in ways that nurture people instead of giant, far-removed corporations.