It sounds more like a rock band. But it isn’t. Velvet Revolution is a politcally-active progressive group that has it out for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
I remember reading somewhere recently in cyberspace that the Obama Administration operatives, who you know trace back any sort of “citizen’s initiative” or other corporate astroturfing all the way to the source, have detected a number of smells coming out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But on the case sometime before was the Velvet Revolution. And these aren’t guys like me who only got burned for $35 at an overcrowded get-to-know-us networking event. These guys are tracking down the big movements of money from the corporate world, through the Chamber, to K Street (the lobbying firm district) in Washington.
They figure that if you smell something, and you trace the smell back to the source, you will find out why something stinks.
Here’s what they conclude:
The Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of Tom Donahue, has gone from a well respected trade organization to an extremist political organization dedicated to corrupting American democracy by elevating the profits of big corporations over the well being of the citizens they serve. The most recent example of this corrupt behavior is the Chamber’s announcement that it is spending more than $100 million to defeat initiatives to protect the environment and provide affordable health care to everyone.
They say the Chamber of Commerce is against:
a clean environment,
health care for all,
the living wage,
Instead they favor:
tobacco immunity (sellers of tobacco not responsible for harm casued by the product),
polluter protection (company does not have to clean up after itself),
buying Congress (the Bribe Lobby I have complained about here),
astroturf deception (spending money to make something out in public look like it’s a citizens’ initiative, when in fact it is the corporation speaking through many “sock puppets”).
The problems go back to the day that the Chamber of Commerce decided to stop being a trade organization, and instead act like a political action committee. In some communities, it’s closely tied to Rotary, which has in turn gone from being a community service organization into a shadow Republican Party organ in many localities.
Remember where I am coming from. The area where I grew up was very much Republican, even though I think most of my grandparent’s generation around Somerville and Raritan were Democrats! But the Somerset County, New Jersey Republicans were respectable. And they represented the interests of the normal people around the county in those days.
The Republicans themselves were mostly descended from an organization in the 1840’s called the Whigs. The northern Whigs were an anti-slavery party, in favor of building a professional and merchant class. And supporting this idea of “progress”. Things like education and “internal improvements”—which would be anything from public colleges to railroads and canals.
After the South destroyed the Whig party over the issue of slavery, most of the Whigs went into the newly-formed Republican Party—the one Abraham Lincoln led to victory in 1860.
These people were not the unpleasant Republicans of today, of which Dick Cheney is probably the archtype. In fact, they were more like Democrats of today–at least on government involvement in the economy to deliver prosperity. The idea of civil rights and equal protection of the laws, no matter who you were. These were really like Whig ideas, before they became either Republican or Democratic ones.
The Democrats, you may recall, were the party of the South, that made inroads in the North through immigrant communities and Labor. The Republicans were the party of Union and Progress, well before they became the party of Big Business and Fighting Undefined Terrorism.
The Chamber began neatly as a trade group, where businessmen of common interests could come together and work for the things they wanted. But, back in the day, fine lines used to get drawn around what was political versus what was not being done for an expressly political purpose.
The current generation of people running things simply forgets this. They forget that there were groups of people who came together for reasons other than pushing a political agenda. They came together because they were part of a community, and to get to know each other, and to support each other in the things they did to make a life.
Community service organizations ran this way, and churches ran this way, and even unions ran this way. President McKinley (a Republican) had unionists advising him while he was President 110 years ago.
When today’s Republican Party decided it was going to be “conservative” (as they defined it)—and this somehow tied to Ronald Reagan but probably not his idea—this is when the shit started. Because any community group that would tend to favor one party or another, became seen to be one that should favor one party over another. And then, it’s no small step to become one that exists to support one party over another.
This is what Tom Donahue apparently did to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It went from being a group that met for business purposes, and business interests, into one that sought to undermine democratic elections and undermine Democratic Party office holders. And to politick. But not register as a PAC.
So it’s right that the progressive blogosphere should hatch a group opposed and critical of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It went out of bounds, and who will bring back in bounds?