I’m extremely proud to report that Coffee Party USA posted this essay and invited Kathleen as a guest to speak about her experiences on one of their BlogTalkRadio shows, Lunch With Louden.
Kathleen’s laughter is contagious as she happily explains her use of the word, “chatty,” as part of her email ID. She’s one of the most genuinely engaging people I’ve had the pleasure to talk with thanks to CoffeePartyUSA and the Coffee Party BlogTalkRadio shows, and it’s my privilege to tell her story about her visits to her state legislators’ offices.
Kathleen is too modest to say this, but I will. She’s a model citizen. She shows us all how powerful we as citizens can be. And without intending to (and without wanting any fanfare for it), she offers lessons on how we all can have an impact and more influence in our government.
Kathleen (yes, she’s too modest to let me use her last name) emphasizes throughout our conversation that she’s not some Constitutional expert. She says, “I’m just following my conscience.”
She loves animals, volunteers at an animal shelter and, not surprisingly, has adopted a few! She hosts an annual cleanup of a local beach, and is so genuinely modest that when she bakes desserts around the holidays and delivers them to the local firehouse “just because it’s the right the thing to do,” she won’t even give the fire chief her name.
You can tell by talking with her that Kathleen stays well-informed. She talked about always voting in elections, but says that that was the extent of her involvement with government until recently. Like many of us, she, too, had begun to lose faith in politics, politicians, and in our government.
That was until Facebook and her discovery of groups like Coffee Party USA and Wolf PAC. In fact, she credits a Coffee Party BlogTalkRadio show interview with Michael Monetta, Director of Organizing for Wolf PAC, a grass roots organization intent on reversing the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, for changing her perspective about what needs to change and how she could be part of that change.
That show awoke in Kathleen the possibilities for how she and the rest of us can help to fix our broken political system. The energy and enthusiasm in her voice is electrifying as she says, “He [Monetta] gave me hope that I had lost. He moved me so much that I looked him up on the Internet, and I jumped in with both feet!”
It’s people like Kathleen, Michael Monetta, Harvard Law professor and respected activist, Lawrence Lessig, and thousands of other ordinary Americans across the country who are working to make a difference. They are visiting their elected officials and state houses to encourage them to call for an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution to end corporate personhood and to publicly finance all elections in this country – essentially a reversal of the Citizens United decision.
So what did Kathleen do?
She started out by attending her first-ever public hearing on resolutions in the Massachusetts state house and senate. You hear genuine excitement when she talks about it. “I didn’t know they had hearings! I didn’t know you could just show up and speak!”
So she and some of her new Wolf PAC friends went to the hearings in Boston. Kathleen wasn’t ready to speak, but she sat and she listened to people like Lessig and Monetta and others. She learned, and she became inspired and confident in her newfound knowledge and understanding of what an Article V Convention was all about, and why it’s being proposed as the solution for fixing our broken campaign finance and political systems.
After that, the next step was easy. Kathleen called her state representative and her state senator and asked for a meeting to talk about the resolutions calling for the Article V State Convention.
Literally days later, she was in their offices.
Kathleen started by calling the office of her state representative, James Cantwell. She simply told the aide that she lived in the district and that she, “…had something I wanted to discuss with him.” She was pleasantly surprised when the aide then asked if she preferred coming into the state office or the district office.
Kathleen said, “I was shocked! I had no idea it was that easy!” She said it was easier and less painful than getting an appointment with her dentist, and she’ll emphatically tell you, “It was a lot less stressful than going to the dentist, too!”
Just two days after her call, there she was shaking hands with Representative Cantwell.
“I know you,” he said as they met. Kathleen was pleasantly surprised that he did. You see, she remembered him, but didn’t expect him to remember her. Mr. Cantwell was one of Kathleen’s customers at the bank where she used to work, and she had voted for him early in his political career when he ran for Selectman in the town where they both had lived at the time. Kathleen had also prepared by reviewing Mr. Cantwell’s biography at the state web site where she was able to educate herself on his voting record and even learn about his volunteer work.
This really does reinforce the point that we are our government, doesn’t it? The people we elect to state capitols and to DC to represent us really are our neighbors. It’s something worth remembering when we interact with them, and that we hope they’ll remember, too. It sure turned out that way for Kathleen and James Cantwell.
“It was good to make a personal connection with him,” Kathleen said. “It made the quality of the meeting better. He knew I had taken an interest in him, his history, and his voting record.”
Kathleen also talked about how it was her preparation that really put her at ease.
In addition to his biography, Kathleen spent the night before and that morning reviewing what an Article V Convention is and how it works. She also read up on the Supreme Court’s Buckley v Valeo and Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission decisions. She reviewed the now eviscerated Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (often referred to as McCain-Fiengold), and the notes that she took with her included the House and Senate resolution numbers and who sponsored them.
She spent 45 minutes talking with Mr. Cantwell. Kathleen described it as a pleasant and even personal conversation, and says it would have been easy given the shared history of volunteerism and community to just have a casual discussion.
But, Kathleen was on a mission, and she kept her focus.
She was careful to describe her concern as, “An Article V Convention of the States,” instead of as a “Constitutional Convention.” Why? Because as Kathleen describes it so aptly and with a tone of good humor, “That can scare the hell out of people. The thought of amending the Constitution terrifies government officials.”
She gave Mr. Cantwell a general overview of what she knew about amending the Constitution, what she wanted in terms of an Article V Convention, and then asked him for his support. She’s happy to report that she has it.
The resolution in Massachusetts, however, is in Joint Committees now. Kathleen knows that Mr. Cantwell, not being on the committee, can’t have an immediate impact until it comes out of committee.
Ah, but Kathleen also knows this. “People talk. They go out to lunch together. They pass each other in the hall. Hopefully, he’ll be an advocate and get into conversations with other reps or senators to move the resolution forward.”
She also made a point of telling Mr. Cantwell that she believes that there are good people in Congress who want to do the right things, but that too many of them are too beholden to money. He agreed with her that Congress is broken, and that something must be done about it.
It might surprise you to learn that Kathleen’s political party affiliation was never brought up. Neither Mr. Cantwell nor his aides ever asked her about it. To her credit, Kathleen stayed focused on her concerns. It wasn’t about ideology for her (even though she and her rep share a party affiliation) and she didn’t take an ideologue’s approach. It’s undoubtedly a big part of the reason why Mr. Cantwell allowed Kathleen to do most of the talking, and why she reports him as listening attentively to her.
It was a little different story with her state Senator’s office.
When she called Senator Hedlund’s office, she got an appointment just five days later but it was with the senator’s aide and not the senator.
She resisted the temptation to demand a meeting with the senator. She felt that wouldn’t get her very far. She accepted the aide’s invitation, and they met for an hour.
As opposed to her meeting with Mr. Cantwell, Senator Hedlund’s aide interjected things into the discussion that had nothing to do with Kathleen’s agenda.
Kathleen kept her cool. She said she kept telling herself, “It’s not what I’m here for. It’s not what I’m here for.” She stayed calm. She stayed focused. She kept trying to steer the conversation back to her agenda without being rude. She was there to determine whether or not the senator would support the resolution for an Article V Convention.
Despite admitting having to bite her tongue a little, she still felt a sense of accomplishment afterwards.
“I still felt good,” she says. “The one thing that I took away was that he [the aide] stated unequivocally that the senator takes amendments to the Constitution seriously. In my mind, I said, ‘You don’t think I do?’ I kind of knew that I couldn’t push it, but in the follow-up I would offer him sources and more information about an Article V Convention.”
The more I listened to Kathleen, the more convinced I became that she behaved like a model constituent. She prepared, she stayed focused, and she remained respectful in both offices knowing that was how she would be taken seriously. She could have allowed herself to be distracted by the things the senator’s aide wanted to talk about but with which she disagrees. Instead, she picked out the things they do agree on, and she made sure to even express her gratitude for the senator’s service as she left the meeting.
In addition to meeting with their representatives, Kathleen and other Wolf PAC citizens all over the country make calls every week to their legislators asking them to support resolutions in their states for an Article V Convention. She also supports the American Anti-Corruption Act, a proposal for reforming campaign finance laws that does not require an amendment to the Constitution. “Essentially, whatever fixes the mess we’re in,” she says, “and gets us to the goal of a true democratic government; restoring the power to where it belongs, with the people! Whatever the solution, we cannot rely on Congress. Congress will not self-reform the system.”
Kathleen then quotes what she considers to be one of John McCain’s best comments about money in politics. He said, “Corruption is the impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle…Unlimited amounts of money given to political campaigns have impaired our integrity…Who is corrupted by this system? All of us are corrupted by it because money buys access and access is influence. I am attacking a system that has to be fixed. This system makes good people do bad things.”
Kathleen agrees, and there are two words of advice that she wants to share with all of us. “Get engaged!”
She explains it this way. “Do something instead of complaining and do something tangible! I read a quote somewhere that, in effect, said…Since political speech equals speech, it follows naturally that more money equals more political speech and less money equals less political speech. Well, we are sending a message that we will make sure politicians hear loud and clear. We’re drawing a line in the sand and intend on taking our government back and changing the way it functions.”
These are the words of a courageous and committed citizen. It comes as no surprise that the words of other courageous people such as our Founders also resonate with her. “It’s a Government for the People, by the People,” she says as our conversation begins to draw to a close.
There’s a pause before she makes the point all of us really need to understand and remember.
“It’s our government,” she states emphatically. “We’re their bosses. We hired them to do a job, and if they’re not doing their job it’s up to we the people to tell them, ‘Listen. You’re not doing what we hired you to do.’”
Kathleen wants us all to pay attention and do something. To help us, she pointed out another absolutely salient truth that ought to be another rallying cry for citizens everywhere.
“Proposed legislation that comes with a majority of support throughout the country and it doesn’t get enacted? How’s that possible? That’s a clear indication that they are being bought and paid for by special interests. Unless people step up and do something, the status quo will continue and continue and continue.”
“There’s power in numbers,” she reminds us, and then adds, “The Supreme Court declared that money is free speech. Well, I have a voice and that’s free speech. I’m going to use it. If enough people do the same, do we have a chance to drown out the money? I believe we do!”
When asked about her transition from frustrated citizen to more activist citizen, Kathleen offered this simple two-step advice. “First, I found I have power. Second is how easy it is.”
“I was blown away!” she exclaimed.
“I was pleasantly surprised and happy that my state government was responsive. That thrilled me! It gives me hope that maybe things will be ok. This is the first step in fixing what’s broken, and getting our government to respond to the will of the people. This is where we have to start, and I hope it will have a ripple effect. I think we all share similar concerns about what’s happening in the country, but I don’t think anything’s going to happen until we end the influence that the wealthy and corporations have over our democracy.”
Kathleen assures us that it’s not as hard as we all might think. She will tell you that she’s “…not an expert. I’m just a layperson and am just going with my conscience. There are a lot of people like us.”
And, that should be encouraging to us all.
Kathleen doesn’t really consider herself to be an activist. What she says is this. “I’m an American. I’m a proud American, and I don’t want to leave this mess for the next generation. In all good conscience, I can’t. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.”
The Civil Rights Movement also gives Kathleen inspiration. The question she asks herself is, “Why wouldn’t I do this? It’s not going to require the level of bravery those people showed. It’s like donating blood. I’m capable of it, so why wouldn’t I do it?”
These are questions we should all be asking ourselves.