Why You Need the Oaks Project
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FACTSHEET

Why You Need the Oaks Project

"If a society is in trouble, the solution is not less democracy; it's more."
- John Dewey
What is the Problem?
  • Citizens have little or no influence over social or public policy.

  • Powerful interests, rather than citizens' needs, dictate politics.

  • The initiative process, once a powerful tool of democracy, has been misused by special interests and by people paid to campaign on behalf of those interests.

  • Politics has become so professionalized that most citizens are not armed with the skills to compete with special interests.

  • The public has little trust in our political and economic institutions.

  • In our various roles within democracy, citizens lack meaningful power.

  • It has become "intelligent," "savvy" and even "hip" to be cynical.
Why Participate?
  • To turn anger and frustration into action and accomplishment.

  • Because social change does not fall into place; it is forced into place.

  • Because disorganized action never builds power and usually discourages people.

  • Because complaining will not change society.

  • Because by banding together, citizens develop social and political power.

  • Because people do more when others are counting on them.

  • Because society needs leaders who have been trained at the grassroots level.
Americans often gripe about politics, government, elected officials -- and we always have. Discontent was the force behind the American Revolution. Democracy became the vehicle for the public's expression of its views. Many lives have been devoted, and even lost, to the effort to preserve the principles of Democracy.

Yet today, Democracy is in disrepair, if not serious danger.

Consider this fundamental measure: the number of Americans who use our Democracy's most basic tool, the right to vote. These days, fewer Americans than ever before participate in elections and the political process.

Whether people were pushed out of the American political system with the ascendance of powerful special interest lobbies to a position of unchallenged hegemony, or whether voter apathy created a hole which the interests rushed to fill, is unimportant. The fact is, there is a vacuum at our civic core, and it is increasingly filled by special interests, particularly large corporations with vast financial resources.

The corporate community has organized its ascendance within American politics not just by backing individual politicians but by funding "charitable institutions" and "foundations". These corporate-sponsored front groups have served as the legitimizing source for the corporate legislative agenda; corporate-endowed "public interest law firms" have challenged consumer and taxpayer rights; corporate-funded communications systems have been employed to indoctrinate opinion leaders and the public; corporations have provided the cash to elect politicians to implement their self-serving agenda, while the public remains distracted and in the dark by the clever manipulation of public discourse over other, often social issues -- crime, immigration, etc.

It is not that special interests deserve no role within the American political sphere. But, in a healthy Democracy, their voice would be no louder and count for no more than any other group's. Rather, the clear and present danger is that these powerful interest groups are using their enormous resources to overpower and thus gravely imbalance the political process in their favor.

Thus, decisions which determine the state of education, healthcare, working conditions, our environment, our taxes and the entire gamut of life are rarely made with true citizen input. Although made in the name of the many, these decisions are increasingly dictated by the interests of the few. And the cost can be staggering to consumers, taxpayers, communities and the state itself. The most recent example: the electricity deregulation debacle, which has benefited a handful of large energy and utility companies at a tremendous expense, estimated at over $60 billion, to the California public.

As special interests gain more influence over, and easy access to, the political system, those interests become the primary mediators between citizens and the government. Whether we are looking at products or public policy, citizens have been reduced to passive recipients - spectators with little or no impact on the decisions being made.

Consciously or not, growing numbers of Americans have responded to this turn of events by turning away. As voter turnout hits historic lows, pundits and politicians alike dismiss this civic breakdown as either apathy or contentment. For the special interests, this is the ultimate windfall. They are eager to fill the vacuum at our civic core.

Too many Americans have abdicated their civic responsibilities. But many have done so with reluctance and want to find a way back in -- a cause worth fighting for, a way they can become relevant as citizens again.

That is the goal of the Oaks Project. To give those who really want it the chance to become citizens -- to become part of the process of Democracy and, in the process, to regain control from the powerful special interests.






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