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Thursday, May 15, 2014 12:01 am

Growing ‘populist lobby’

 Imagine a bold headline blaring, “An Army of 1,500 Lobbyists Swarms Capitol Hill.”

But that wouldn’t be news, since it happens every day. In fact, an occupying army of Gucci-clad corporate lobbyists is permanently encamped in Washington, numbering not a mere 1,500 – but more than 12,000. Yes, that works out to nearly 22 lobbyists for every member of the House and Senate, and they come armed with explosive levels of campaign cash to keep lawmakers toeing the corporate line.

Yet, on April 28, the headline I mentioned should’ve been a news story, for on that Monday our corporate-coddling Congress critters were startled to be greeted by a very different army of “lobbyists.” This one did not come from the infamous K-Street corridor of corporate lobbying firms, but from your town and mine, armed with a decidedly un- corporate agenda.

They are part of the growing majority of Americans who’ve been knocked down by the low-wage economy – an intentional inequality being imposed on working (and non-working) families by Wall Street, corporate chieftains and their Congressional enablers. To the surprise of those clueless elites, however, workaday Americans – even the lowest-paid and supposedly least powerful – are not going to be passively herded into that plutocratic future. To the contrary, they’ve been organizing, strategizing and mobilizing – and the April contingent of 1,500 that went to Congress as the “Populist lobby” are members of three fast-growing, grassroots groups: National People’s Action, National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Restaurant Opportunities Center. These groups are made up of a network of farmers, workers, clergy, retirees, environmentalists, students and just plain folks.

Congress members were not the only ones this feisty coalition had a message for that day. The gabillionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, feel entitled to occupy the people’s elections, even local school board races, barging in with sacks full of corporate cash. So, how would the brothers feel if the people barged into their political affairs?

To find out, a few of these good citizens paid a visit to “Koch Companies Public Sector,” the grandiose name the brothers give to their Washington, D.C., lobbying headquarters strategically located just one block from the White House. From there, a covey of high-dollar, Koch-headed, sapsucker lobbyists flits all around town trying to get lawmakers to take away our Social Security, Medicare, minimum wage, etc. – while also making sure that the two, “free-enterprise” proselytizers keep getting their billion-dollar-a-year package of government subsidies.

So, some “commoners” whose tax dollars subsidize the Koch industries empire came calling on the Kochs. OK, it was more than some – more like 600.

Appropriately enough, the visitors occupied the grand lobby of the lobbyists’ building – forming a picture-perfect contrast between the Powers That Be and the Powers That OUGHT To Be. First, a couple of ministers in the NPA group called on the Kochs to “repent” their narcissistic political push to pervert our democracy into their privatized plutocracy. Then, several of the out-of-towners gave personal testimony about the real-life impacts that the Kochs’ extremist ideological agenda is having. Patricia Fuller, for example, told of struggling to make it on Michigan’s $7.40-an-hour minimum wage, then asked why the billionaires would spend millions to try to knock it lower – or, as Charles Koch advocates, eliminating America’s wage floor entirely.

Of course, the visitors were tossed out, but their point was made: It’s time to toss these corporate oligarchs out of the people’s business.

Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked. People know they’re being kicked – and they’re simply not going to take it. To keep up with (or to join) the grassroots rebellion, go to www.npa-us.org.

Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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