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October 11, 2013

Who Wants a Shutdown?

More than 840,000 Americans have been sent home from work. National parks and public lands are off-limits to everyone but oil and gas drillers. Nine out of 10 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency have been furloughed. Small business loans are on hold, health and safety inspections are suspended, and our economy is taking a $160 million hit every day. You'd think that we'd be hearing universal condemnation of the ongoing government shutdown.

But some special interests are benefitting from public health and consumer watchdogs being pulled off the beat -- and they don't even have the sense to keep be quiet about it.

Take Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning, for example. SNL Energy reported that, while speaking to senators at a meeting the day after the government had shut down, Fanning couldn't contain his enthusiasm:

"I was thrilled actually to have this event in this kind of environment."

With clean-air cops at the EPA off the beat during the shutdown, big polluters like Fanning may have it easy -- fewer are people watching what his company dumps into our air and water. For the rest of us, it's not so thrilling.

But Fanning's not alone. Michael Needham, chief executive of the right-wing Heritage Action political organization, also sang the shutdown's praises. Amid news that Heritage Action took $500,000 from the oil-rich Koch brothers, Needham lauded the shuttering of two government agencies that have been the target of both Heritage and Koch smear campaigns, declaring he'd love to see them closed until the extremely unlikely defunding of the Affordable Care Act -- in other words, indefinitely:

"If we want to sit in a government shutdown for the next several weeks over the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] being shut down, I'm perfectly happy to sit in that situation until President Obama stops this unaffordable and unfair law."

This is more than just another example of the destructive goals of big polluters and their political allies. It's proof that the big money groups targeting the EPA's clean air, water, and climate protections are the same ones attacking the NLRB's laws protecting American workers. They aren't just trying to contaminate our planet and our workplaces -- they are trying to contaminate our democracy.

Fanning and Southern Company dumped more than $17 million worth of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures into our system in 2012. And using mouthpieces like Heritage Action, the Kochs spent upward of $400 million trying to push their reckless agenda. In recent weeks, Heritage has used some of that largesse to emerge as one of the major forces behind the shutdown.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said it best: "We didn't reach this nadir in our democracy by accident. It's the result of a systematic attack on the basic democratic principles of justice and equality by a handful of people who have no interest in a healthy, functioning democracy."

As more money pours into our system, we've seen many of our elected officials turn from addressing solutions to creating crises -- like this shutdown. At the same time, we've seen more attacks on our air and water, on our workers, and on our democracy. Those of us who want to protect those things must stand together. The first step in defeating our common enemies is to recognize that we have common goals.

That is why the Democracy Initiative was founded. A collaborative effort by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the NAACP, and the Communications Workers of America, the Democracy Initiative is working to bring together labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental, good government, and other like-minded grassroots organizations with broad memberships to build a movement that will halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, stop the suppression of voters, and commit to restoring the basic principals of our democracy.

It's a collaboration that is critical given the events of the past few weeks. At a time when some are applauding a shutdown, it is more important than ever that we stand up and fight back.

--Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's democracy programs


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