The Accidental Activist
Jeff Beeman, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, found his way to the 28th Amendment movement through his fiancée Elizabeth Doty, a business consultant and co-founder of Business for American Promise. Two years ago, Beeman attended a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staff to discuss money in politics and since then has been an active American Promise supporter. This year, he joined citizen leaders at the 2019 National Citizen Leadership Conference, Oct. 19-21 in the D.C. metro.
My fiancée is a writer and deep thinker. She has always been concerned with the hardest problems of American society: global warming, social justice, the erosion of civility that seems to have been brought on by social media and our digital life. Several years ago she wrote a book on keeping one’s values in difficult situations and published it with the same company that Jeff Clements used to publish his book “Corporations Are Not People.” Jeff and Elizabeth met through this connection, found a great deal of common “worry ground” in their work, and Jeff convinced Elizabeth to get involved with American Promise.
I’m a scientist, deep thinker, and have been worried about global warming, human overpopulation, and a host of other environmental problems for 30+ years. It was some kind of weird destiny that I would meet Elizabeth, share my concerns with her, fall in love, and decide to live, commiserate, and work with her as we move forward through life. What wasn’t destiny is that this introverted scientist, more comfortable with data than crowds, more comfortable composing graphs than op eds, would find himself in a senator’s office discussing political spending.
And yet, two years ago, that is exactly where I found myself. I met Jeff Clements through Elizabeth and learned about the flood of money into politics—how this is the principal roadblock to fixing so many of our societal and environmental ills. In scientific terms, the correlations were strong and the trends seemed irrefutable. Money causes divisiveness, divisiveness causes a political logjam, and we need a way to blow up the impasse. A constitutional amendment is the dynamite.
So there I was, sitting in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office with a crew of folks from Elizabeth’s project Business for American Promise. They were speaking passionately about how political spending causes a type of arms race where companies felt they had to ratchet up donations to get an advantage over their competition instead of spending their hard-earned treasure on research and development. They were speaking of the disadvantage for small businesses and startups that just didn’t have the resources to play the game, and speaking about the erosion of trust in companies overall, since there were clear instances of political favors contributing to great social ills like the opioid crisis. Each person in the room brought a particular business lens to how unchecked political spending was killing the free market.
The conversation naturally progressed around the table and was now heading towards me. Eek! I am not a business person, did not have a contribution to their particular concern. Mostly I was curious about how Washington worked and if the views of this small but determined crew would find any purchase in the huge U.S. political machine. I had to think of something fast. What came out of my mouth was something like this:
“I am not a business person, so I guess I am the odd man out here, but what I do know is that most people in this country are incredibly frustrated. Most can’t fathom how such a great political system got so broken that nothing gets done, even for the problems where we all agree on solutions. Out of this frustration many of us have decided to just wreck the system. We will hire the most disruptive people that are running for office and turn them loose in the hallowed halls and see if THAT can make a difference. I feel that this is how we got to where we are today, which is clearly worse off.
This is not the answer. We have a chance, an opportunity that is staring us right in the face to recreate some unity in this country. An overwhelming majority of citizens from both political parties agree that limits on political spending are desperately needed. The nine unelected people of the Supreme Court have detoured around wisdom in favor of a flawed ideology, and this is a pathway for continued erosion of faith—potentially a pathway to lose the whole democracy or even the planet. We need to get an amendment done soon and get back to working on real solutions to our real problems.”
It was something like that, anyway. The staffer looked me straight in the eye, smiled, wrote something down in his pad of paper, and thanked me for my viewpoints. I guess that was the moment that I became a political activist for American Promise and decided that the effort for the amendment is my effort. This year, I returned to Washington with even more data and solutions in-hand.
At this point I have no idea if I am making any difference or if an amendment will pass in my lifetime. I certainly hope so, but realistically, there is no certainty. I DO know that after that first meeting it felt like a small crack may have formed in a wall somewhere. It’s a wall that I didn’t build, but I know that it’s a wall that needs to come down. It’s a barrier to solutions and hope and I’m going to keep hitting it with my hammer because it just may do some damage, maybe let some light in. That’s enough of an incentive for this accidental activist to just keep pounding.