Egypt: A Warning for U.S. Democracy

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By Frank Knapp Jr.

Make no mistake about it — the peaceful Egyptian revolution was brought about by the workers and small business owners of that country protesting together. They want economic opportunity for all and a democratically elected government that puts its peoples’ interests above the interests of the financially powerful, well-connected oligarchy.

There is a lesson here for our country.

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Our government structures are becoming ever more influenced by those with extremely deep pockets at the expense of our citizens and small businesses. And while we have a tradition of a democratic election process to address needed changes in our government, that process is becoming less and less democratic.

This important issue was the topic of many meetings on my recent trip to Washington — reducing the extraordinary influence of big corporate money in our government. Last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that corporations are “people” that have a Constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections has moved our country rapidly down the road to a far less democratic nation — a road we were already on.

Our government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is in jeopardy of becoming “of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.” Real “people” will only be pawns to be manipulated when corporate money totally dominates our elections. Already we’ve seen how corporate lobbyists dominate the legislative process.

Small businesses are and should be very concerned. We know that big U.S. and multi-national corporations are only interested in profits regardless of the consequence to small businesses.

The fact is that what is good for big business is often not good for small business.

That is exactly the reason The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce was founded over 10 years ago. Small businesses must fight for ourselves and not simply rely on paternalistic big businesses to allow scraps to fall off the bountiful table they have bought for themselves.

Right now in Washington big corporate campaign donors are pushing:

• for even more tax incentives for offshoring production and jobs — lost opportunities for small businesses to supply goods and services to domestic manufacturing and fewer workers buying from our local small businesses.

• to eliminate regulations aimed at protecting us from another financial meltdown causing another great recession — one that destroys the customers base, credit and loans small businesses need to survive.

• to cripple any chance for comprehensive national energy and climate legislation — a significant opportunity for jumpstarting a green economy that will both create new small businesses and offer more opportunities for existing ones.

These and other goals of big corporations, many that now have no allegiance to our country or any country, are likely to be successful not on the merits of the ideas but on the size of the corporate campaign chests.

Fortunately, citizens and small businesses across this country are organizing to take back our democracy from these corporate “persons.” We understand that what the Egyptians are demonstrating to get, we are on the verge of losing.

So while our members of Congress publicly express their support for the Egyptian peoples’ desire for real democracy, they need to look at the direction our own country is heading and start listening to the concerns of our citizens and small businesses.

Egypt is a warning to the United States.

Knapp is president and CEO of The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 2/11


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