Money in politics in the United States is a defining issue of our time. The richest .01% of the population contributes at least 40% of the money in politics. With many members of Congress spending over half of their working hours raising funds, and with the average successful Senate race costing more than $10 million, the highly disproportionate spending power of the rich exacerbates the already undue influence that the wealthiest have in controlling our nation.
Rookstrikers—an organization started by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and others—was formed to address the issue of money in politics by striking at the root of many of the problems in our democracy: corrupt campaign finance law. Campaign finance remains a vital issue for reformers, but what the 2016 election and its aftermath has reinforced is that there are other urgent structural issues that also need to be addressed in order to reestablish the United States as a true, flourishing democracy.
America’s electoral system is antiquated and crumbling. 2016 was the first election without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Because of laws engineered to suppress the vote, voting has become more difficult in 20 states since 2010. Gerrymandering and polarization have gotten so bad that just 40 of the 435 House seats were competitive elections in 2016. Americans have lost faith in their ability to be heard, and it shows: trust in every major institution is at an all-time low, and 48% of eligible voters sat out in 2016.
Across nearly every measure, Congress is not representative of most Americans. Most members of Congress are millionaires. Women make up just 19.8% of the 535 members of Congress. Nonwhite members account for 22%. Congress has only seven openly gay members.
This representation gap is especially clear for young people. Voters under 35 are now the largest voting bloc in the country.  But you wouldn’t know it by looking at Congress. The average American is more than 20 years younger than their representative in Congress, where the average representative is 57. In the senate, where the average age is 61, there will be more senators up for reelection in 2018 and 2020 who are over 65 than under 65. The septuagenarians in Congress continue to stand by complacently while our generation is crushed under trillions of dollars of student debt, climate change continues unchallenged, and record numbers of Americans are thrown in prison.
We must begin the task of enacting the structural reforms that will allow our generation—not just the elites—to have a say in the policies that control our present and future. That means automatic voter registration. That means public financing for political campaigns. And that means ranked choice voting in every district.
Those of us in Rootstrikers are passionate about reforming campaign finance law and policy, but we are equally zealous to tear down other structural barriers preventing democracy from flourishing in the United States. The mission of Rootstrikers is action-oriented and devoted towards making our democracy better. While seeking to retain the heart of Rookstrikers, we’re expanding the range of structural barriers to democracy we’re aiming to topple.
The new parent organization under which we’ll be continuing this work is the Campaign for Political Equality. The goal of CPE is to be an action-oriented organization working to remove structural barriers to the proper functioning of our democracy on both the state and federal level. Rootstrikers will persist as an important part of that mission. We’ll also be adding a Harvard chapter of the Association for Young Americans —a national interest group that advocates for the interests of people ages 18-35—as part of CPE.
The first project CPE has taken on is helping organizations across Massachusetts advocate for the passage of Automatic Voter Registration. Passing automatic voter registration would make the electorate more reflective of Massachusetts’ young, diverse population. Next, we aim to lobby congressional candidates to make public campaign financing of federal elections a part of their platforms in 2018.