More details will be posted here regarding the musical and historical contexts behind my new album, Our Work Is Never Done.
Moveon.org is sponsoring a petition drive to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and the idea of “corporate personhood.”
Here’s the message that I wrote with my petition signature. I’ll also be sending it as a Letter to the Editor in several newspapers. It happens to also explain a lot about why I’ve undertaken this album project. 🙂
Perhaps the central domestic conflict of the past century plus has been that between the interest of money for its own self-replication and the interest of public welfare.
Repeatedly, we’ve seen the interest of money win out. We’ve seen West Virginia coal miners and the environment of the Gulf Coast sacrificed in the name of corners that have been cut, regulation that has been corrupted, and laws that have been broken with the expectation of impunity.
Hundreds of millions of Americans hear the names BP, Massey Energy, Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Anthem Blue Cross, AIG, Blackwater, Halliburton, Enron, or Arthur Andersen… and hear in those names American business practices at their worst.
Behind all of those notorious disasters and other less familiar ones dating back to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and beyond was the idea that business ought to be able to act unfettered, above the law, that regulation exists for no better reason than an anti-business resentment.
If the men and women behind these businesses were acting alone, the damage would be more limited than what we’ve seen, but the fact of the matter is that they’ve had allies in the government along every step of this path. While it’s difficult to prove what motivates any given politician, judge, or regulator to act they way they do, these allies have very often been the recipients of hefty campaign contributions, gifts and favors, and/or lucrative positions that follow after public service. It’s entirely possible that many have acted out of fear of being painted as “anti-business,” “socialist,” “communist,” or the like. It’s entirely possible that many have been swayed by the facile excuse that anything standing in the way of free-flowing profit, for whatever reason or toward whatever end, puts jobs at risk. (I imagine, though, that if they’d had say in the matter, the 4,340 people who died in the workplace in 2009 would rather have lost their jobs.)
So whether from graft, fear or some other impetus, regulations are loosened, the penalties for violations are relaxed, exceptions to the law are granted, and gradually these corporate entities accrue more and more political and economic power with fewer and fewer checks on that power.
A business is not a person.
When a business violates the law, the violation is committed by people — conceived and carried out by people. When a business decides to spend money to influence a campaign, there is no corporate brain acting independently. That decision is made by individual people working on behalf of that business’s interests.
The idea that corporations should have the rights of people, though not new with Citizens United, is a judicial and moral travesty, and the Citizens United decision takes that travesty to its reductio ad absurdum.
In the name of the democratic ideals at the root of our nation’s conception, in the name of the idea that a citizen’s power to influence government should not depend on job title or salary, I urge you to support and campaign for a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United and the fallacy of corporate personhood.
To sign the petition yourself, go here: http://bit.ly/edVo62
My name is Jim Kuemmerle. I’m a jazz composer, pianist, and accordionist.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire happened at closing time on March 25, 1911 — almost 100 years ago. 146 people, mostly young immigrant women, died in the fire because the owners of the factory locked the doors at closing time so the employees could be searched before exiting. The owners were acquitted, largely due to an excessively sympathetic judge and a coldly brilliant defense lawyer.
It’s neither the first nor the last time a business got away with murder.
Many good reforms came out of the outrage that followed, but those reforms and the progressive tradition they represent have been under consistent, systematic, and increasing attack.
I am writing a series of compositions as a jazz memorial to those who died in the fire, as a tribute to those whose lives were forever changed by the fire, and as a call to revive the recognition of human rights and dignities that is the best and furthest-reaching legacy of this tragic story.
On this blog, I will explain more about the history of the fire itself, my motivations and experiences in undertaking this project, and how the fundamental forces involved in this story play out in contemporary America.
Please keep watching this blog, and follow me by RSS or Twitter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments. My next full post will be a more detailed explanation of purpose here.