Donald Trump sealed the deal for many voters with his message of “Drain the Swamp.” This tapped into the disgust that overlaps party affiliation, where people who consider themselves either Democrats or Republicans both look at Washington and realize our government is hopelessly corrupt and broken. For the last decade or more, everyone was told by the Dishonest Media that ideologically you had to overlook the corruption, “because everyone does it.” And the Dishonest Media told us that the crooks in place now were better than whatever unknown forces could replace them. Or maybe the corrupt person in a particular office did other things that were good that people liked…so everyone should just overlook whatever they were stealing from the public or how much George Soros was funneling to them in creative ways to advance his radical agenda.
The biggest revelation that I’ve had in the last 5 years or so is that focusing all of our energy and attention on Washington is like shouting into a windstorm. I don’t think we, as individuals, can do much about Washington’s corruption. I think it’s hard to even tackle statewide corruption without deep pockets and an army of lawyers behind you. But, at the county and local level, I think that everyday Americans have the ability to drain the swamp in a few simple ways.
1. Start attending local board meetings and asking questions about spending. Did you enjoy reading revelations in WikiLeaks emails or things found in the DNC Leaks before the Democrats’ convention this summer? If so, you may be surprised to learn how easy it is to make FOIA-ing government a hobby of yours. A FOIA is a Freedom of Information Act request; every state has a different FOIA law, so you should look up the one that governs your state and become familiar with it. For instance, in Illinois, here’s how our FOIA law works:
* People can FOIA any public body in Illinois and no set form is required; you just have to send it in writing…and emails, faxes, and even lipstick written on napkins counts. The public body has 5 business days to respond to you, either producing the documents or asking you for an extension of 10 days. If they ignore you and don’t bother to respond, you can sue them in court for the documents and they have to end up paying your legal fees…or you can file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office of the Public Access Counselor (and they will tell the public body they have to comply). It’s a really easy process. I think it’s fun, too. My friend Megan Fox and I wrote a whole book about our FOIA adventures: SHUT UP! The Bizarre War that One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment. In our case, local government in a suburb called Orland Park, Illinois tried hiding damaging and embarrassing documents and refused to produce them…so we had to sue and use the Attorney General’s office to force compliance. In the end, several bad public employees had to resign and the public bodies we investigated were forced to end illegal practices they were engaged in for many years.
* In SHUT UP!, you can read about everything that Megan and I uncovered in Orland Park — which is just one suburb of Illinois where corruption took hold. Some of our best finds came from FOIA-ing public bodies for their spending on travel, food/beverage, and gifts for employees. That’s how we caught public officials using taxpayer money to buy gold jewelry for themselves or taking themselves out to big steak dinners they were not allowed to charge to the public. Finding these abuses gave us leverage to push for other reforms, since the public officials were embarrassed by the revelations of their spending.
* Once we got an idea about which public officials were involved in wrongdoing, we FOIA-ed their emails and other correspondence to see what else they were up to. That never disappointed, as public officials tend to say embarrassing things in email to one another and give clues as to what they are up to. Few are dumb enough to spell things out right in front of you, but they will refer to bad things they have been doing in roundabout ways…and from there you can suss out where you should look next in your research. For instance, Megan and I would run across a reference to something bad happening in a public building and whatever it is needing to be taken care of or a lawyer needing to be contacted. Well, that was a clue that something really terrible happened that they didn’t want to talk about in writing. We’d then FOIA incident reports and legal billing to see what calamity necessitated those calls to their lawyer or the worry in the officials’ email. And that’s where Megan and I would uncover big scandals that were covered-up. Since local Media is as dishonest as the national Media, people living in a town will never know about any of these awful things that happen in public buildings unless they did into it themselves. Reporters are either too lazy or they deliberately don’t want to report anything negative that would embarrass the government.
* Once you have some findings that you’ve uncovered, it’s just a matter of looking up when the next open public meeting is for that public body. In Illinois, all public bodies are required to allow public comment at their meetings. This is a period of time where people can stand up and address the board. This is where Megan and I would confront the elected officials about the gold jewelry purchases, the steak dinners, the lavish trips, and the scandalous incidents we uncovered in our FOIA investigations.
2. Don’t let public officials intimidate you or try to ignore you. They like to do this, because they think they are aristocrats and they forget they are public servants. A lot of these people have never been challenged or confronted before and they think they can bully the public. That’s why you need to read your state’s Open Meetings Act (or its equivalent) carefully. Every state has one of these, but some states call it something different. I only know how things work in Illinois. In our state, it’s actually a misdemeanor criminal offense for a public officials to violate the Open Meetings Act by doing things like holding secret meetings, censoring the public during a meeting, not allowing public comment at meetings, intimidating the public, threatening the public, etc. What I’ve seen over and over again is that public officials who try to lash out at the public for participating in public meetings lose…and they lose big. It’s not uncommon for them to be forced to resign after embarrassing themselves in this way. And if these buffoons try to silence the public with intimidation or threats, they can get sued and the public body will be forced to cough up a huge settlement or risk the ire of a judge. This seems to be the only way that a lot of these local entities ever learn a lesson: they need to be sued. Some of them will refuse to follow the law or even listen to the public until a judge gets involved. That’s really sad, but it seems to be how things work in Illinois. I bet on some level that’s how your state operates too.
3. Find ways around the embargo that your local Media puts on reporting bad news about local government. You would be surprised how effective letters to the editor in your local paper are. They really embarrass public officials if you take the time to write a letter to the editor about corruption you’ve uncovered or noticed. These people hate seeing anything negative written about them. Some local papers will fight you and not want to publish anything critical about the government, but when that happens you just figure out who owns the paper and you write them a letter documenting how you are being censored. At some point the dam breaks and you are able to see your complaints printed for everyone in your locality to read. If you find something really good and the Dishonest Media refuses to cover it, you can also print up flyers and take them door to door in your town or pass them out in front of the public body’s offices (or wherever there are a lot of people). It takes a certain kind of personality to go out in public and do this, so don’t feel bad if delivering flyers or protesting is not something you are comfortable with. It’s not my favorite thing in the world to do because I prefer being behind a computer and doing the research. I don’t mind going to public meetings and speaking in public, but canvassing neighborhoods door to door and standing outside protesting is something that takes a lot out of me. There are some people who really love that, though. God Bless them.
My purpose here is hopefully to inspire someone out there to think of ways to “Drain the Swamp” locally. I am convinced that nothing will ever change or improve in our country unless we work from the bottom up. I think we’ve had this backwards for the last 8 years, where most good people have been angry at Washington and we’ve railed against the Obama Regime…but I think that the Obama Regime was only able to get away with everything it got away with because of the corruption at the local, county, and state levels. I see all of this as a Jenga tower that might be too high for us to reach the very top and doing anything about what’s there (at least not on our own). But, as an individual, you can have a lot of success rooting out the corruption at the local level. I’m talking school board, library board, park district board, village trustees, etc.
What I believe could happen in the future is this:
* if corruption is rooted out at the very local level, it would put pressure on the county level to either stop corruption or become so entrenched and brittle in covering up and protecting the corruption that even the Dishonest Media would be forced to report on that
* once local corruption is addressed and the corruptocrats at the county level are either stymied or toppled, the statewide corruption networks will be weakened and ultimately they will collapse. Some of these things happen FAST. A lot of corruption involves multiple parties covering for each other, with just one person being removed from that equation making a huge difference. If you take down one, often a half dozen others fall too.
* the national corruption at the federal level won’t be addressed until the states are cleaned up. Incredibly corrupt states like Illinois will take a lot of work to clean-up.
I think the work is worth it though. What all this amounts to is a sea change in the relationship that people today have with their government. For decades now, most people have been absentee in terms of citizenship and have behaved more like serfs and subjects than free people. We are not a medieval fiefdom, where a local Lord or Baron rules over our locality…which is also part of a bigger duchy or kingdom…which is itself part of an oppressive empire. Those people elected to local positions of power are not our betters or our masters; they are our public servants. We are their supervisors.
The problem is that most people seem to have forgotten that our civic duties involve more than just voting every 4 years (or every 2 years, if you are more civic-minded than most). Once you vote for someone, you don’t just forget about your civic duty until the next time to vote. You should be watching what’s going on and voicing your opinion about it. Participating in your government. Scrutinizing it…especially the spending.
I know all this takes effort. And, believe me, now that I’m in my 40s I also know how little energy is left at the end of the day when everything I needed or wanted to do gets done. Poring over the spending receipts for you local public library to see if anyone is wasting taxpayer money on gold or steak dinners takes work, effort, and energy that people could put into things more enjoyable for themselves or their families. I get that. Not everyone has the time to be that involved and to become a citizen sleuth digging through documents.
But for those who do have the time and would like a new hobby, I’m just letting you know that participating in your local government like this is very fulfilling. This is especially true when you start to gain traction and make progress. When you start seeing corrupt people booted from office or resigning in disgrace…or you see the food & beverage spending cut by 3/4 and the lavish parties these public officials used to throw for themselves (while crying that they need more taxpayer money and higher levies from homeowners) finally canceled, you can look at that and think, “I did that.”
For many years they got away with ripping off the public and being tyrants on that local board…until YOU came along and figured out what they were up to and put a stop to that.
I think if more of this started happening across the country at the very local level that the culture of corruption that plagues us would collapse. The reason everything got so bad in the first place is because good people stopped paying attention and allowed the crooks to take over everywhere. Why not start rooting them out where you live like Megan Fox and I started doing in Chicago’s suburbs?
This is how the swamp will be drained…one locality at a time.
© 2016, Kevin DuJan. All rights reserved.
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