Curbing Unchecked Power: Only Bold, New Ideas Can Save Us

By Katie Kirchner |

Over the last few weeks, women across the country who I’ve talked to all expressed a feeling of anxiety and terror as we witnessed America’s institutions edge closer and closer to what feels like an actual breaking point. As we ripped open our deepest wounds to lay bare for society the true, real experience of womanhood, it finally began to feel as though our pain was becoming our power. And yet, in a 50-48 vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—regardless of hearing and even believing our pain. Even women who are not survivors of sexual assault or harassment can relate to the gaslighting: the erasure of our experiences and the expectation that our trauma matters less than a man’s pathway to success.

Then, only hours after Trump presided over Kavanaugh’s ceremonial swearing-in at the White House, The New York Times reported devastating new analysis of the global climate crisis: By 2040, we will see consequences of global warming so devastating that nation-state borders will become irrelevant in parts of the world, coral reefs will be totally decimated, food shortages will be more severe and more prevalent, and 50 million people will face greater exposure to coastal flooding. We’ve largely gotten to this point because of unchecked corporate power and massive institutional failures from the governments of developed countries. There are just 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of carbon emissions, including the massive fossil fuel corporations ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron. The United States, in particular, has not only failed to effectively regulate these actors, but the current administration established a revolving door between the fossil fuel industry and environmental and climate policy decision-makers.  

None of this is new. Many women in the United States, particularly women of color, have long been oppressed by American institutions that created and entrenched white male power at the expense of almost everyone else. More broadly, the global population has been devastated by the entrenchment of elite and corporate power at the expense of the planet and its people.

We are at a point of reckoning: The world is changing, whether we’re talking about a global reorientation from climate disaster, or the surging power of women standing up and saying #MeToo, disrupting the “amicable, male-dominated consensus that in previous eras silenced them all together.” And just like the women I’ve recently spoken with, it seems like the most powerful among us can sense we’re reaching this moment, too—and are acting to consolidate power and resources among themselves, by dismantling democratic institutions and principles, and continuing to ensure their own stability in the wake of disaster for millions across the globe. The Republican Party was willing to confirm someone objectively unfit to hold a position on a nonpartisan judicial institution (even without counting the sexual assault allegations against him), so long as that person would uphold their party’s agenda and vote to undo Roe v. WadeGlobally, we’ve seen the rise of right-wing populism built on fear and lies—from Trump’s appeal to coal miners and false promises to revitalize the industry, to the European reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis, to the likelihood that Brazil will elect a new president who will also abandon the Paris Agreement. The elite who champion these movements by no means propose changes that will protect their constituencies from the devastation ahead; their leadership, power, and policies ensure their own protection.

We desperately need a new generation of leadership unafraid to confront the current, highly concentrated power structures with bold, visionary ideas for how we can build a more equitable future. Pundits often say that politics have never been more divided; but they’re reminiscing on times when the realities faced by women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, indigenous peoples, and those in communities most exposed to climate devastation were so far removed from halls of power and representation in government that debates were never about truly disrupting entrenched power structures.

Over the last two years, all of these communities have experienced increased attacks on their safety, their access to key public goods, and at times, their lives. Acting defensively in this moment is necessary. But what’s going to be more important in the years ahead is not just playing defense. We need new rules, and we need new people writing them. I believe that we can confront this moment and build from it a new political reality equipped to handle the challenges ahead—but only if every single person reading this takes up the challenge of joining the movement to do it.

Are you ready?

Katie Kirchner is the National Director for the Roosevelt Network. An alumnus of the Network, Katie’s academic and professional experience has largely been focused on the intersection of sociology and education. As National Director, Katie is expanding the work on diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy with priorities for network growth and policy work through the management of Network team members.