I saw Zephyr Teachout at Half Moon Books in Kingston last Thursday. She's a law professor at Fordham University, and recently wrote a book about American corruption entitled Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United.
Her chief insight is this: at the Constitutional Convention in 1789, the founders of our nation agonized over "corruption." They knew rich and influential figures had corrupted the Roman Republic, and also the Constitutional monarchy of England. How could this subtle coercion be prevented? Teachout's point is: by "corruption" these brilliant lawmakers did not mean bribery; they meant the exact way all politics is currently conducted — lobbyists hired by the rich to seduce Congress.
Teachout's solution is the public funding of elections. She believes in working on a state-by-state basis. Right now there are seven close races for the New York State Senate. If the Democrats win, public funding is possible. If public funding occurs, candidates like Teachout have a much better chance to succeed. Zephyr ran a quixotic race against Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for Governor in September; she won an astounding 34%. And that's with only $800,000, which she raised herself!
Zephyr Teachout has an intoxicating energy, a reckless optimism. "I met Pussy Riot the other day," she said in passing, as she made a point about Russia. The punk-anarchist singers came to her in admiration. It's easy to dismiss Zephyr Teachout as a dreamy liberal, but she reminds us that there are moments where liberals become revolutionaries — at the founding of our nation, for example, and in Russia today.
"What happened to the Occupy movement?" people ask. Occupy did not disappear; it transformed into 3000 different strategies. Zephyr Teachout "occupied" the race for Governor, with her anti-fracking fervor and hatred of "concentrated power." Like Occupy, she made a dazzling, brief statement. How will this statement evolve? The answer is up to you.