Reclaiming the Power of Oracular Speech

by Elizabeth Cunningham

We have all heard the saying: Money talks. In a pending case, Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court will rule on whether or not money is speech. If money is so defined, then there will be no longer be limits on donations to political campaigns lest those who choose money as their language have their freedom of speech curtailed. “Who” includes corporations. There is a precedent dating to the 1880s that defines corporations as legal persons. If money is ruled to be speech, John Dough, as I call this corporate entity, may be the only one whose voice is heard.

If I were to argue the upcoming case (which as I have never before even written a political blog it’s as well I am not) I would ask the justices to consider these questions: if money is speech, what is poverty? If money is speech, are those who don’t have any consigned to silence, and is that not a form of censorship? If money is speech, what about it is free and how can its freedom be defended?

I spent Labor Day weekend at the annual fellows meeting of The Black Earth Institute: connecting earth, spirit, and society through the arts. (I am a fellow of the institute, but here speak only as myself. I encourage you to visit the website to learn more ) A diverse group of artists, scientists, sociologists, and historians gathered on a farm in the driftless area of Wisconsin where our hosts are helping to restore native prairie grasses and oak. The institute was founded in 2005 partly as a corrective to the commodification and trivalization of the arts. Poets, prophets, oracles, griots in a wide variety of cultures once had a responsibility to call the powers that be to account. Their speech was potent. There are stories of druids who could blister the skin of a king with their verses. Our contemporary culture tends to celebrate only celebrity, to reward a few with extraordinary wealth while the vast majority of writers and other artists remain obscure and underpaid.

Falling into this latter category myself, I found it heartening and inspiring to meet with a community of people who are concerned with more than making their own voices heard. Many among us are true oracles speaking not only human truth but the truth of the wolves, the truth of the soil, the truth of the water, and the complex truth of interconnection between all life forms and the elements that sustain us. I feel challenged and encouraged to learn from my fellow fellows, to break out of the isolation of despair, to join with other voices to make a fierce and joyful noise, to reclaim the power of oracular speech.

As a luddite (someone recently offered to help me smash my computer) I have long resisted the blogosphere and twitterland. But my recent forays have made me reconsider. It could be argued that we are all just talking to ourselves, parallel speech, so to speak. But I see evidence that people are talking to each other–and listening!–exchanging not only ideas and information, but humor, comfort, and camaraderie. And however new this form of speech is, it is free to anyone with access to a computer. (Bless the public libraries.) Money does not speak here. Human beings do.

With instructions from a friend, I finally figured out how to install a subscription widget. If you subscribe, this blog with be delivered to your email address. I only blog once a week, so not to worry that you will be inundated. And I promise it will be Maeve’s turn soon. Maybe next week.

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Anonymous September 9, 2009 - 12:23 pm

"If money is speech, what is poverty?" Wow. Thank you so much for this powerful and necessary perspective.

Tim Dillinger September 12, 2009 - 4:23 pm

"Our contemporary culture tends to celebrate only celebrity, to reward a few with extraordinary wealth while the vast majority of writers and other artists remain obscure and underpaid."

Amen, awoman and so it is.

As a recording artist who records independently, I have had a most difficult time getting voice heard outside of the newly developing electronic music scene.

Radio play has been scarse, outside of college radio, as main, FM stations are owned, ruled and dominated by corporations who also own the majority of the record companies whose artists benefit from the airplay, hence the same 12 songs every hour.

I was once called to a meeting at a radio station in Nashville, owned by one of the conglomorates, who told me I could receive airplay on a local level if I would purchase advertising.

I was shocked and appauled and vowed to no longer make airplay a priority in my career, which has made getting my music heard much more difficult.

Kudos to you Elizabeth for being a part of a community who is willing to raise issues such as this and help the voices–all voices: those with and without money–heard on an equal playing field.


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