Illustration by Joe Lai.
Illustration by Joe Lai.

For some, Costco festers like a hemorrhoid on the edge of town.

Watching oversized packaging spill out from oversized shopping carts is enough to make them swear king-sized ketchup is the end of gluttonous good sense.

Whole Foods’ arrival forced many Santa Cruz residents to pick aisles in the showdown of the supermarkets. The natural food giant that less than a year ago opened its 279th store was met with equal parts contempt and celebration. Open-minded Santa Cruzans flocked to the new stores, eager to gobble up “affordable” organic produce and products. Die-hard New Leafers look like they’ve eaten a bad bowl of gluten-free farfalle when they hear the name of the national chain that touts local purchasing, yet carries kiwi fruit year-round and ships chickens from its California farms to its Connecticut shelves.

And you’d be hard-pressed to find a loyal local, a frequent buyer at Shopper’s Corner or Staff of Life, who’d step foot in any of New Leaf’s nine locations scattered around the Central Coast.

Major chains have been trying to cut ribbon in Santa Cruz for years, relentlessly circling the 55,000-plus person college town like a pack of hyenas. Local government and voter outcries have staved them off for years, including a longtime bid by Target to build within Scotts Valley city limits. But on Jan. 21, the U.S. Supreme Court, 2,840 miles away, handed down a decision that reverberates in cities across the country, in lives everywhere, and has implications far graver than where you buy your next grapefruit.

To briefly recap, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to lift bans on unlimited spending by companies and unions in federal election advertisements. Their ruling allows them to place ads for, or against, individual candidates and initiatives.

The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has gotten reams of editorial attention and airtime. Everyone, it seems — everyone but corporations, heads of major unions, and advocacy groups — has lambasted the ruling for reversing over 100 years’ worth of laws designed to keep moneyed interests from directly influencing the electoral process.

This year, Schwarzenegger gets the boot, Boxer vies against three Republicans for the open U.S. Senate seat, and three state supreme court benches need to be filled by black robes. We should mention that the state positions of attorney general, secretary of state, insurance commissioner, and board of equalization member — which collects taxes that bolster the general fund — all have “for hire” signs. Any number of these candidates and the policies they support or denounce could be triumphant or vanquished by the cheapest, relatively speaking, advertisement paid for by a special-interest group.

What will democracy look like in just a few months if a corporation with $7 million to spend on a campaign ad can create the most disseminated means of influencing the public? What will our hometowns look like? What will Santa Cruz look like?

Loggers have been kept out of certain parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains, thanks to deals struck with environmental protection agencies and conservationist groups. But let’s say our county’s state assemblyperson, senator or governor won their election due to propagandized commercials paid for by logging companies — and suddenly the trees look a lot greener than they normally do. Switch out loggers for pharmaceutical companies who want to build new testing facilities at UC Santa Cruz, or a tech firm that holds key politicians in its pocket and needs a new campus built where a state park now flourishes, and the reality of the ruling is sobering and scary.

This Supreme Court decision renders the average citizen powerless to meaningfully influence elections, but only if we let it.

Congress has its hands tied as this ruling was based on constitutional law, but the knots are loose enough that they can wiggle in tougher campaign finance reform to counteract the court’s audacious action. We voters can let them know that we will not stand for the unraveling of American democracy and will not sit mute as greedy corporations, opportunistic unions, and biased advocacy groups dictate policy and politicians. Enough is enough. We’ve apparently lost the courts, but we haven’t lost our voices.