The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, which symbolized the beginning of the women’s rights movement in the United States, occurred 72 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibited any U.S. citizen from being denied the right to vote based on sex. Most Americans take the fact that women can vote for granted, and assume that it was an inevitability that women would receive the right to vote. But few appreciate the fact that it took more than seven decades for the idea to become law, for the self-evident truth to become reality.
In our 21st century digital culture, people hardly remain conscious of specific political issues that received press coverage seven weeks, let alone seven days, ago. Our political news is disseminated so quickly and changes so rapidly that many people’s consciousness of specific political issues tends to reflect the pace of the news media’s coverage. Our minds shift and jump with the day-to-day details of what is presented to us. Occasionally, we become more emotionally invested in a specific story or issue, but rarely do we become personally active on behalf of an issue. The individuals who successfully achieve reform find a way to make the issue ever-present, even if the media does not willingly aid them in the process.
The media will not remind people about the corporate corruption of democracy (not that it ever really informed anyone to begin with). We are fortunate to have independent news media that provide the information necessary to hold government and corporations accountable, but the people themselves must ensure that an issue remains present in the minds of their fellow citizens. We are blessed to still have freedom of speech, but the people must use it conscientiously to bring awareness to the larger public. Brave people do this everyday. They chain themselves to audio equipment to disrupt fossil fuel conferences. They mic check politicians and school boards. They talk to their friends at church. They talk to a colleague at work or a stranger at a coffee shop.
The 19th Amendment took a long time, but it was necessary and it was worth it. The 28th Amendment, which is now being proposed as a means to reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, will also take a long time, but it is necessary and it is worth it. If it takes more than seven decades it is worth it. If it does not happen during my lifetime but my future children enjoy the benefits, then it is worth it.
The 28th Amendment is being promoted most vocally by Move to Amend. According to its website, Move to Amend is a coalition of organizations and individuals “committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule, and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.”
Our elected representatives have become hostages. Political scientists often talk about “delegates” vs. “trustees” when discussing what the relationship between a representative and the people ought to be. A “delegate” represents the will of the people and essentially votes how the people represented would vote. A “trustee” exercises independent judgment on behalf of the people represented. In reality, a representative does not choose to be one or the other, but attempts a balancing act between the two. Except, of course, when they do not have a choice because corporate money renders neither the will of the people nor independent judgment a viable option.
It used to be that a representative’s vote on any given issue would be influenced in various degrees by who their campaign contributors were, but today’s legislators are not simply “paying back” those who helped them get elected. Gone are the days when the past influenced the present. The threat of retaliation in the form of negative advertising in the future now hinders action in the present. Even if a representative wanted to voice support for grassroots efforts to halt the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, s/he would be unable to do so. Gun regulation? Not a good idea. Single-payer healthcare? We know how that went down.
In reality, an informed electorate could simply ignore the negative advertisements purchased by corporate power during elections and vote for candidates who promote legislation that is good for people. But politics happens in real time, and there is no pause button to hit that will enable someone to filter out all of the corporate news that has influenced the current debates, or to somehow start over with news coverage that is actually fair and balanced. Thus, educating the public about the corporate corruption of democracy and reforming the political system to reverse the corporate corruption of democracy become the same task. And the task will ultimately become self-reinforcing. Educating the public about the corporate corruption of democracy will lead to reform, and reform will undermine the ability of corporations to corrupt the democratic process.
The proposed 28th Amendment, which states in Section I that “The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only,” and in Section II that “The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment,” must become the first half, along with the environmental crisis, of our top political priority. Again, the two issues are interrelated such that solving the first half will make solving the second half easier. The process will be self-reinforcing.
We must ensure that the 28th Amendment and the corporate corruption of democracy that it aims to reverse become and remain central to the political discourse. Write to your representatives. Mic check politicians. Talk about the 28th Amendment at church and at work. What if every individual running for office had to have an official position on the 28th Amendment? They will if we ceaselessly ask the question and refuse to be ignored.