"You want sanity, democracy, community, an intact Earth? We can't get there obeying Constitutional theory and law crafted by slave masters, imperialists, corporate masters, and Nature destroyers. We can't get there kneeling before robed lawyers stockpiling class plunder precedent up their venerable sleeves. So isn't disobedience the challenge of our age? Principled, inventive, escalating disobedience to liberate our souls, to transfigure our work as humans on this Earth." --Richard Grossman, co-founder, POCLAD
Activists and legislators are organizing around a variety of initiatives that would amend the Constitution with intent to remove from corporations certain legal powers.
Since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision of January 2010, several pieces of legislation have been introduced by representatives of the House and Senate that would either deny personhood rights to corporations, or declare that corporate entities were subject to regulation, or limit spending in elections.
But the smartest amendment proposed is the one prepared by a coalition of people’s organizations, Move to Amend. It wins for a simple reason: it covers the most territory.
Known as “We the People Amendment,” it establishes that “rights protected by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only,” that artificial entities such as corporations have no constitutional rights but only privileges granted by the People who have powers to regulate corporate entities “through Federal, State, or local law.”
It allows government at all levels to “regulate, limit or prohibit contributions and expenditures…for influencing elections for candidates or ballot measures,” and requires public disclosure. It also states that money is not equal to speech under the First Amendment.
According to Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, member of the Move to Amend Executive Committee and Field Organizing Coordinator for the campaign, “We recognize that the Citizens United decision is a problem, but it is not the problem. Citizens United is not the cause, it is a symptom.
“The real problem is that a small group of wealthy individuals have hijacked our sacred right to self-government, and are using the political and legal systems to legitimize that theft. We must get money out of elections, to be sure. But we have to go deeper than that to address the reality that corporate lawyers use the illegitimate doctrine of 'corporate constitutional rights' to overturn public health, environmental protection, and worker safety laws – and have for decades. Such laws relate to political questions that should be decided through public debate, discourse, and the opportunity to vote and participate. When the decisions are made in the courts, ‘We the People’ are relegated to spectators.”
The “We the People Amendment” was introduced into the House of Representatives by Rick Nolan (DFL-Minnesota) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) in February 2013 as (H.J.Res. 29). The grassroots movement to press it forward in the Congress grows steadily. Since 2010, over 300,000 have signed a petition and nearly 500 municipal resolutions and citizen initiatives have passed calling on state and federal governments to adopt an amendment ending corporate “personhood” AND “money as speech.”
It’s not easy to amend the Constitution. The founders ensured that We the People would have to push our way through Congress and many a state legislature (three-quarters, in fact!), each filled with some of our most privileged citizens not at all keen on change.
The whole matter is especially galling when we learn that the Constitution never gave the nine robed Supremes power to overturn just any law passed by Congress, but said Congress should set forth the kinds of cases the Supreme Court could decide. It was the justices themselves who deemed otherwise by anointing themselves with ultimate decision-making authority, called “Judicial Review!”
Additionally, the Constitution did not grant personhood and consequent Bill of Rights protections to corporations, nor declare money equal to speech. We have the courts to thank for handing those gifts, and bundles more, to our corporate creations. Over 150 years, whatever business asked from the courts, business usually received. Corporations are so draped in legal rights and powers they brandish authority over every aspect of our lives. Clearly, a self-governing democracy is not possible in this reality. So much for the judiciary.
Rethinking and reworking our Constitution is an important responsibility in a republican form of government. Thomas Jefferson suggested we do so once a generation. We’ve been more than negligent. The upshot here is that we have to revisit and amend the Constitution in order to deny corporations rights and powers never intended for them. It’s a bummer AND a BIG job at that. It demands that we engage, inform, learn, teach, organize, and mobilize masses of people, not to mention keeping them focused and on the front lines for a good long spell.
While working to amend the Constitution we will do well to (1) keep in mind the story of what we’re up against and how that happened; and (2) understand what amending the Constitution can and cannot do for us.
But is MTA’s proposal, or any constitutional amendment for that matter, likely to bring us “…sanity, democracy, community, an intact Earth?” A little serious investigating reveals that long before Citizens United we were a country shaped and ruled by a privileged, corporate few.
While a movement to amend appears a brave undertaking, the deep, sweeping change necessary to make democracy real in the US of A will not come through this amendment or any single initiative. Such change is a matter of cultural and societal transformation at ground level. Vibrant action at the roots is essential to the task. It calls for de-colonizing our minds, so drenched in the myths of “founding fatherdom,” the “rule of law not men” and a score of age-old wisdoms at work.
Undoing the doctrines that allow corporations to amass more and more economic and political power is fundamentally important. But what about other powerful forces and assumptions embedded in our cultural DNA that allow a small minority, adept at defining themselves as special, lord it over the 99%?
Move to Amend resonates so powerfully because it drives at the lofty head and heart of an elite and its institutions we know are without answers. Taking MTA’s mission into our communities, workplaces and organizations can provide real opportunities to work with others committed to dismantling enslaving institutions and undemocratic doctrines… not just “work” with them intellectually towards dry, political ideals, but build real relationships, learn together and discover how to combine our respective skills and power to win the kind of world we truly deserve. To do otherwise is to continue existing in a world created and defined by a powerful few, an existence guaranteed to be short and mean.
This is radical engagement, it goes to the root, and must become “the new normal,” in the view of Robert Jensen, journalism professor at the University of Texas.
The myriad challenges are all a piece of the cultural change essential to demanding and creating laws and courts that serve democracy. So continue reimagining and reinventing, building whole and just communities, revaluing and developing local alternatives to what is. As we join the work of Move to Amend with open, participatory engagement in our localities and regions we just might inspire the bold transformative change necessary to rescue our dimming prospects and replace the structural systems that have lost all legitimacy.
And during this grand journey, don’t shy away from “escalating disobedience” and, above all, be the new normal.