Saturday, January 21, 2012

Returning Democracy to the (Natural) People

Today marks the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which unleashed unlimited spending by corporate "persons" to influence our elections. We saw some of the effect of this in the 2010 mid-term elections, and we're seeing it already this year in the wildly expensive and nasty fight for the Republican nomination. But, while Citizens United expanded the concepts of corporations as legal persons and money as speech, it didn't start there.

It actually started about 125 years ago with the case of Southern Pacific Railroad v. Santa Clara County. In that decision, the court held that the railroad corporation was entitled to rights under the 14th Amendment. Many cases between Southern Pacific and Citizens United have further expanded the concept of corporate rights and personhood, often at the expense of human citizens.

But the humans have not given up hope, and have begun to fight back. Move to Amend is an organization trying to pass an Amendment to the Constitution that would clearly state that corporations are not people, and money is not speech. Yesterday, they held rallies across the country themed as "Occupy the Courts" aimed at overturning Citizens United and educating people on the need for a Constitutional amendment.

I attended in San Jose, where our rally took place in Saint James Park, across the street from the very courthouse where the Southern Pacific case began 125 years ago. There were a few speakers, including a city councilman and a woman who was fired from Walmart for being a whistle-blower, followed by a skit of "campaign speeches" from a robot representing different corporations. We then marched through town, past the Federal office building, and ending for second, smaller, rally in front of City Hall.

At its height, there were maybe a couple hundred of us. Not too large, but a good sized group for a rainy weekday. But where was the media? I saw only a couple of people who seemed to be taking notes or a few professional photos, but no TV crews. The Move to Amend folks are going to need to get much better at PR if this movement is to take off.

Passing a new amendment to the Constitution may be difficult, but is not impossible, and the stakes could not be higher. While there has always been an undue influence of money in our political process, Citizens United amplifies it hundreds of times over. Corporations are now able to give untraceable millions to SuperPACs that are not bound by any of the controls or limits that we've placed on candidates or individuals. They can say pretty much anything and will drown out the voice of We the People.

We have to make it clear to our leaders, and to the corporate interests that fund them, that democracy is for us human citizens only, and is no longer for sale to the highest bidder. One person, one voice, one vote.

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