[This is a comment that I made on a guest commentary in the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper on Nov 6, 2011, titled “The Occupy movement and Prop. 103“, which would have increased sales taxes slightly over the next few years in Colorado to help make up the budget shortfall in funds for public education, but which was defeated 2-1 in the Nov 1 election. I thought the author’s analysis rather missed the point, and felt compelled to write this in response.]
The entire point of this well deserved commentary is contained in the sentence: “The defeat of Proposition 103 should serve as a clarion call for all of us who believe we need more robust public institutions for our democracy to survive.” I agree; but the author’s argument contains some serious flaws, resulting in an incorrect analysis of what’s wrong.
We already have several institutions whose explicit purpose is supposedly to protect our democracy: namely, the US Congress, the US Supreme Court and the Executive branch, all of which are based on the US Constitution and its 29 amendments. How good a job are they doing at protecting democracy?
Well, after the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, based on alleged corporations’ constitutional First Amendment rights, I’d say the SCOTUS is not defending democracy at all; rather, it has sealed its fate, and doomed our country to corporate rule — until this dastardly decision is reversed by a constitutional amendment. This decision was a decisive, though far from the only, factor that helped ignite the Occupy movement.
How well is the legislative branch doing at looking out for the peoples’ interests and protecting democracy? With over 40 plus lobbyists per legislator — which are overwhelmingly representing large corporate interests, though there is a sprinkling of consumer and progressive lobbyists in there too — I think we all realize that, by and large, the Congress has been looking out more for the interests of the corporate elite than the common people, with a few notable exceptions such as Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich.
And that leaves us with the executive branch; how well has it looked out for the interests of democracy? Well, the jury’s still out on that. Mr Obama has a mixed record here, but I’d say he could have done more by now if he weren’t blocked at every turn by an utterly dysfunctional Congress controlled by the Republican party that is locked in ideological straitjackets, and cannot seem to do what politicians are supposed to do: compromise, negotiate agreements and get things done.
So what is the underlying theme here? It is corporate influence and economic power in nearly every sphere of our economy, culture and politics. And this is what this commentary so glaringly left out: the decisive vote by the people of Boulder on referendum 2H on corporate personhood. On Nov 1, the democratic republic of Boulder voted nearly 3 to 1 (74%) saying that they are in favor of a constitutional amendment that states that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights, and that money is not speech, which would reverse Citizens United.
For this is what the Occupy movement is really about: not the need for more “robust democratic institutions” (try telling that to a General Assembly!), but the reclaiming of our public institutions from corporate influence. The only way this will happen will be taking away the secret to corporate power, which is their fictitious claim to constitutional rights. Corporations have been using this legal fiction for 125 years, which was established in a seminal 1886 Supreme Court decision, setting a precedent that is an insult to our democratic processes, as it was slipped into the headnotes, not into the body, of the case, and is therefore is not even technically part of the law. (See Thom Hartmann’s “Unequal Protection” for an authoritative examination of this critical part of American legal history.)
Corporations have gradually but continually expanded their claim to constitutional rights on the basis that they are “corporate persons” — which is a legal fiction and a moral outrage — for the past 125 years. They have used this to slowly but effectively erode, weaken or outright defeat the statutory laws and regulations that were created to reign in their behavior in defense of the public good. This steady campaign that what’s good for corporations is good for the economy (another lie; it only helps the corporate elite at the top) has been their conscious strategy to use these constitutional rights to trump statutory laws for the past 125 years. And it has only been accomplished through US Supreme Court decisions — never have these issues been allowed to be voted on by the American people, anytime, anywhere.
But now there’s a movement against this, and it’s called Move To Amend (see movetoamend.org), which is dedicated to passing the constitutional amendment I mentioned above. I helped start the Boulder chapter of Move To Amend in the summer of 2010, and it has now culminated in Boulder’s vote on referendum 2H, thanks to a broad consortium of progressive groups who carried out the highly successful Yes On 2H campaign. It was a prime example of swift democracy in action, and will remain one of the most rewarding moments of my life.
I don’t know how the author Mr. Meens voted on 2H, but since he was in favor of 2B and 2C, I would hope he was similarly in favor of it, and am rather puzzled that he did not mention it in his otherwise well intended commentary, for the above reasons.