By Jay Heymann and Dorothy Van Soest
If you’re old enough to collect Social Security you’re also old enough to recall a time when we learned in school that our democracy is a government of, by, and for the people. Well, that’s no longer the case. Most schools don’t teach civics anymore and we have a government that’s largely of, by, and for giant corporations and the wealthy few.
The good news is that a democracy movement is rising up across the land. It started when the Supreme Court (2010 Citizens United v. FEC) granted corporations the same constitutional free speech rights as people and equated political campaign spending with speech. This unleashed the immense financial resources of corporations in elections. Since corporations cannot “speak” in the same way as people, they buy campaign ads, expend unlimited money to influence legislation and use the courts to drown out the voices of real people—like when they got the Supreme Court to rule that a law protecting Massachusetts’ children from cigarette advertising was a violation of the tobacco industry’s corporate speech rights.
But the undermining of democracy goes even deeper than giving corporations free speech rights. Over time, corporations have aggressively sought and acquired other constitutional rights that were intended for people including the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments. The latter secured the political rights of former slaves. Yet of the 150 cases heard during the first twenty-eight years after its passage, 135 involved business entities and only 15 involved blacks. And now corporations are trying to gain the rights of religious freedom, too.
When laws and regulations safeguarding the rights of real people get in the way of profits, corporations get State and Federal legislatures and the courts to favor their interests by successfully using their resources to claim rights as “persons.” They have insinuated themselves between us and our elected officials so that it has become impossible to solve problems related to the economy, environment, education, healthcare, agriculture or any other issue you care about.
We need to pass an amendment— like we did seven times before overturning erroneous Supreme Court decisions—that restores governmental authority to limit campaign spending and clarifies that corporations are not people with constitutional rights and money is not speech. We’re already one-third of the way there with 125 members of Congress, over 600 local governments (16 in our state) and 16 states calling for an amendment.
It’s time for Washington to join the other sixteen states. But our state legislature refuses to act. That is why the Washington Coalition to Amend the Constitution (WAmend), comprised of twenty-seven organizations, has mounted a campaign to get the issue on the state ballot in 2014. To join the growing democracy movement in Washington State, go to www.wamend. org and sign up to help.
We the people have amended the U.S. Constitution 27 times before in order to realize the constitutional promise of political equality for all and a government of, by, and for the people. We can and must do it again.
Jay Heymann & Dorothy Van Soest represent the Washington Coalition for a Constitutional Amendment and are PSARA members.