Saturday, January 23, 2010

Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County Launches Move to Amend The Constitution;
Interview with David Cobb Helps to Explain Move

(originally published at OpEdNews)

In 2006, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County in Northern California wrote the first draft of legislation designed to ban non-local corporations’ involvement in local elections. The target of the involvement was financial contributions. In a historic vote, the residents of Humboldt County passed the measure.

DUHC then became an educational organization. It has created programs and facilitated workshops intended to help other localities free themselves of corporate interference of local elections.

Thursday, The Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the efforts and accomplishments of DUHC.

Once the Supreme Court’s decision to give unlimited campaign contribution rights to corporations became official, DUHC launched a move to amend the Constitution to negate the court’s decision.

DUHC released the following statement after the decision was announced:

Yet again the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the ruling elite against the interests of the American people. Today in Citizens United vs. FEC they overturned the flimsy federal campaign finance reform laws afforded by the McCain-Feingold law. Corporations can now to spend unlimited money in buying our elections. The Court has legalized corporate bribery of our elected officials.

So if you were already disgusted by the fact that over $5 billion dollars was spent in the 2008 election, watch out. Because the floodgates are now wide open!

And once again, the Court relied on the illegitimate legal doctrine of "Corporate Personhood" in order to justify this profoundly undemocratic decision.

Corporate personhood is the notion that a corporation can claim to be a person, and therefore entitled to basic human rights also described as political and civil rights and have courts overturn laws.

As this decision clearly demonstrates, corporate personhood is not an inconsequential legal technicality. Consider this-- the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation was a “legal person” with 14th Amendment protections before they granted full personhood to African-Americans, immigrants, natives, and women.

And literally hundreds of laws perhaps thousands of local, state and federal laws that attempt to protect our environment, our elections, our safety and health, our right to organize have been overturned as a result of this erroneous doctrine.

The world is being destroyed, the federal government is engaged in unending war, and we live in an unjust, unsustainable and undemocratic country.

It’s time to take ourselves seriously-- both about what is at stake and what it will require to actually assume and democratically exercise real power. We must address the reality that the federal courts have made real democracy impossible.

It’s time to follow the lead of the American Revolutionaries, the abolitionists, the suffragists, the trade unionists, and the Civil Rights activists and to build a broad-based, multi-partisan democracy movement in the United States.

It’s time to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it clear that only human beings can claim to be persons with constitutional rights.

Are you with us?

1) Go to the website http://www.movetoamend.org/ to announce that you are joining the growing national movement.

2) Contact us at Democracy Unlimited at 707-269-0984 to organize locally to make the promise of democracy a reality!

Move to Amend is a project of the Campaign to Legalize Democracy,
a new coalition coordinated by:
After Downing Street
Alliance for Democracy
Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC)
Center for Media and Democracy
Independent Progressive Politics Network
Liberty Tree Foundation
Program on Corporations Law and Democracy (POCLAD)
Progressive Democrats of America
Reclaim Democracy
Ultimate Civics
Velvet Revolution
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

. . . and growing . . .

David Cobb, the 2004 Green Party candidate for president, is a volunteer member of the DUHC Steering Committee. I spoke with David Friday morning concerning the high court’s decision and about the MoveToAmend’s goals.

MB: Representative Alan Grayson of Florida told Keith Olbermann yesterday that he’s already proposed five pieces of legislation to combat the court’s ruling legislatively.

Do you have any faith in a legislative response to the court’s decision?

DC: Of course I support any and all efforts to improve the country through the legislative process, through campaign finance; I support publicly financed elections; I support efforts to require any corporate contributions to get a majority of shareholders; I support campaign limits; I support a number of legislative efforts to make elections more democratic, more fair. But at the end of the day, those legislative efforts aren’t going to reach the core of the problem, which is the fact that the social, political and legal system is profoundly undemocratic. And that’s the reason that the campaign to legalize democracy is trying to build a movement that will be commiserate with the level of the problem. That’s not to say that I don’t support the legislative efforts of progressives in Congress.

MB: Following up on that, it’s my impression that the floodgates have opened for corporations to not accept any rulings by lower courts and to bring all rulings to The Supreme Court, at which time The Supreme Court will have no other option other than to side with the corporations as it did yesterday.

Even legislation might be challenged.

DC: Legislation will be challenged. That’s always been the case.

Many of us have been working in the trenches trying to organize, agitate and educate people about the problems at the core level. So, forgive me if I’m not surprised or outraged about The Supreme Court decision. It was inevitable.

So, yes, we should engage in legislative response. We should have candidates running for office on a platform calling for real democracy and calling to challenge the legal doctrine.

But it’s always been the case. There are thousands of laws at the local, state and federal levels that courts have overturned in the last hundred years. When Democrats were in the White House and had control of Congress. When Democrats were sitting at The Supreme Court.

My frame on this decision is not that it is merely a travesty for campaign finance laws. It goes deeper. It is another indication, glaring and specific, of how undemocratic our country is because a law that people care about was overturned.

It’s a profoundly jinxed ruling because it goes to the heart of elections and elections are the infrastructure of how a democratic republic ought to operate.

MB: How did the idea to outlaw corporate personhood develop?

DC: A community organizing group called Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County spent ten years organizing and educating the community specifically about corporate power, which includes corporate personhood. It also includes the whole enchilada, as it were.

MB: I noticed that the words “although they are not people” were included in the majority decision. Is that significant in any way?

DC: They say that they are not living, breathing entities, but they are affording corporations constitutional rights and understand that, if you have a constitutional right, it means that, because of your status as a person, a human being, the majority, through its normal operating purposes cannot infringe upon your core rights and I support that. And so do you and so do all Americans – that the majority should not be able to infringe upon the constitutional rights of others. There is a role for the courts to play if the tyranny of the majority somehow suppresses a minority.

But, to say that corporations have any constitutional rights at all is a perversion of that doctrine.

MB: Do you think that the majority made that statement intentionally?

DC: Of course. There is a growing movement of outraged citizens that is howling at the doctrine of corporate personhood. Frankly, I’m proud to be one of the core people who have helped to set that frame ten years in the making. We’re going to continue to use the frame because it’s a valuable frame.

Corporations are not persons. They should not have constitutional rights. Constitutional protections should only protect people.

Remember this. I’m not saying that corporations don’t have legal rights. I’m saying that those legal rights can only properly come about through the political process. Corporations are creatures of state law and, therefore, the state has the authority and responsibility to say what the rights of a corporation are.

Human beings are not creatures of state law. Human beings are persons with inalienable rights and those rights are codified, acknowledged and recognized in the Constitution. That principle is something that liberals, conservatives and A-political people all understand and know at the very gut level. That’s why corporate personhood is an abomination and it’s why we’re organizing using that frame.

MB: You are proposing an amendment to the Constitution that states that corporations are not people. Is that not right?

DC: We are proposing an amendment which states that corporations are not persons and, therefore, cannot claim any constitutional rights.

So the fact that the court asserted that corporations are not people misses the point and doesn’t address anything.

Our amendment, when it passes, will, in fact, be ironclad because it will allow local, state and federal governments pass laws with confidence because they cannot be overturned by corporations. It will put the political question of economics squarely where it belongs, in the political landscape, in the political debate.

MB: What kind of support do you have on the national level at this point? Is it too early to tell? I know you’ve been working on this for a long time.

DC: Let me just be clear. I’ve actually been working on corporate power as a movement for a long time. And trying to think about constitutional corporate rights and the entire framework of the law and political and economic system.

Ten years ago, the idea of amending the Constitution as a tactic for movement building was discussed and I didn’t think it was worthwhile. It comes up constantly.

The reality is that in the last year, maybe two years ago – in the last six to nine months, the conditions have become rife. Between a Democrat in the White House who is just absolutely flaunting the desires of the progressives who elected him. Anti war sentiment is at its height, yet bombs drop. People want healthcare and an insurance boondoggle is being shoved down our throats. And there is a trillion dollar bailout to Wall Street and banksters that both Democrats and Republicans passed.

So there’s a seething populist outrage over this. Frankly, the tea party people reflect that and there’s much of their anger that I share.

I’m very concerned about the strain of racism and anti-immigrant phobia that is underlying it. So we need progressives to mobilize in response to that.

This moment in time is calling for the tactic of a constitutional amendment, but, for me, it’s much bigger than merely amending the Constitution.

I know most people may say, “What do you mean, merely amending the Constitution?” because most people don’t think in those terms.

MB: You must have been reading my mind because I was going to ask you about the tea partiers or teabaggers or whatever one wishes to call them. Quite frankly, this decision by The Supreme Court is going to affect all of us, liberals, conservatives and independents.

Is there some way that the tea party movement and the left, who are both attacking Obama and his administration, could put aside their differences – and, of course, racism is a big, big issue, so it might be difficult. Do you see some way that the left and the right can look at The Supreme Court decision and see it for the abomination that it is and work together?

DC: Yes. We are reaching out to principled conservatives at the MoveToAmend web site. We actually have people who have signed up and, in their signups, have self described as tea party people. Yes, we are reaching out to them. Yes, we have common cause.

MB: We talked about support. Do you see more people becoming interested in corporate personhood? Have you seen anything overnight?

DC: We launched the web site and, within ten hours, we had ten thousand people. I’ve never experienced that in my entire history of organizing. Without a doubt, people are outraged. Without a doubt, the meme of corporate personhood is catching on. Without a doubt, people are reacting to it.

MB: Is the decision by The Supreme Court a decision that will take precedent over local policies?

DC: Yes, that’s always been the case. Our law got overturned by federal courts because the courts said we were infringing upon the constitutional rights of corporations. And that’s my point, Michael. The use of that doctrine happens thousands of times and it has happened so much that we the people and our elected representatives have been cowed. There’s been a “chilling effect”, if you will, on what people actually think that they’re allowed to do.

The most frustrating thing for me when we started Measure T as a local law back in 2005 is the number of liberals that I talked to in the early stages of planning and thinking and strategizing who said, “Gosh, I support this. I wish we could do it but do we have the right to do it?”

Literally, people tend to think that they have to have permission from the courts before they do what they believe needs to be done. That kind of thinking is the reason that liberals are so pathetic and anemic.

Give me populist outrage any day which is willing to rail and organize against entrenched power.

Frankly, that’s the reason why I spend most of my time either with committed, systemic radicals or ordinary people who are out of working class backgrounds.

The liberals will come along, but they’re not going to lead this.

MB: Systemic radicals. Would you be talking about groups like the Democratic Underground movements of the sixties?

DC: I’d be talking about the Democratic Underground, I’d be talking about the Progressive Democrats of America, I’d be talking about the Green Party and I’d be talking about organizations like The Alliance for Democracy and the Program on Corporation Laws and Democracy and The Liberty Tree.

There are so many examples of constellations of groups that are kind of forming and coming together.

The problem is the Democratic Party leadership has sold out these people just as surely as the Republican Party leadership has sold out people. And that’s a problem.

MB: Have you heard anything from the Students for a Democratic Society?

DC: Yes, we’re engaged and involved with them.

MB: So, this is not like legislative laws that are passed like local marijuana laws or medical marijuana laws which can be transcended by federal laws, if the feds want to go in and do it, although it seems like they don’t want to do it anymore.

DC: Actually medical marijuana is a perfect example. I would say that medical marijuana is indicating a crisis of jurisdiction. Who has the authority to make decisions when it comes to safety, health and welfare? Local communities, state government or the feds?

I, personally, don’t smoke marijuana. I am a supporter of the use of medical marijuana.

I absolutely believe that the federal government does not have the authority to attempt to overturn a state initiative process when the people of California have made a decision in relation to the safety, health and welfare of its citizens.

You know, Michael, in a democracy, we the people are supposed to be the government.

Democracy, broken down, demos kratia. Demos-the people. Kratia-rules. We the people rule. We are the government.

So, when the federal infrastructure tries to impose its will on state governments, that is always suspicious. The only time it would be appropriate is if there was a legitimate argument that people’s constitutional rights were being violated by the legislative process. This is not the case in medical marijuana.

Frankly, if one state wants to make marijuana completely legal, that’s their right to do. If another state decides, through the political process, that they’re going to criminalize marijuana, that’s the people’s right to do.

MB: There’s an adage that The Supreme Court isn’t final because it’s infallible. It’s infallible because it’s final. Could you speak to that adage?

DC: The Supreme Court has been profoundly wrong on many occasions. The Supreme Court upheld slavery. The Supreme Court upheld laws that forbid women to vote. The Supreme Court upheld laws that criminalized trade unions as a criminal conspiracy. The Supreme Court upheld laws of Jim Crowe segregation. The Supreme Court has been wrong and profoundly wrong throughout history.

The Supreme Court is profoundly wrong about granting corporations constitutional rights. When they are wrong, it is up to we the people to organize, to change the culture and to ultimately change the constitutional framework in order to demonstrate that’s how wrong they are. The Supreme Court is not the final say. We the people are the final say.

MB: You’ve mentioned democracy quite a few times. Of course, there’s a difference between direct democracy and democratic republicanism or republican democracy.

DC: Right, we’re a democratic republic.

MB: We the people rule by electing our representatives. And in the senate, that’s relatively recent. What would you say to people who say, “No, we’re not a democracy, stop saying that.”

DC: I’d tell them, “Yes you’re correct. We’re not a direct democracy. We are a democratic republic.”

But the question is do you believe that unelected and unaccountable judges or corporate CEOs or kings should rule us or do you think that we should rule ourselves?

That’s really the issue.

We are a democratic republic. We’re a country of laws and we need to take that seriously.

MB: Would Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County be willing to move toward direct democracy? Would they be willing to move in that direction?

DC: Absolutely. Core human rights cannot be violated, even by the will of the majority.

MB: We’re still going to have elections, but, if we don’t do something about The Supreme Court’s decision, they’ll be totally meaningless.

DC: They already are.

MB: Who knows how credible or disingenuous people like Obama are during the campaign? However, it took him $700 million to become president. So he either learned that he wasn’t going to be able to drive his own agenda before he was even elected or, like Clinton, money sat him down after he was elected.

So, the question is are we electing our representatives or are we electing people to fill slots, who aren’t going to represent us, but are going to represent the money that either got them there or that can keep them there?

DC: If you are voting for an establishment party candidate, you are participating in a sham. That’s my opinion.

You need to vote for people who actually stand for something and who are supporting the values that you believe in.

I feel sorry, actually, for the progressives who mobilized for Obama believing that there was going to be change.

I’ll be candid. I am not disappointed by Obama because Obama is doing what he said he was going to do and what I thought he would do.

MB: Dave, I know that you’re busy and I appreciate you’re giving us some time. Good luck.

DC: Thank you.

To friendship,
Michael

“A man who enjoys responsibility usually gets it. A man who merely likes exercising authority usually loses it.” - Malcolm Stevenson Forbes


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