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Sunday September 15th 2019

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That's what she said

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Move to Amend


By

“We, the People” was the theme and the oft-repeated refrain of a rousing speech delivered by former Green Party President candidate David Cobb at the Unity Church on Saturday in Boulder. In town to lay the groundwork for the nationwide “Move to Amend” campaign, Cobb’s talk was part history lesson and part call to arms. Appealing to our fundamental patriotic roots, his call to action: to reclaim our power as the people, as laid out so clearly in the United States Constitution, to build the democracy that our country was founded on but has never actually realized.

The main targets of his talk were the “unelected and unaccountable corporate CEOs” now making decisions that rule our lives—from whether we will eat genetically modified organisms to the ecological integrity of the Gulf of Mexico to often who is elected to higher office. These corporations were recently given the right of personhood, and thereby unlimited spending in elections in the name of free speech, in last year’s Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling.

Cobb’s talk first took us back to grade school civics class (Howard Zinn style), to educate us on the history of corporations (derived from the Latin corpus, meaning “to give body to”). The first corporations were good things in his mind, dating back to the Roman Republic as a mechanism to voluntarily funnel private capital into the building of public goods (e.g., the Roman road and aqueduct system, universities, hospitals). But during the age of colonial conquest, corporations became instruments to legalize the pillage of countries around the world for Europe’s gain (remember the East India Trading Company?). Reminding us that the 13 original U.S. colonies were actually corporations, Cobb asserted that the American Revolution was a rebellion of citizens against illegitimate rule of all kinds—both the King of England and corporate rule.

Enter the United States Constitution with its seminal first three words—“We, the People”—a phrase that still evokes patriotic shivers. We, the people, with certain unalienable rights, come together as free and sovereign people to create a government. All power resides with the people, except that which we delegate to the government to perform duties on our behalf. It is worth repeating: the government is subordinate to the people; people have rights, the government has duties.  Per Cobb, the Supreme Court’s ruling declaring that corporations now have the “rights of personhood” turns our entire constitutional framework on its head.  Because a corporation is a creation of government, like the state that issues its charter, to conclude that it should be treated the same way as those who created it is a total subversion of our founding charter as a nation.

Further, it is worth noting that in the early days of the Union, it took an act of the legislature to establish a corporation, which could only be established for the purpose of fulfilling an unmet public need, and which were considered temporary mechanisms (dissolving after 10-20 years) to be closely monitored and regulated. This is in stark contrast to the situation today, Cobb notes, where it takes $50 and filling out paperwork to establish a new corporation, which may or may not be for a public good, but which now has been given rights to personhood like you and me.

Of course, the problem with the Constitution is that at the time of its writing, only about 5-7% of the populace were considered “persons” in the eyes of the law—namely, white, property-owning, Protestant men over the age of 21. Never mind the rights of Native Americans, slaves, women, the poor, and so on—the rights of which had to be fought and bled for, often over the opinions of the Supreme Court at the time. Per Howard Zinn, the history of our nation could be summarized as the struggle of different peoples over time to be recognized as “persons” in the eyes of the law. So not only has the Supreme Court been wrong before, but in Citizens United, it is wrong again.

And so Cobb issued a call to action: it is time for us—We, the People—to channel our righteous anger and do something about it. Hence, the new effort called Move to Amend, which is mounting a nationwide push to amend our Constitution to reverse the Citizens United decision. Councilman Macon Cowles has proposed that Boulder join this national movement by placing a referendum for the effort on the local ballot, an issue that will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting in June.

Some may argue that Boulder should just mind its local business. Yet the integrity of our elections and our national constitution is surely something relevant to all levels of government and all peoples of this nation. Amending the Constitution or getting the Supreme Court to reverse itself (as it did in Brown v. Board of Education to outlaw Jim Crow laws) is no small feat. But as citizens around the globe rise up in the name of democracy in this Arab Spring, Cobb urged us to be no less bold. And to not forget the American Revolution.

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One Response to “Move to Amend”

  1. John Hoelle says:

    The article has one misleading comment: corporations were not “recently” given the right of personhood — personhood rights of corporations have been recognized by the Supreme Court for a long time, though many cases. The extent of corporate speech rights recognized by the Citizen’s United Court is novel, but because it is unlikely that the Court will overturn the long-standing legal fiction of corporate personhood rights generally, the “movement to amend” represents potentially the best way to attack the problem. I applaud Council for desiring to step forward on this front.

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