Thursday, November 18, 2010

Should Berkeley Be the Only Town to Support Democracy?

Should Berkeley Be the Only Town to Support Democracy?
By Phoebe Anne Sorgen

Grow the movement. Get other communities to take this stand, as Berkeley has.

Simply convince a sympathetic official to put this on a meeting agenda, then motivate people to lobby for it and publicize. Help is available via web sites below.

MODEL for City Councils, County Boards of Supervisors, nonprofit organizations, civic-minded student/faith groups etc.

Resolution to Free Democracy from Corporate Control

Whereas, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted corporations personhood status, free speech and other protections guaranteed to living humans by the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment, yet historically corporations were created as artificial entities that were subordinate to our democracy, the __________________________ considers it to be our right and duty to assert that corporations are not natural persons with human rights but artificial entities created by our government; and

Whereas, although some corporations make important contributions to our society, they are required by law to put profit ahead of any other concern, can exist simultaneously in many nations, and use court granted "corporate rights" to get laws that threaten corporate profits weakened or overturned, even when those laws protect people and communities; and

Whereas, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission threatens our democracy by rolling back limits on corporate spending in electoral campaigns, allowing torrents of corporate money to drown out the voices of "We the People"; and

Whereas, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 80% of Americans oppose the Citizens United ruling (Democrats 85%, Republicans 76%, Independents 81%) and a Harris poll found that 87% think big companies have too much influence in Washington; and

Whereas, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy stated that the Citizens United ruling "will allow major corporations - who should have law written to control their effect on America - to instead control America;" and former Republican senator Warren Rudman wrote, "Supreme Court opinion notwithstanding, corporations are not defined as people under the Constitution, and free speech can hardly be called free when only the rich are heard;" and Senator Chris Dodd pointed out that "money is not speech," that "corporations are not people" and that "a constitutional amendment is necessary to fully restore the trust and voice of the America people."

Therefore, Be It Resolved that the ___________________________ calls for freeing democracy from corporate control by amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that:

1. Money is not speech.

2. Corporations are not natural persons and not entitled to constitutional rights.

Be It Further Resolved, that the ____________________ requests that our elected representatives introduce a constitutional amendment that contains both of these principles, or introduce motions to include these principles in related constitutional amendments (HJRes 74, SJRes 28, Ca HJRes 3.)

Be It Further Resolved, that the _______________________________ calls on others to join the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution in actions that defend our right to self-governance.

Be It Finally Resolved, that the ______________________________ directs that this Resolution be posted on its web site and sent to U.S. President Barack Obama; other pertinent elected national and state officials including Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, U.S. Senators Chris Dodd and Tom Udall, U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards; and all local media outlets.


Why it is useful to convince City Councils, Boards of Supervisors,County Boards, Labor Councils, and other bodies to pass symbolic, non-binding Resolutions:

1. Resolutions increase public awareness, during the lobbying campaign that precedes passage, and also afterwards if press releases are distributed and the adoption of the Resolution is celebrated. Other communities/bodies may copy it.
Success can spread like wildfire.

2. Public pressure gets results. The movement to divest from apartheid South Africa started in one city and spread, as did economic sanctions on the regime in Burma, eventually becoming national policy. Trade reps gave up on the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments, a harsh precursor to NAFTA) after cities passed Resolutions in opposition nationwide and then internationally. Lobbying works. An organizational letter carries more weight than a note from one constituent. A city Resolution gets even more attention.

3. Resolutions may help get a related legally binding ordinance passed later by setting the groundwork and getting officials on the record as supporting democratic principles and opposing corporate personhood and money as speech.


The Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom offers excellent resources:

It is not necessary to master the history of corporate personhood. The silver lining of the Supreme Court ruling against the Federal Elections Commission on 1/21/10 is that public awareness is now at an all time high. Mainstream America has understood for years that corporations have too much power. Now a large majority is concerned that the Supreme Court gave corporations more power to buy elections, and agrees that corporations should not be considered to be legal persons and that money should not be considered to be speech.

Many organizations and politicians have been using this as a fund-raising opportunity because it resonates with their members or constituents.

To get your City Council to pass a local version of the Model Resolution, fill in the blanks and set up appointments with a few Council members individually, one on one, perhaps with several of their constituents who are sympathetic to this cause. There may be a related local issue that can be added as a Whereas clause. Point out ways in which the corporate undermining of democracy adversely affects our lives (lack of healthcare due to the insurance lobby, ecocide due to polluters inc., the war economy’s effect on local social programs, etc.) Convince a sympathetic Council member to put the item on a meeting agenda with enough advance notice that you can motivate and organize people to lobby for it.

Create e-mail and paper flyers inviting public comment at the meeting and advance lobbying. Make it easy for people to write or e-mail by providing addresses, talking points, and brief sample letters for them to paraphrase/personalize. Encourage creativity. If there is enough people power, speak to church groups (Unitarians,) peace orgs, environmental non-profits, and others who might help. It is fun to table at farmers’ markets.

Once the Resolution passes, send out press releases and celebrate!

Please keep us posted.

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