E. Joy Arnold: Amend Constitution to rein in corporate power

January 21, 2014 

Four years ago on Jan. 21, ranks of democracy advocates increased as the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

The case provided a platform for educating the public on the concept of corporate personhood, as the court reminded those paying attention that because corporations are considered people under the Constitution, they have freedom of speech. Those people speak with money, hence, as they'd told us before, money is speech and protected under the First Amendment.

Democracy advocates spoke up and began to organize to help those who had not picked up on this civics lesson earlier that, in fact, this was not new. Indeed we have more than 100 years of the court (not Congress), giving human rights to corporations.

Bit by bit a movement is growing to say the Supreme Court has been wrong.

Relatively speaking, only a few more people are now aware of the failure of the doctrine of balance of powers we were taught in ninth-grade civics. This failure has permitted this body of nine lifetime appointees, not elected or accountable to anyone, to rewrite the law of the land, ignoring the "We the People" phrase we blindly hold so dear.

This year, instead of using history to support the establishment of plutocracy where so many of us thought we had a democracy, we have two current cases offering the court the opportunity to increase even further the human rights of corporations: in one (McCutcheon et. al. vs. FEC), they can remove a remaining limit on the use of money in campaigns; in the other (Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores), they can declare that the corporate person also has freedom of religion, greater freedom of religion in fact, than truly human employees.

As these two cases have worked their way through the courts, an international trade agreement, hardly mentioned anyplace in the corporate media, has been negotiated virtually in total secrecy from most of Congress and the American people.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, has been revealed through a few limited leaks to give corporations control heretofore unimagined by good people, control over the quality of our water, our air, our employment — or the lack of it. Our medicines, our working conditions will be in the hands of those that a 1916 case (Dodge vs. Ford Motor Co.), declared have only one priority — profit for shareholders. Governments will be blocked from protecting their citizens by an extension of corporate rights only begun by the court.

Facilitating the adoption of the TPP is an effort to have it fast-tracked through our Congress — no debate.

While four years ago Citizens United woke up many citizens, this year they must do more than yawn, stretch and blink their eyes to arrest the seemingly unstoppable power of the well-entrenched plutocracy.

As important as the causes of good people are — the environment, voters' rights, prison reform, peace, education, food corruption; there are so many — all these groups must recognize their inability to have success when a mighty corporate industry will always win. Unless we amend the Constitution.

The movement that must grow exponentially requires that we focus our efforts — support the causes in which we are rightfully invested toward the end of amending the Constitution to make it perfectly clear: corporations are not people; money is not speech.

We the People must face off the naysayers and show that, to paraphrase Molly Ivins, the history of this country can be told by movements created to expand democracy. While in 1788 it included only white, male property owners, movement by movement it was extended to nonwhites, to women, to all sexual orientations, to the handicapped.

As plutocrats and those wishing to join them throw up obstacles to voting and prevent us from finding work at a living wage, revisiting the Constitution is the only cure, and it is up to We the People.

E. Joy Arnold of Midway is chair of Central Kentucky Move to Amend.

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