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Declaration for Democracy

The grassroots movement for a constitutional amendment to return control over our democracy to We the People just got a big endorsement from more than a dozen members of the United States Congress.  The “Congressional Summit on Overturning Citizens United,” convened by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) at the U.S. Capitol, spotlighted the growing movement to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and other egregious Supreme Court rulings that go against core constitutional and democratic principles.

Lurking somewhere in the crowd, but live-tweeting from an alternate universe not inhabited by the overwhelming majority of the American people, Citizens United head honcho David Bossie dismissed these leaders and grassroots advocates as “clowns” and “socialists” who want to “chill speech.”

Back in the reality where money is property and not speech, and unlimited political spending by corporations and the super-wealthy to buy influence and access  is antithetical to First Amendment values, today’s event was a breath of fresh air in a Capitol where large corporations and wealthy interests dominate the conversation all too often.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), other lawmakers, activists and democracy groups gather to sign a "Declaration for Democracy" that calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision and related cases.

Instead, we heard the voices of concerned Americans like Georgina Forbes of  Vermont. She described how people from all walks of life, Democrat and Republican and Independent alike, organized so that citizens at more than 65 town meetings throughout her state would simultaneously demand a constitutional amendment based on the principles that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Last week, the Vermont Senate followed suit in a similar fashion. What’s more, the legislatures of New Mexico, Maryland and Hawaii also have announced their support for an amendment, and similar efforts are under way in more than 17 other states.

Responding to these citizen-led efforts and to thousands of demonstrations nationwide that took place in January (on the two-year anniversary of Citizens United), members of Congress from both chambers today lined up to join state and local elected officials, grassroots activists like Georgina, and diverse pro-democracy organizations in signing a Declaration for Democracy in support of these kinds of constitutional amendment efforts.

With Americans continuing to agree by more than a 3-to-1 margin that unlimited spending in elections by corporations and the super-rich is bad for democracy, and supporting amending the U.S. Constitution by similar wide margins, these supportive voices in Congress are just responding to the will of the people in one sense. But in a system where those with money and power are allowed to game the process, it takes true leadership to stand up to that rising tide at its peak. The dozen-plus individuals attending today’s event have exhibited that leadership and deserve our continued thanks and encouragement.

Many of them, as well as the entire 76-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, are actively supporting Resolutions Week, a nationwide initiative spearheaded by Public Citizen in partnership with other organizations, aimed at passing still more local resolutions that call for a constitutional amendment the week of June 11. More than 5,400 people in all 50 states have signed up to push local resolutions, hoping to join the hundreds of municipalities that have taken action so far.

Also on board are both labor and business leaders, united by the recognition that a political system where only a handful of large corporations can dominate and corrupt the process is bad for workers’ rights and bad for fostering actual business competition. Selling access to the highest bidder reverberates negatively whether you’re a member of the Communications Workers of America trying to organize for better wages, or summit speaker Rudy Arredondo, who represents Latino ranchers and farmers, whose voices all too often are drowned out by campaign-cash-flush agribusiness interests.

That simple, commonsense logic is why more than 1,000 corporate, investment and small-business leaders have declared their support for a constitutional amendment, and why recent polling shows that small-business owners view the impact of Citizens United (and of the dominant role of money in our politics) as bad for business by a whopping 7-to-1 margin. Again, this movement is not about “silencing” anybody, but ensuring that all Americans’ voices and rights are paramount in our democracy.

As Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) reminded today’s capacity crowd, James Madison said that constitutional amendments were remedies for “extraordinary occasions.” With our democracy up for sale to the aristocracy of corporate influence that Thomas Jefferson had hoped would be crushed in its birth, we’ve sadly arrived at one of those moments.

The movement to respond to extraordinary circumstances threatening the health of our democracy, just as generations before us have done, is being driven by determined American patriots throughout the nation. And as today’s event demonstrated, their message is no longer the pipe dream it may have seemed in the immediate aftermath of Citizens United, but the mainstream voice of the masses who want to reclaim their democracy and their Constitution.

Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign. Follow the campaign on Twitter @RuleByUs, as well as the hashtag #Democracy4 Sale,  for the latest on the money and politics and the campaign for a constitutional amendment!