THIS is what democracy looks like. And more specifically, what American patriots throughout the nation, determined to renew our democracy and reclaim it from the auction block, look like.
Marking the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in our elections, the rapidly growing movement to fight back with a 28th Amendment to the Constitution has seriously stepped out into the national spotlight.
Thousands of Americans, in nearly every state turned out for over 350 events to “celebrate” the anniversary of the Court’s disastrous ruling and the resulting unprecedented leverage of corporate power over politicians. And from courthouse steps to corporate offices, from mock arrests and funerals to rousing rallies to teach-ins and simple one-on-one engagement with neighbors, the (cold) air was thick with the spirit of people-powered democracy that they’d prefer to raise up instead.
Indeed, this wasn’t just another series of protests and demonstrations, but a chance to turn Citizens United into a mechanism that unites citizens. Last weekend was a movement-building moment; an initial “coming out” for the 60-plus organizations, and countless citizens, united by the common purpose of ensuring that democracy is for We the People, not corporations and concentrated wealth.
Occupying Corporate Offices, Downtowns, and State Capitols
On Saturday, thousands of people joined Public Citizen and our allies to Occupy the Corporations, often demonstrating and engaging in creative actions at Bank of America branches and offices, Chevron gas stations and other corporate outposts in our communities. They ranged from local activists braving snow by the dozens to rouse and educate their community in places like Joliet, Illinois and Prince William, Virginia; to activists with the Rainforest Action Network and Occupy groups who “arrested” Cargill at its Minneapolis headquarters and conducted manhunts for a “person” going by the name of Bank of America in Charlotte and San Francisco; and to the hundreds who joined Congressman Jim McDermott to rally and march through downtown Seattle in the slippery aftermath of an ice storm.
Grassroots actions like these help build toward another critical component of this movement: adding to the over 50 cities and municipalities on record demanding a constitutional amendment, and getting state legislatures (which will have to ratify any amendment) into the act. Over 100 citizens joined Public Citizen, Move to Amend, Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield, and other allies at the state Capitol to bring a distinct flavor to the Citizens United anniversary and support a legislative resolution challenging corporate constitutional rights (see photo below). Vermonters are also mobilizing in over 70 communities to simultaneously pass pro-amendment resolutions on March 6th, which is Town Meeting Day throughout the state.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, over 250 people gathered in the California state Capitol to protest unlimited corporate money in elections and call on the legislature to pass a pending resolution demanding an amendment. Their efforts were heartily endorsed by the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board, specifically noting inspiration from the growing movement rising to challenge unfettered corporate influence in California and throughout the nation.
A rally in Annapolis, Maryland, attended by U.S. Congressmen Chris Van Hollen and John Sarbanes, over a dozen state lawmakers and more than fifty Maryland residents, projected a similar message and momentum. City councils in Greenbelt and College Park have now joined the call for an amendment. In Massachusetts, where a broad coalition of state and national organizations has been formed to push for a state resolution, much the same is taking place.
And this energy is carrying over Congress, where the number of allies sponsoring constitutional amendment proposals (which now number 12, sponsored by 81 members of the House and Senate) seems to be swelling by the week. Both Senators from Montana—the state whose judiciary’s defied Citizens United’s flawed logic and energized people around the nation earlier this month—have enthusiastically hopped on board the amendment train, as has Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (where a pro-amendment resolution was passed weeks before by the Portland City Council).
Next Steps: Keep on Keeping On (because Corporate America sure will!)
From Occupy groups, longtime civic activists, and elected officials to people who were simply roused to action by Citizens United, the diverse set of voices aligning themselves with this growing movement was simply inspiring.
And it will only continue to build in the coming months, as grassroots activists continue campaigns to raise awareness and pressure elected officials in many cases, and get organized using last week’s events as an initial jumping off point in others. Each little bit helps, as one of our citizen organizers reported from Conway, New Hampshire, writing about efforts to publicize the impact of Citizens United and build support for the amendment campaign at the local public library:
Teaching can have a multiplier effect. One woman I spoke with as she entered the library visited the Ham Room and as she left the library said to me “We were talking about Super Pacs at lunch the other day but we didn’t know what they are. Now I know.” Mission accomplished.
A Pew poll released last week bears this lesson out, finding that the more Americans across the nation and the political spectrum become aware of the Citizens United decision and its consequences, the greater their distaste becomes. Additional polling commissioned by the Center for American Progress continued to find 3-to-1 opposition to the doctrine of unlimited corporate spending in elections. Recent polling also 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.
The American people intuitively grasp the inescapably weak logic of Citizens United, particularly the central findings that unlimited corporate money should be protected like individual “speech” without any capacity to breed corruption and undermine the democratic process (and citizens’ faith in it). And they’re increasingly determined to make it so that at the end of the day, we won’t need to be holding a New-Orleans-style funeral celebration of democracy like they did in Wichita, Kansas (marching from Bank of America to the federal courthouse) this past weekend.
This movement is instead guided by the simple observation that so eluded the Supreme Court’s narrow majority two years ago, which one Occupy Aurora (Illinois) member perhaps vocalized best while demonstrating and building public support in front of a Bank of America branch (at 2:40 or so into video): “Less money in politics….and more of [a] focus on actual change and growth in our society.”
We’re in this one for the long haul, folks.
Help Public Citizen keep the momentum going in the fight against out-of-control corporate power!
Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign. Follow the campaign on Twitter @RuleByUs for the latest on the money and politics and the campaign for a constitutional amendment!