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We the People

newws2Local affiliate joins the national Move to Amend campaign aimed at reversing corporate personhood

Amending the U.S. Constitution is no small task, but that’s what the Move to Amend campaign has set out to do.

The campaign is pushing for a constitutional amendment that defines exactly what a person is (a definition in which corporations do not qualify), arguing that nothing less is necessary to restore real democracy in America. 

The first major presentation of the Santa Cruz Move to Amend affiliate took place at the “Democracy for the Rest of Us” forum in the Santa Cruz High School auditorium on Thursday, May 23. The event featured speakers from Common Cause, CalPIRG, and other local organizations speaking about the need to get “big money” out of politics.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, which allowed for unlimited, nearly anonymous political contributions by corporations, the Move to Amend movement is regarded as the most comprehensive, yet perhaps the most politically difficult, solution to reversing the legal evolution of “corporations as people” and “money as free speech.”

The Move to Amend campaign maintains that corporate personhood is so deeply entrenched  in badly reasoned case law dating back more than 100 years, which has allowed corporations to slowly usurp many of the constitutional rights intended for naturally borne citizens, that only a simple, clearly written amendment can restore those rights back to the real people the framers intended. 

“Why cut off a branch here and a branch there when the whole legal framework of corporate personhood needs to be torn out by the root?” asks Chris Finnie, co-founder of the Santa Cruz Move to Amend affiliate. “A constitutional amendment is the only way to ensure that persons, not corporations, enjoy the protections guaranteed in the Constitution … An amendment also ensures that subsequent courts cannot overturn or misinterpret it.” 

Several campaign finance reform measures aimed at reining in the impacts of the Citizens United decision are afoot at both the state and federal level. But Move to Amend, while supporting campaign finance reform, is committed to its position that reversing Citizens United is insufficient to putting an end to corporate personhood.

“Citizens United is but the tip of the iceberg,” Finnie says. The right of free speech getting corrupted with unlimited corporate political funding is just one of several constitutional rights, Finnie explains, that have been appropriated by big, private corporations to trample the rights of naturally born citizens.

For example, Finnie and others associated with Move to Amend say court rulings have misconstrued the Fourth Amendment—protection against unreasonable search and seizure—to shield corporations from environmental inspections that require EPA inspectors to get warrants before toxic dumps can be tested for violations. Additionally, Move to Amend points out that when it comes to the Fifth Amendment—which prohibits government from “taking” private property without just compensation—corporate developers have successfully argued that denial of environmentally destructive development is a “taking” of their property, and their profits, without just compensation. Yet another example, they say, is how the 14th Amendment, which was adopted in 1868 to guarantee due process and equal protection under the law for freed slaves, has been used by “corporate persons” who build big box retail stores and cell towers to argue they are treated unfairly when local communities favor locally owned businesses and prohibit them from doing business in their jurisdictions.

“Be it environmental protection, product safety, GMO labeling, or workers’ rights, you can’t find an issue that can’t be traced back to corporate lobbyists and corporate lawyers arguing for the constitutional rights of corporations,” says Harvey Dosik, co-founder of the Santa Cruz affiliate. “And the odd thing is, corporations aren’t even mentioned in the constitution.”

According to many Move to Amend advocates, including David Cobb, Green Party presidential candidate in 2004 and national spokesman for MoveToAmend.org, support for the proposed constitutional amendment stretches across the political spectrum—from Libertarians to left-wing progressives and from Tea Partiers to former Occupy activists. Cobb’s message of being “a proud, patriotic and pissed-off American citizen” seems to resonate across the liberal-conservative divide, with more than 280,000 signatures gathered endorsing the Move to Amend “We the People” amendment to date. The local affiliate has collected more than 1,000 signatures so far.

Amending the constitution requires super-majority approval from both houses of Congress and endorsement by referendum by at least three-quarters of the states. Undaunted by the process, the Move to Amend campaign prides itself on being very much a grassroots movement that is becoming more and more difficult for mainstream political discourse to ignore. Local ordinances calling for an end to corporate personhood were included on the ballot in more than 150 cities in the general election last November, and were passed, often by large margins, in every single case, according to the campaign’s website.

The Santa Cruz Move to Amend affiliate, a group of about 10 activists who have been meeting since January on the last Sunday of each month, is planning to have a county-wide “advisory resolution” on the ballot in the 2014 election, aimed at advising the state legislature on how Santa Cruz feels about amending the U.S. Constitution so that people, not corporations, enjoy its protections, according to Dosik. 

For more information, visit movetoamend.org/ca-santa-cruz.

Photo: Keana Parker

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