Progressive Glenn Greenwald initially stunned faithful readers by “partially” defending the decision on free speech grounds. He also argued that corporate influence in government is so far out of control already that the decision might not make things much worse.
A day later, Greenwald pointed out that critics who argue the decision doesn’t make sense (1) because corporations should not be considered people with civil rights and (2) money doesn’t equal speech should note that all nine justices disagree with those two premises. The four on the left in the five to four decision apparently feel that it is settled ground that corporations have free speech rights and that money is symbolic speech. So changing the composition of the court during Obama’s reign might not give progressives the decisions they seek in rolling back corporate power.
On the day the decision came down, author/activist Lawrence Lessig urged citizens to pressure Congress to pass the bi-artisan Fair Elections Now Act (FENA). Upon further reflection, however, Lessig finds himself persuaded that it will take a Constitutional amendment to give power back to the people.
Lessig hesitates in offering draft language for such an amendment, saying it will take time to do it right. Meanwhile, a website called Move to Amend also agrees that the language must be drafted carefully, but they spell out the principles they would want to see:
- Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
- Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
- Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.
No wonder Lessig urges caution. Even a cursory read of those principles makes me fear the devil in the details and the law of unintended consequences. Protect my community from “pre-emption”? Like forcing us to desegregate local schools?
While many of the signatories to the Move to Amend petition are progressives (environmentalist Bill McKibben and lefty Brad Friedman of the Brad Blog), the site’s FAQ assures visitors that the effort is neither a Communist or Tea Party plot. But if you think writing the amendment is daunting, consider the uphill battle to get anything passed.
While it is heartening to see the Move to Amend petition has, as of today, 52,973 signatories, as a reality check, the Facebook fan site protesting the change in MSU’s Spartan logo currently has 53,896 members.
The Constitution allows two routes for amending the Constitution. Both houses of Congress must pass the change with a two-thirds majority, or two-thirds of the states must pass the amendment in state conventions.
And if you think our corrupt Congress, already awash in corporate cash, is a long shot to pass such a bill, going state to state is even less likely. As the government archive site notes, the 27 amendments to the Constitutional were all accomplished by a Congressional vote.
As a bellwether of what it would take, remember that we still need three more states to reach the 38 states required to as the Equal Rights Amendment. Efforts to pass a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equality began in 1921, and the amendment drafted by Alice Paul has been introduced into Congress every year since 1923.
This is the terrifying force-feeding scene from Katja von Garnier’s film “Iron-Jawed Angels” on the suffragettes’ efforts to secure the vote for women
I am old enough to remember the massive push for ratification of the ERA spearheaded by NOW (the National Organization for Women) and other feminist groups during the 70s. Yet even with the fervor of those times, women couldn’t find the three more states during the seven-year window to reach the 38 states required by the deadline of 1982.
When I think of the energy women harnessed during that era – and the clarity of the goal – I worry that there is nowhere near the political will today to pass a Constitutional amendment to rein in corporations. The Tea Partyers are the group that can rally thousands of sign-waving zealots. MoveOn tried to rev up a similar movement to push for the public option on health care, but their failure to do so made it easy for Obama to sacrifice it on the altar of expedience.
Do I want to see this Constitutional amendment pass? Of course. Do I think it stands a chance? Hardly. As this insightful article on the BBC website says, many Americans prove willing to vote against their own self interest.
Corporations are delighted to be granted personhood in our country (unlike other countries that view this as insanity). No doubt they will use their newfound right to spend as much as they can to defeat any legislator who promises to vote for an amendment to curtail their power. All they need to do is call any proposed amendment a job-killer, and fear will win the day as it has all too often in the past.
This is yet another case where I hope that events prove me wrong. Until the left finds a way to tap populist energy and fight for what is right, I am afraid that Kurt Vonnegut got it right when he predicted that things will get worse and worse and worse, and they will never get better again.