Testimony at Cleveland Heights “Democracy Day” Public Hearing

Democracy Day image

Greg Coleridge | January 30, 2020 | Cleveland Heights City Hall

Happy Democracy Day!

Some have expressed a concern that there’s something fundamentally undemocratic or un-American about a constitutional amendment ending money as free speech and corporate constitutional rights.

4 points

1. Limiting free speech “rights” in our society is only a problem if there are no limitations on free speech – which, of course, there are. No one can yell “fire in a crowded theatre,” utter the “7 magic” swear words commercial TV or make threats against the President or other public officials. Concerning political speech, can I demand to speak forever here today at this public hearing or, say, read the Constitution with a megaphone on my own property…. at 3 am? Of course not. We have reasonable limits on speech in our society, as we should. Our free speech rights shouldn’t interfere with other people’s rights.

2. Limiting money in elections is only a problem if we believe money is free speech – which, of course, it isn’t. Money is property. Money can’t “speak.” It’s simply a tool. If money is speech, then speech is money – which means the city of Cleveland Hts should pay me to speak here today. It also means those with the most money have the most speech. That not democratic. One wouldn’t need nearly as much money at all to run a political campaign if We the People, who own the airwaves, directed the electronic media to provide free or low cost radio and TV access to political candidates.

3. Limiting corporate first amendment free speech is only a problem if we believe that corporate entities are persons with Bill of Rights and other inalienable constitutional rights – which, of course, they aren’t.

Ending corporate constitutional rights or corporate “personhood” is a conservative issue. Corporations aren’t mentioned in the constitution. Corporations were created originally through public licenses or charters with publicly defined provisions. Corporate “personhood” was only granted by courts – not by any elected public official of any party at any level of government. Small businesses support getting big money out of politics since they don’t donate relative to major corporations. There’s widespread public support for getting big money out of politics and to reign in corporate power

And corporate constitutional rights go way beyond the corporate hijacking of never intended political free speech rights. They include the 1st Amendment right not to speak – which has shielded corporations from having to disclose consumer information. They include religious rights to deny female employees heath care coverage under the Hobby Lobby decision. They include preventing surprise regulatory searches or inspections to protect workers, communities and the environment under the 4th Amendment. They include preventing regulatory takings that protect communities under the 5th Amendment. They include communities like Cleveland Heights from giving certain preferential treatment to local businesses over outside chain stores as “discriminatory” under the 14th Amendment, which was passed to protect the rights of freed slaves

Corporations need protections and the ability to do business. Constitutional rights are not required. Statutory rights are sufficient or can be expanded by legislatures. We absolutely must protect artificial entities from improper governmental overreach. But they must be balanced with public controls on the ability of those entities to influence our democratic institutions, public officials, elections, communities, and the constitutional rights of human beings.

4. Finally, limiting the prospect to amend the constitution to affirm human rights and the rights to a livable world is only a real problem if we think it’s impossible to achieve – which, of course, it isn’t.

We humans created these bizarre constitutional doctrines – consciously and intentionally. Educating and organizing to build and nonviolent power in democratic movements to overcome corporate rule and the political power of money is all that’s required. It’s a big job but what fundamental alternative is there. What has been done can be and is being undone.

That’s the goal of the Move to Amend Coalition.

Join us!

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