Keyan Bliss and I are interviewed on Glen’s Parallax Perspective | May 1, 2023
The program was aired on cable access in Olympia, Washington.
Keyan Bliss and I are interviewed on Glen’s Parallax Perspective | May 1, 2023
The program was aired on cable access in Olympia, Washington.
May 8, 2023
Question: What do the following realities have in common: protecting worker safety, outlawing loan sharking, preventing workplace discrimination, stopping pollution, controlling political corruption, ending fracking, regulating guns, raising the minimum wage, shutting down puppy mills, and even banning the use of plastic bags?
The answer is, of course, preemption. Preempting, usurping or, dare I say, trumping local laws passed by county or municipal councils, like Cleveland City Council, is becoming ever more rampant by state legislatures and federal courts.
What does this have to do with Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment? The Amendment calls for abolishing the twin bizarre constitutional doctrines that “money spent in elections is free speech” and “a corporation is a person.”
Money as speech has meant that the super rich and corporations that haven’t been successful at stopping the local laws mentioning above – passed by elected local public officials who take an oath to protect the health, safety and welfare – can shift their focus to the state level where they invest money in the form of lobbying or political campaign contributions to corrupt state legislatures to overrule local democracy. It’s legalized bribery to be sure – thanks to political money defined as free speech.
About 500 such preemption laws are moving through state legislatures across the country now – with practically no public notice.
Meanwhile, corporate constitutional rights have allowed corporations to hijack Constitutional Amendments to claim, for example, that 4th Amendment search and seizure rights, 5th Amendment due process and takings rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights – originally intended to apply solely to human beings – apply to corporate entities. Thus, local laws calling for public inspections, targeting certain businesses or protecting the environment violate a corporation’s privacy, are discriminatory or unfair – and are thrown out in federal court.
Hundreds of such laws – with a focus of protecting workers, their workplaces and expanding economic justice over the past century – have been overturned on the grounds of violating corporate constitutional rights.
We can overturn the Citizen United Supreme Court decision and the constitutional doctrine of “money equals speech” tomorrow, but corporate preemption in the courts would still exist. That’s why we must abolish ALL corporate constitutional rights. That’s what the We the People Amendment accomplishes.
We must remember that corporations have no inherent constitutional rights. Corporate entities are creations of the state. They only exist because they receive a charter, or license, from the state to do business. The charter was intended as a democratic instrument – to ensure that a business promoted the common good when providing a good or service. The charter bestowed upon them only privileges, not rights. When a corporate entity failed in their mission or unilaterally acted beyond their charter, the charter was often revoked by either the state legislature or state supreme court – just as a license issued to an individual professional person is revoked with the individual unable to conduct business if they failed to uphold the terms of their license.
In a 1900 ruling to dissolve a dairy company, the Ohio Supreme Court said,
The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world.
This is the mindset and actions of self-governing democratic people – not to ask, pray, plead or negotiate with their legal creations – but rather to define, to authorize, to instruct. That’s what the We the People Amendment will, in part, accomplish.
To achieve real democracy – for the very first time.
Greg Coleridge (he/him)
National Co-Director, Move to Amend Coalition
Talk by Greg Coleridge, January 28, 2003
Chat Action Deep Dive Sessions
We (the Chat People) came into existence as the brainchild of Stanley Pokras, who offered audience members of Humanity Rising Sessions the opportunity to convene as an “afterparty” chat group. Our “afterparty” format has also been evolving. Now we are consistently joined by some, if not all, of the presenters who move from the “main stage” into our chat dialogue. We have morphed from an informal discussion group into an activist community undertaking several diverse projects. The Deep Dive sessions are about sharing the expertise in the group. They are workshops and seminars covering a diverse range of themes and ideas.
Opinion | March 15, 2023
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — A jury’s guilty verdict against former Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder for receiving bribes to pass House Bill 6 to bail out two failing FirstEnergy Corp. nuclear power plants at a cost to ratepayers of more than $1 billion should result in significant jail time. The same goes for every other individual involved in the scandal.
This is also true for FirstEnergy, which admitted in its 2021 Deferred Prosecution Agreement with federal prosecutors to paying, including through then-subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), more than $59 million to Generation Now, the dark-money front group controlled by Householder. Those funds didn’t come out of the pockets of FirstEnergy executives. They came directly from the FirstEnergy and FES treasuries.
FirstEnergy’s agreement to pay a $230 million penalty as part of that 2021 agreement is nowhere close to proportionate accountability for the massive scale of its perversion and hijacking of our democratic system. It also does not prevent the state of Ohio from pursuing separate legal action against the company.
A corporation is a legal entity, publicly chartered or licensed, in most cases, at the state level. FirstEnergy Corp. is chartered in the state of Ohio.
Corporate charters, originally issued one at a time by state legislatures, identified specific conditions that had to be followed. Charters were similar to licenses issued to individuals who want to practice their profession – establishing specific rules and standards to ensure public safety and welfare.
When a corporation acted beyond their authority as defined in its charter, or illegally, its charter was revoked by the legislature or state Supreme Court and the company was dissolved. This is similar to a professional whose license is revoked for inappropriate or illegal acts.
The Ohio Supreme Court, for example, stated in a 1900 corporate charter revocation decision:
“The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world.”
A Republican attorney general, David K. Watson sought to dissolve the Standard Oil Co. of Ohio franchise in the 19th century — the largest and most powerful company at that time. He asserted in his legal brief:
“Where a corporation, either directly or indirectly, submits to the domination of an agency unknown to the statute, or identifies itself with and unites in carrying out an agreement whose performance is injurious to the public, it thereby offends against the law of its creation and forfeits all right to its franchises, and judgment of ouster should be entered against it.”
Current Ohio Attorney General David Yost has filed a civil suit against FirstEnergy under the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act. The weak suit doesn’t call for the revocation of FirstEnergy’s charter.
FirstEnergy’s charter, which states it will act legally, should be revoked for the corporation’s admission of its direct involvement in what was called “likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio” by then-U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers.
Issuing a fine or demanding that the company replace one or more directors or board members does nothing to affirm the original intent of charter issuance and revocation: That “We the People” have the power and authority to define and hold our legal creations accountable for their actions to ensure that the public is protected from corporate harms.
The lack of historical knowledge of corporate charter revocation, belief that holding accountable individual corporate “bad apples” is sufficient and the perception that charter revocation is too extreme are reasons why this democratic tool has not been explored in this case. Yet, revoking FirstEnergy’s charter is an appropriate and proportionate response to the scale of the company’s crime. It’s also how authentic self-governing people act to affirm real democracy against corporate rule.
The time has still not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator.
Greg Coleridge of Ohio is national co-director of the Move to Amend Coalition that seeks to end corporate personhood via an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
By Greg Coleridge | March 9, 2023
The Norfolk Southern Corporation train derailment and subsequent hazardous chemical release into the air, water and land in and beyond East Palestine, Ohio are the inevitable result of multiple anti-democratic realities in the U.S. Many are interconnected and are the same for the roughly 1000 train derailments per year, most recently in Michigan.
Private ownership of railroads
Norfolk Southern Corporation’s record earnings in 2022 led to huge salaries for its top managers and stock buybacks and dividend payouts benefiting speculators and investors. Necessary investments have not been made in technology upgrades and worker safety as the corporation prioritizes maximizing profits over public safety and sustainable business practices. “Since the North American private rail industry has shown itself incapable of doing the job, it is time for this invaluable transportation infrastructure – like the other transport modes – to be brought under public ownership,” concludes the Railroad Workers United. Interstate highways are publicly owned. Railroads were under federal control during WWI. Railroads in many other nations are publicly owned and, therefore, publicly accountable.
No community rights
Local public officials have few legal tools to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents – especially conditions in any way related to interstate commerce. Communities possess little authority to control material – including trash, chemicals, nuclear waste – coming into or even passing through their jurisdictions by trains or trucks if that material can be defined as “commerce.” The Constitution’s Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8) gives power to Congress and the President to “regulate commerce”among the several states.” While states have at least some ability under certain conditions to push back against “commercial material” in their states if they can redefine it as dangerous, localities have no rights. East Palestine officials weren’t even notified the derailed Norfolk Southern train was carrying vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate and other highly toxic chemicals since federal law doesn’t classify those chemicals as “high hazardous.”
Lack of worker power
Strikes are powerful tactics of workers to exert leverage against management. It’s different for railroad workers given the importance of railroads in the nation’s commerce. Unions representing rail workers have been virtually unable to strike since passage of the Railway Labor Act in 1926, which gives the government, specifically the President and Congress, vast powers to force workers to accept alternative means of resolving disputes – including mediation, arbitration and a Presidentially-appointed panel to make a recommendation. Without the legitimate threat to strike, rail workers, including those of Norfolk Southern, lack the power to press for ending dangerous working conditions.
Corporate campaign contributions
Railroad corporations are major political donors/investors to federal and state political races. The industry has poured $85 million into federal candidate campaigns, political parties and outside spending groups since 2002 with Republicans historically being the preferred recipients until recent years. Norfolk Southern – along with BNSF, Union Pacific Corp. and CSX Corp. – are the major industry contributors/investors. Norfolk Southern’s political investments have been $17 million since 1990. At the state level, Norfolk Southern has invested $98,000 into Ohio political races since 2018, with Gov. Mike DeWine (who at first didn’t call for federal assistance following the E. Palestine disaster since he didn’t see a problem) being the largest recipient. Another recipient, Rep. Bill Seitz, supports his home city of Cincinnati selling its publicly owned rail line to none other than Norfolk Southern. At the very least, political campaign contributions buy access to public officials; at worst, buys favors.
The railroad industry invested $24.6 million to employee 265 reported lobbyists to influence the federal government in 2022. Norfolk Southern’s portion was $1.8 million. The combination of corporate campaign contributions and lobbying by Norfolk Southern and other railroads results in legislation and regulations favorable to the industry, harmful to workers and threatening to communities. Rail lobbyists and $6 million from the rail industry to GOP campaigns in 2017, backed by President Trump, were effective in reversing requirements that rail cars carrying hazardous flammable materials install modern electronic braking systems to replace Civil War-era systems. Lobbyists have pressed for fewer workers on trains, longer and heavier trains, and reduced fines for penalties – as well as against paid sick leave for workers and having to define trains carrying hazardous chemicals like the Norfolk Southern that derailed in East Palestine as “high hazard,” which would increase additional safety requirements, costs and public notification. Lobbyists are already working to prevent “burdensome regulations” that, no doubt, include provisions of the proposed Rail Safety Act of 2023, supported by Democratic and Republican Senators in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Supreme Court decisions
Courts have granted corporate entities with a long list of constitutional rights which were intended exclusively to human beings. This includes corporate entities having the “right” to contribute to political campaigns. This has permitted all corporations, including Norfolk Southern, to corrupt the political process favorable to their interests, such as the previously mentioned laws and regulations profitable for railroads, but harmful to persons without the means to spend large sums of money to have their voices heard, communities helped and environment protected. Supreme Court-granted corporate Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights prevent surprise inspections of corporate property intended to protect workers and communities.
Ineffective and/or captured regulatory agencies
Railroads were the first federal government regulated corporations with the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 in response to widespread public rage over railroad abuses and malpractices. The railroads preferred government regulation over direct public ownership, which was a growing public call over many natural monopolies. Railroad executives felt they could have influence over agencies through appointments of regulators and limiting the scope of their oversight, which has proven true. Public safety inspections are also limited by regulatory agency funding, which impacts technology needs and human inspectors. The Federal Railroad Administration, the major railroad regulatory agency, has only 400 inspectors to inspect the nation’s rail system covering 140,000 miles. This has forced the FHA to increasingly allow railroad corporations to inspect their own trains, tracks and signals, an increasingly common practice across all regulatory agencies. The EPA recently announced that it’s requiring Norfolk Southern to directly test for dioxins in East Palestine. Where’s the public accountability when, in effect, an entity charged with a crime gets to be the prosecutor, judge and jury?
Criminalization of protest
The response by the state, supported by corporations, to public protests and organizing responding to corporate assaults has been to pass laws criminalizing such activities to punish and smear individuals who exercise their right to peaceful assembly. Forty-five states have considered 265 bills, 39 of which have already passed in 20 states since 2017. Penalties of felonies serve as a deterrent to individuals to attend public events where they might be arrested and plant the message that those who protest must be extremists. This mindset is reflected in the reaction by federal and Ohio “law enforcement” agencies to the recent visit of whistleblower Erin Brockovich to East Palestine. A report by the agencies “assesses that special interest extremist groups will continue to call for changes in governmental policy, which may lead to protests in/around East Palestine and/or at the Statehouse in Columbus.” Clearly, even a public meeting that Brockovich was planning was deemed as dangerous.
The East Palestine tragedy, while dramatic and horrific in its hardships to those who live nearby, wildlife and the environment, is sadly merely a symptom of current political realities. Essential is fundamental systemic change to address not only all the above mentioned conditions, but also to structurally increase the power of people to have legitimate influence over decisions affecting their lives, communities and beyond.
Enacting the We the People Amendment, HJR48 that would abolish all corporate constitutional rights and political money defined as free speech, is urgent. But fundamental self-governance goes beyond the amendment. Independent people’s movements led by individuals who’ve been historically treated unjustly is a prerequisite for how to get real democracy on track – for the very first time.
Greg Coleridge is Co-Director of Move to Amend. He previously worked for more than three decades with the American Friends Service Committee in Ohio where he educated, advocated and organized on a range of justice, peace, environmental and democracy issues — including helping coordinate Move to Amend activities in the Buckeye state. He is the author of The Depth of Change: Selected Writings and Remarks on Social Change (2022); Citizens over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Freedom in the Future (2003), writer of the documentary CorpOrNation: The Story of Citizens and Corporations in Ohio (2003), and contributed several articles to the anthology Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy – A Book of History and Strategy (2001). He currently maintains and distributes via email a weekly REAL Democracy History Calendar (https://realdemocracyhistorycalendar.wordpress.com/) and Monetary History Calendar (https://monetarycalendar.wordpress.com/) He is a Board Member of the Alliance for Just Money (AFJM). He previously served an elected term on the national governing board of Common Cause and was a Principal with the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD).
“Abolishing corporate constitutional rights,” writes Coleridge, “shifts back from the judicial to the legislative arena the public ability to define corporate actions to ensure that the health, safety, and welfare of people, communities and the natural world are prioritized.” (Photo: Sean Gladwell / iStock via Getty Images)
Feb 15, 2023 Common Dreams
A subcommittee of the full House Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government.” Two panels discussed the “politicization of the FBI and DOJ and attacks on American civil liberties.” It rehashed old grievances about how Trump and others were treated by the two agencies over the last few years.
If exposing and ending “weaponization of the government” is the target, then the Judiciary Committee should take aim at the single biggest culprit: corporations. This investigation would be enlightening since the corporate “weaponization” or hijacking of the government has been so blatant, widespread and persistent for more than a century.
Most corporations in the U.S. were originally chartered or licenced at the state level by legislatures one-at-a-time. Corporate charters stipulated specific conditions to ensure that corporations served the common good. Charters were routinely revoked when corporations acted “ultra vires,” that is. beyond their defined authority. None of those conditions included bestowing inherent rights to corporations to dominate virtually every aspect of society and government as they do today.
Corporations have amassed enormous political and economic power by escaping state legislative authority and public accountability by “weaponizing” four sectors of government.
1. Corporations “weaponize” states against one another.
Corporate agents moved corporate charters from states that limited corporate independence to states with corporate friendly laws, thanks to the corruption of state legislators. Originally that was New Jersey. Today it’s Delaware, where over 60 percent of Fortune 500 firms are incorporated.
2. Corporations “weaponize” legislatures.
Corporate agents sought federal laws to preempt state laws and state laws to preempt local laws limiting corporate powers. The federal Sherman Antitrust Act, for example, was a tepid federal response to strong laws enacted in over 20 states to prevent corporate monopolies and, in some cases, calls for public ownership. The pro-corporate Senator John Sherman warned that Congress “must heed [the public’s] appeal or be ready for the socialist, the communist, and the nihilist.” Sherman is still used to preempt state laws. Meanwhile, local laws protecting residents from guns, fracking, minimum wage and many other local concerns passed by municipal councils have been preempted by state laws.
3. Corporations “weaponize” regulatory agencies.
Corporations supported the creation of “regulatory agencies” as many states sought public ownership over several types of companies – including utilities and transportation. These agencies regulated vs prohibited harms and insulated companies from direct legislative oversight and public pressure and mobilization. Moreover, companies advocate for the appointment by executives (i.e. Presidents and Governors) of corporate-friendly regulators.
4. Corporations “weaponize” the courts.
The ultimate escape of public control over corporations was granting “constitutional rights” to corporations. Though there’s no mention of corporate entities in the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court proclaimed over the course of a century that a corporation is a person with First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment protections – rights that go well beyond corporate First Amendment free speech “rights” to contribute money in elections. This makes public accountability impossible over corporate entities. Corporate constitutional rights are the impenetrable shield against efforts to assert human rights and the right to a livable world over never-intended “corporate rights.”
Abolishing all corporate constitutional rights by enacting the We the People Amendment (HJR48), soon to be introduced again by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, is the only strategy to make corporations authentically democratically accountable.
This requires building a people’s movement. Abolishing corporate constitutional rights shifts back from the judicial to the legislative arena the public ability to define corporate actions to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of people, communities and the natural world are prioritized. Ending all the other ways corporations have “weaponized government” to consolidate political and economic power becomes much easier once corporations are disarmed of all constitutional rights.
If Congress isn’t going to expose the corporate “weaponization of government,” then it’s up to us to not only do so, but to end it.
Greg Coleridge is Co-Director of Move to Amend and former Director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee.
Our movement to abolish “corporate personhood” and “money as free speech” is difficult
And frequently feels like we’re not making progress
Deemed as not relevant
Not to mention downright impossible
But take a moment
And a breath
Listen to your conscience
Put in context
Our current problems, actually crises
As a nation
As a species
Become wider and deeper every day
With the pace speeding up like circling water as it nears the mouth of a drain
If we have the courage to truly acknowledge the signs that are all around us
Interconnected problems and crises that make us realize that
Electing better representatives, while important, isn’t enough
Passing better laws, while important, isn’t enough
Enacting better regulations, while important, isn’t enough
Afterall, elected representatives today can be unelected tomorrow
Passed laws today can be reversed tomorrow
Enacted regulations today can be unenacted tomorrow
Our responses must fully answer the questions
Our solutions must be in proportion to our crises, and
Our commitment to change must equal the scale of the energy of those creating injustice and reducing our power
What we envision must be part of the Constitution, where it becomes
Beyond the ability to easily change by simply
Removing good public officials
Our Eye on the Prize, despite all the barriers, must be constitutional change, after all history shows
What initially seems impossible becomes inevitable.
What once was a ceiling of possibility eventually becomes the floor of reality
What we can only now imagine becomes the obvious concrete step forward
If true, then answer this:
How many systematically altering ideas have been converted into actual policy proposals?
Have been introduced as legislation in Congress as an amendment to the United States Constitution?
Have attracted nearly 100 Congressional cosponsors?
Have over 700 national organizational endorsers?
Have over 700 communities (including 9 states) that have passed endorsing municipal resolutions and ballot initiatives?
Have nearly 500,000 individual supporters?
Have a skilled staff and board dedicated to movement building, diversity and inclusion?
Have a collectively/democratically run national organization with local groups and advocates that are politically and economically independent from the pressures by the power structure (government, political parties, big foundations, corporations, a handful of super rich individuals) to moderate, temper or water down what is ultimately needed?
Exactly. Precisely. None.
What Move to Amend is doing – you and us together – is Incredibly rare throughout history
We’re calling not to reform, but to transform our relationship between people and the institutions we’ve created
To make government accountable to us
To make all corporate entities subservient to us
To ensure that the ultimate right to decide is empowered to us
But it’s also fragile because of all the interrelated problems and crises
All the problems.
All the issues
Demanding immediate reaction
To say no
To stop the assaults and the harms
To the planet
But there’s an alternative to “No”
To simply opposing
It’s promoting an alternative
It’s a “Yes”
To the We the People Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
A vision, call and plan that affirms that only a human being is a person with inalienable rights, not corporate entities.
And that political money in elections is not “free speech” which shall be democratically regulated
And a stepping stone to even further transformative change
It asserts that Congress “shall’ take action.
Not “may” as other amendments propose
Since “may” can also mean “possibly”
But can also be interpreted as “may not”
As in not here
In the end, is it all worth it?
Worth organizing for systemic change, not just immediate relief?
Worth going on the offense and not always on the defense?
Worth not seeing immediate results vs sometimes seeing some immediate outcomes from taking immediate actions to address immediate problems?
It all depends
Not on politicians
Not on bureaucrats
Not on corporate executives
Not even on committed not profit “leaders”
But on us
That being you
Together with other yous
Who collectively at the grassroots have
And the courage to clearly see the current reality is incredibly dire for us all and all living beings if all that happens is less than transformational
Yet phenomenally encouraging if we become aware, have vision and take action for a new reality that’s in harmony within ourselves, with other human beings and all living things.
To create justice in all its forms
To ensure a livable world
To create real, authentic democracy where every single person has the dignity, respect, support and power they should have – for the very first time.
That’s more than Move to Amend’s immediate current strategy
But it’s grounded in our vision
It’s a basis for how we engage with our grassroots leaders and supporters, and
It’s a commitment when connecting with other organizations
Starting with affirming that human beings should have the power and right to determine their own collective future – of self-determination
Not limited by the so-called “rights” of corporate entities
Not trapped by the so-called “rights” of money
This is where we stand
To us, it’s all worth the time, energy and financial resources
As it has to so many like you in the past.
As we hope to you and so many more in the present and future.
KENT DEMOCRACY DAY TESTIMONY
Greg Coleridge, Co-Director, Move to Amend
October 5, 2022
I’m Greg Coleridge, Co-Director of the national Move to Amend campaign.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are going.”
If we’re honest with ourselves about the direction of what little democracy we have, which truthfully was never as much as it should have been from day one in our country, then where we’re headed is a monocracy, plutocracy and corpocracy – not to mention an autocracy – all rolled into one.
There is no single cause for this, but major factors are the more than century-long series of bizarre Supreme Court decisions anoinging corporations with constitutional rights – corporate personhood some call it – and decades-long series of bizarre Supreme Court decisions anointing money in elections as equal to First Amendment-protected “free speech.”
Abolishing corporate constitutional rights and money as speech are the two central components of HJR48, the We the People Amendment – now supported by 95 U.S. Representatives – including Tim Ryan – more than 650 organizations and over 700 communities that enacted either a municipal resolution or passed, like Kent, a citizen-driven ballot initiative.
The leadership of this national effort has come from the bottom-up – from people like Bill Wilen, Lee Brooker and others in Kent who educated, advocated and organized for passing the initiative calling on Congress to pass HJR48.
But people like you, elected officials – both individually and collectively – have an extremely important role – if you so choose – to complement this effort.
Here are six actions you can take to move this movement forward:
It’s time to abolish the corrupting influence of big money in elections – which is legalized bribery – and corporate rule. It’s a major way to change direction before we end up where we are headed.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com for any questions or ways I can assist any of you individually or Kent City Council collectively.