Rights & Democracy (RAD) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) host a community forum with guest speaker Greg Coleridge, Outreach Director of the Move to Amend campaign.
Introduction and remarks begins at about the 18:30 mark.
… Arizona deports one
… Massachusetts marries two of them
… The US government issues one a Social Security number
… one gets a STD after jumping in bed with an elected representative
… one returns from the Mideast with PTSD
… the CIA extradites one to Guantanamo
… one sacrifices its life in military service
… one is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
… one is baptized
… one dies from hunger or sickness
… one falls in love
… one is awed by beauty
… one is humbled by things it does not know
… it is NOT too big to JAIL
… one values the life and well being of any one individual before it’s own existence
… The Ohio State University graduates one
… Ohio denies two same sex marriage (and divorce) rights
… one can’t find a job
… one is elected president or dies in childbirth.
… one is put in prison (which would most likely be for defrauding its investors)
… one dies and is buried in a cemetery
… it grows a heart
… it develops a conscience
… one stays up all night with a sick baby, a troubled teen, or a dying parent
… one worries about the meaning of life
… one is capable of empathy
… one has an ultrasound detected heartbeat
… when its conception occurs in utero
… one is actually held responsible for its actions
… one adopts any of those babies delivered from the women who were denied access to a legal abortion
…. they have to register for the draft
… when one gets pregnant, gives birth and breastfeeds the newborn.
… our budget is balanced
… the created is equal to the creator
… one gives up their personhood to save another person
… they pay their fair share of taxes
… disco music is finally eradicated from the face of the earth
… Lucy lets Charlie Brown kick the football
… a winter storm warning is posted for hell
… Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. return to Earth and declare corporations are people.
… one teaches a child
… they all start laughing out loud at these remarks
… it shows me its birth certificate
… it grows an opposable thumb.
… when gepetto makes it a real boy
… they are able to reproduce sexually
… one endorses Ron Paul for President.”
“I will never believe a corporation is a person.”
Presentation in Iowa City, Iowa, December 2, 2018
by Greg Coleridge
The midterm elections are over. Candidates have been elected and unelected. Ballot issues have been passed and rejected.
What hasn’t changed one iota, however, are the catastrophic harms to people, communities, the natural world and our republican form of self-government caused by the assertion of constitutional rights for corporations, and by political campaign money being defined as First Amendment-protected free speech.
Many believe these problems began with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v FEC decision. It’s true that Citizens United further opened the monetary floodgates onto political elections. The Court asserted that the First Amendment’s free speech clause prohibits government restrictions of “independent expenditures” for political communications by for-profit corporations, nonprofit corporations, labor unions and other groups.
Since the Supreme Court had previously ruled that corporations were “persons” with free speech rights, corporate funds could now be raised in unlimited sums for “independent” communication (i.e. candidate advertisements by entities that are not coordinated with the candidate). A separate federal court decision based on Citizens United lifted the same legal restrictions on individuals.
The result has frequently been stomach-turning attack ads from across the ideological spectrum that distort the truth about candidates and issues. In addition, when money determines who has access to the podiums, microphones and loudspeakers in an arena, the voices of people and groups without money are relegated to the hallways, basements and back alleys.
The $200 million-plus spent on the Illinois governor’s race, much of it from the wealthy candidates themselves, typifies further movement away from a republican form of self-government and towards a plutocracy (i.e. rule of, by and for the wealthy). Corporate spending on election advertising in Illinois and elsewhere, much of it untraceable “dark money,” represents a second parallel threat—corptocracy (i.e. rule of, by and for corporations).
More than reversing Citizens United is needed to create fair and democratic elections and more than fair and democratic elections are needed to create a legitimate republican form of self-government in which We the People rule.
Our government is broken because the system is fixed—as in rigged to benefit the super-wealthy and corporations. The core problems are the constitutional “rights” anointed by the Supreme Court on corporations and on money spent in elections—both of which predate Citizens United.
Corporations weren’t intended by this nation’s founders to become the governing institution in our country and world. Corporations are creations of government, originally chartered one at a time by legislative acts, which listed specific legal protections and privileges to create useful goods and services, but not with inalienable constitutional rights. Corporate charters were democratic instruments. Corporations that violated their charter provisions regularly had those charters revoked by state legislatures or state courts. We the People were sovereign, corporate creations of the state were subordinate.
No corporation was immune, even the most powerful ones. A Republican state Attorney General sought to revoke Standard Oil Corporation’s charter in 1892 for disregarding its provisions.
The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 1900 ruling to dissolve a dairy company, stated: “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.”
Corporations worked strategically to shift democratic control over to the corporate form in three ways: from the state to the federal level, from the legislative arena to regulatory agencies, and from the legislative arena to the courts. All three strategies sought to move corporate definition beyond the reach of the public and, thus, undermine our republican form of self-government.
The most effective approach was to shield corporate actions by the Supreme Court. Despite the Constitution not mentioning corporations and the Bill of Rights meant to solely apply to human beings, corporate attorneys argued that constitutional rights applied to their clients. Activist Supreme Courts agreed and concocted for over a century corporate constitutional rights out of thin air.
Corporate constitutional rights now include First Amendment free speech and religion, Fourth Amendment freedom from search and seizure, Fifth Amendment freedom from takings, Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection, and Commerce and Contracts Clause “rights.”
These never-intended rights have allowed corporations to hijack our republican form of self-government well beyond influencing elections through their “right” to make political donations. These include the rights:
- to advertise dangerous products (i.e. cigarettes and fracking) over the objections of communities and to avoid labeling genetically modified foods;
- to avoid subpoenas that would compel testimony about unlawful trade and price fixing, and the right to prevent citizens, communities and regulatory agencies from stopping pollution and other assaults on people or communities;
- to receive compensation when regulations are established to protect homeowners or communities, including the right to be compensated for all possible future profits they may have made without such regulations;
- to build chain stores and erect cell towers against the will of communities, oppose tax and other public policies favoring local businesses over multinational corporations and resist democratic efforts to prevent corporate mergers and revoke corporate charters through citizen initiatives; and
- to ship toxic waste between states over the “health, safety, and welfare” objections of communities – claiming the waste isn’t actually “waste” but “commerce.”
Corporate constitutional rights are just one head of our anti-democratic hydra. The other is the constitutional protection of political money defined as free speech. This dates to the 1976 Buckley v Valeo decision. If money is political speech, as the Supreme Court stated, then those with the most money have the most speech. This is not an ingredient for anything approaching a republican form of self-government, more likely for a plutocracy.
No presidential decree, legislative statute or regulation can end corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech. The only solution is a constitutional amendment.
Move to Amend is a national non-partisan coalition of hundreds of organizations and over 450,000 individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.
It calls for the We the People Amendment (H.J.R. 48) to the Constitution, declaring that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, not to mere legal entities, and that money is not a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns. Sixty-five U.S. House Representatives have endorsed H.J.R. 48. It will soon be introduced in the U.S. Senate. More than 750 communities have passed either local or state resolutions or ballot measures calling for such an Amendment.
Building an authentically multicultural, intergenerational and transpartisan grassroots democracy movement is the only realistic route toward this end. This currently seems pie-in-the-sky. Yet we’re now facing profound political, economic, social and environmental crises. None of this is sustainable. Limits are rapidly being reached. What seems impossible at the moment can quickly become inevitable. Our visions have been repressed by our dominant culture about what is doable, realistic and inevitable – not to mention what is just, democratic and sustainable.
A Move to Amend-sponsored public program recently took place in Champaign-Urbana. There’s interest in exploring what can be done locally to join this growing national movement. If interested in joining this exploration, contact Doug Jones at email@example.com.
Greg Coleridge is Outreach Director at Move to Amend. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpted from Citizens over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Freedom in the Future
Those who rule based on the dominant culture, regardless of country or political persuasion, have always written the “mainstream” version of history. By definition, this means people, ideas and actions fundamentally challenging the dominant culture are barely mentioned, if so rarely analyzed, or are distorted or omitted altogether. It’s the responsibility of those not part of the dominant culture (always has been, always will be) to (re)claim the people, ideas and actions from the past – to be inspired, to learn the lessons and to assess what may be useful in the present. Ohio’s history is not just a description of its past Presidents, where and when its wartime battles took place, or which Ohioans flew into space. Another part, its hidden part, is the story of the successes, struggles and failures of the many people who sought to establish a state where they could make the basic decisions affecting their own lives free from external control. It’s also the story of the few who imposed control over Ohio’s majority of people and resources using the business corporation as their primary vehicle. These stories are enormously relevant today. – Greg Coleridge
The questions and answers below are excerpted from Citizens over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Freedom in the Future, available for $3. To order, send a check/money order to Create Real Democracy, 3016 Somerton Rd., Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.
1. Where is the following language found?
That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety; and, every free, republican government being founded on their sole authority, and organized for the great purpose of protecting their rights and liberties and securing their independence to effect these ends, they have at all times a complete power to alter, reform or abolish their government, whenever they may deem it necessary.
(a) US Declaration of Independence
(b) Communist Manifesto
(c) Ohio Constitution
(d) US Articles of Confederation
(e) US Constitution
2. Early legislative acts in Ohio creating corporations one at a time through petitioning the legislature, or General Assembly, stipulated rigid conditions. These privileges, not rights, included what provisions?
(a) Limited duration of charter or certificate of incorporation
(b) Limitation on amount of land ownership
(c) Limitation of amount of capitalization, or total investment of owners
(d) Limitation of charter for a specific purpose (to amend its charter, a new corporation had to be formed). The state reserved the right to amend the charters or to revoke them
(e) All of the above
3. In 1818, the Ohio General Assembly passed the “crowbar law.” What did this do?
(a) It issued crowbars to every Ohioan.
(b) It legalized the use of crowbars as weapons, under the motto, “Crowbars don’t kill people, people do.”
(c) It allowed certain state employees to enter a nationally chartered bank in Ohio and take money that it had been taxed by the legislature but not yet paid.
4. What action the Ohio General Assembly do to chartered companies that violated the terms of their charters?
(a) They issued fines.
(b) They appointed “Blue Ribbon” committees to look into the violations.
(c) They revoked their corporate charters.
(d) They expanded the terms of their charters to include whatever violation(s) were being committed.
5. The 1837 Ohio Loan Law provided state funds to railroads, canals, and turnpike companies for construction and maintenance, loans to railroads and funds for the purchase of stock in canal and turnpike companies. What was the nickname of this law?
(a) The Abundance for All Ohioans Law
(b) The Plunder Law
(c) The Socialism Law
6. Government abuse by the rich and corporate agents resulted in the public successfully organizing what in 1851?
(a) A statewide Constitutional convention
(b) A violent uprising
(c) Parades in affluent neighborhoods across the state
7. What group of Ohioans voiced the following sentiment?
The corporation has received vitality from the state; it continues during its existence to be the creature of the state; must live subservient to its laws, and has such powers and franchises as those laws have bestowed upon it, and none others. As the state was not bound to create it in the first place, it is not bound to maintain it, after having done so, if it violates the laws or public policy of the state, or misuses its franchises to oppress the citizens thereof.
(a) Radical Democrats
(b) Radical anarchists
(c) Radical farmers and workers
(d) The Ohio Supreme Court
8. In 1853, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled four times in what way regarding the US Supreme Court’s position that states don’t have the power to define corporations through its charter.
(a) The Ohio Supreme Court wholeheartedly upheld the US Supreme Court decision.
(b) The Ohio Supreme Court upheld but with reservations the US Supreme Court decision.
(c) The Ohio Supreme Court opposed and defied the US Supreme Court decision.
9. U.S. Senator John Sherman from Ohio was the main sponsor of what is still today considered to be the best federal anti-trust legislation, the “Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.” The federal law trumped much stronger anti-trust laws passed by many states. What did Sherman say in Congress in support of his law?
(a) This law will make me famous.
(b) [P]eople are feeling the power and grasp of these combinations, and are demanding of every State Legislature and of Congress a remedy for this evil, only grown into huge proportions in recent times… You must heed their appeal, or be ready for the socialist, the communist and the nihilist.
(c) This law will usher in a new period of democracy.
10. Penalties courts imposed for abuse or misuse of the corporate charter were often more severe than a simple plea bargain or fine. They included stripping the corporation of its privileges to perform certain actions. The most severe penalty — not uncommon from the mid-1800’s through the first several decades of this century — was to revoke the corporate charter and dissolve the corporation itself. The legal device used to achieve these penalties was quo warranto proceedings, meaning “by what authority.” In the mid 1800’s, numerous states amended their constitutions to make corporate charters subject to alteration or revocation by legislatures. Ohio’s General Assembly passed a quo warranto act in 1838. Ohio’s General Assembly determined that when subordinate entities like corporations acted beyond their authority, or ultra vires, they were guilty of rebellion and must be terminated. How often did the courts revoke corporate charters in Ohio?
(a) Dozens of times
(b) A few times
(c) Only once
11. In the early 1890s the State of Ohio sought to revoke the charter of the Standard Oil Company, the largest corporation in the country at the time. Who initiated the action?
(a) Ohio farmers
(b) Ohio workers
(c) Ohio’s leading Democratic public officials
(d) Ohio Republican Attorney General David K. Watson
12. Ohio became a state in 1802. When did Ohio workers first organize themselves into a trade association/union?
13. What did many Ohio Locofocos consider “a greater danger to ‘free principles’ than slavery?
(c) The Ohio Constitution
(d) Who the heck are “Locofocos?”
14. In the 1890’s the Ohio People’s Party, composed of workers and farmers across the state was formed. Name one of their many demands for democratic and social change.
15. What did Jacob Coxey, a wealthy businessman from Massillon, do in 1894?
(a) Built a massive steel plant, Coxey’s Works, in Massillon.
(b) Took advantage of the Plunder Law like no other Ohioan ever had.
(c) Organized a march from Massillon to Washington, DC to address the issue of unemployment.
16. Who said, “I believe in the municipal ownership of all public service monopolies…for if you do not own them they will, in time, own you. They will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions,
and finally destroy your liberties.”
(a) Ohio communists
(b) Ohio socialists
(c) Ohio nihilists
(d) Cleveland Mayor (and former businessman) Tom Johnson
17. What happened in Ohio after the US Supreme Court in Santa Clara vs Southern Pacific declared corporations were “persons” under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution?
18. What is the difference between a person and a corporation, according to former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who spoke to the Ohio Constitutional convention in 1912?
19. Name one democratic change that the public pressured for in the new 1912 Ohio Constitution?
20. What action did the Ohio General Assembly prohibit by legislation in 1908 and remained illegal for the most part until 1959?
(d) Corporate campaign contributions
4. c (This happened dozens of times. One example: in 1842 the Ohio General Assembly repealed the charter of the German Bank of Wooster in Wayne County. It instructed the bank to close its affairs. The legislature stated: It shall be the duty of the court of common pleas… or any judge of the supreme court…to restrain said bank, its officers, agents and servants or assignees, from exercising any corporate rights, privileges, and franchises whatever, or from paying out, selling, transferring, or in any way disposing of, the lands, tenements, goods, chattels, rights, credits, moneys, or effects whatsoever, of said bank… and force the bank commissioners to close the bank and deliver full possession of the banking house, keys, books, papers, lands, tenements, goods, chattels, moneys, property and effects of said bank, of every kind and description whatever…)
8. c (At least four historic state supreme court decisions in 1853 challenged the US Supreme Court Dartmouth v Woodword 1819 decision and its fundamental premise that a corporate charter was a contract by claiming the state rather than the federal government possessed basic self-governance rights. The first of the four decisions was DeBolt v The Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company In its decision upholding the right of the State of Ohio to increase the tax of a life insurance corporation, the court affirmed the self-governing rights of the state rather than the federal government to change corporate charters and establish laws.
…[I]n every political sovereign community, there inheres necessarily the right and the duty of guarding its own existence, and of promoting the interests and welfare of the community at large. The constitution of the United States, although adopted by the sovereign States of this Union, and
proclaimed in its language, to be the supreme law for their government, can, by no rational interpretation be brought to conflict with this attribute in the States… the power in the State is an independent power, and does not come within the class of cases prohibited by the constitution.)
11. d (The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against the right of Standard Oil in 1892 to form a trust but permitted the company to retain its charter. Standard Oil, however, defied the court ruling on trusts. In 1898, another Ohio Attorney General, Frank Monnett, Republican from Crawford County, took Standard Oil to court on contempt charges. Standard Oil fled Ohio for New Jersey, where they operated their trust until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to break up the trust in 1911.)
12. a (Working people organized through Unions have been a powerful presence through Ohio’s history. They’ve been responsible for humane working conditions, wages and benefits, winning the right to strike and the 8 hour work day. Direct resistance to corporate power at the workplace, on the streets, or through the ballot box were not the only challenges to corporate power by workers and unions in Ohio. Working people also endorsed alternative business formations, such as cooperatives, worker-owned enterprises, and businesses owned outright by cities and towns.)
13. b (When the General Assembly was reasonably representative of the public, strong laws were passed dictating every facet of banking practices with tough penalties for violations. Penalties included guilty officers “imprisoned in the cell or dungeon of the county jail, and fed on bread and water only…”, “imprisoned in the penitentiary, and kept at hard labor…,” and individual liability of bank directors, presidents, and officers.)
14. The Ohio People’s Party (supported by farmers and workers across Ohio) platform called for the “restriction of the ability of politicians to change city charters and the requirement that voters approve all charter changes; initiative and referendum… revocation of the charter of the Standard Oil Company; and the eight hour work day.” The party ran candidates across the state.
15. c. (“Coxey’s Army” consisted of 100 men. Other armies formed across the nation that linked to Coxey’s group just outside DC. Labor unions and Populists supported the march. Coxey received a permit to march into DC but he was not granted a permit to speak at the Capitol. When he tried to speak, he was arrested and convicted of displaying banners on the Capitol grounds. In his case, the banner was a button on his lapel. Coxey responded to his arrest with these words, “Up these steps the lobbyists of trusts and corporations have passed unchallenged on their way to committee rooms, access to which we, the representatives of the toiling wealth producers, have been denied.”)
17. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional following Santa Clara hundreds of laws in scores of states that had passed due to the hard efforts of citizens and workers to control corporations. Several of these were Ohio laws. Corporations in Ohio were declared “persons” with due process rights and were granted “all the rights and business transactions which are possessed by a sole person conducting a like business.” A 1915 court decision declared that a corporation had the same Bill of Rights protections as persons, stating: The legal rights of the…defendant, Loan Company, although it be a corporation, soulless and speechless, rise as high in the scales of law and justice as those of the most obscure and poverty-stricken subject of the state.
18. “The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called a corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they possess, and in the restraints under which they act. Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry out a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out a money-making policy. There is comparatively little difference in the strength of men; a corporation may be one hundred, one thousand, or even one million times stronger than the average man. Man acts under the restraints of conscience, and is influenced also by a belief in a future life. A corporation has no soul and cares nothing about the hereafter.”
19. The initiative and referendum were adopted as methods to bypass the legislature in the creation or revocation of laws. Municipal home rule, permitting communities of 5000 or more in population to govern themselves, was also adopted. Public service corporations opposed home rule, seeing it as a device encouraging municipal ownership of utilities.
20. d (The law stated: “That no corporation doing business in this state shall directly or indirectly pay, use or offer, consent or agree to pay or use, any of its money or property for, or in aid, of any political party, committee or organization, or for, or in aid of, any candidate for political office or for nomination for any such office, or in any manner use any of its money or property for any political purpose whatever, or for the reimbursement or indemnification of any person or persons for moneys or property so used.)