Democracy, Corporations and the World Trade Organization

 

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[The “Battle in Seattle” was 20 years ago this week. Here’s what I wrote after spending the week there — including a notable event on December 1, 1999]

It was a privilege for me to be in Seattle at the time of the recent WTO meetings. I had the good fortune to attend a wide variety of teach-ins, briefings, street actions, cultural events and strategy sessions. I heard in-depth from representatives of citizen groups from all over the world concerning the threat of a global trading system in which commerce is the highest and only rule benefiting rich and powerful individuals and transnational corporations. This comes at the expense, these speakers said, of peoples everywhere who care about issues as wide-ranging but inextricably connected as protecting sea turtles and the environment; to expanding human and labor rights; to opposing the patenting of life and genetic engineering; to affirming the dignity of women, peasants, children and non-materialistic cultures.

Yet, one 60-minute slice of the week I will forever remember. It was two back-to-back events on December 1 that typified for me the relationship between democracy, corporations and the WTO.

The first event was a people’s march to a rally and march to a Methodist church sponsored by the US Steelworkers. It included a wide variety of labor, environmental, and church people from around the world. As we marched with a legal permit, we were joined by a group of young people. Indescribable feelings of liberation, joy and hope consumed me as the two groups (which totaled about 1000 people) linked together and marched, chanted and waved signs peacefully down the street greeting and leafleting pedestrians, drivers and local business owners, including vendors at Pike Street Market. One of the most popular chants of the week summed up the experience well: “this is what democracy looks like.”

In the midst of this wonderful, nonviolent display of freedom of speech and assembly a second event occurred. We were attacked. Out of nowhere and completely unprovoked, we were literally surrounded and fired upon by unidentified police who looked like Ninja Turtles on steroids from who knows where with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades. It was chemical warfare — but only one side was shooting. It was an oppressive, violent, painful, terrifying, secretive, seemingly deliberate and indiscriminate projection of force in response to a unified nonviolent expression of justice, democracy and peace. When property is threatened, throw out the Bill of Rights. “This is what the WTO and corporate rule looked like.”

That one hour dramatically summed up for me the stark contrast between the vision of democracy on one side and the reality of corporate rule and the WTO on the other — spontaneity, equality and compassion vs. order, authoritarianism, and violence. Amidst the fog of tear gas, there it was – laid out for all to experience. Even the vendors at the open air market got more than a whiff of reality as their meats and vegetables were transformed from farm fresh to toxic in a matter of minutes.

For decades, the people of the world over have been victims of the military might of the US. Now we know a bit of what millions of others have known who challenge the global control of corporate power. Governments and their media talk about “democracy” but when the people demand it, out come the guns, bullets and toxic gas. Globalization and militarization are two halves of the same rotten whole.

The WTO is about placing rules favorable to corporations governing commerce and trade over all other considerations. It’s trade and commerce uber alles. Hardly anyone I met opposed international trade per se. What speakers at educational forums and people on the streets opposed was the idolatry of trade and commerce over the protection of the environment and promotion of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights — which are the first responsibilities of nations. Without such protections and rights, the global flow of capital will continue to result everywhere in the exploitation of people, destruction of the natural world and in the widening gap between rich and poor. WTO critics rightly fear that life will be patented, foods will be genetically altered without their knowledge or approval (creating what some call Frankenfood), labor will be exploited and investments, education, and human services will take place with one and only one goal in mind — profit maximization.

The formidable, yet essential, task of all US citizens is to (re)assert democratic control over our own government, elected officials and corporations. The WTO and many other examples of corporate rule (including the many forms in the US) did not happen by magic, accident or overnight, but by persistent and consistent intention by corporate attorneys, CEO’s and compliant government officials who believe that corporations should have more “rights” than human beings. Our task is to challenge this myth in all its forms with dignity and respect and with a commitment to create an alternative of justice, peace and sustainability.

December 1999

Corporate Hijacking of the U.S. Constitution

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http://poclad.org/BWA/2019/BWA_2019_Oct.html

Move to Amend recently issued a series of written documents detailing the many constitutional rights awarded to corporations by the Supreme Court. The series, Corporate Hijacking of the U.S. Constitution , includes a four-page summary of many corporate constitutional rights. It’s followed by seven separate two-page douments describing the “corporate hijacking” of individual constitutional amendments and portions of the original U.S. Constitution.

What follows is an abridged version of each of the seven documents.

As stated in the introduction:

Many believe corporate hijacking of the constitution begins and ends with money in elections (i.e. First Amendment ‘free speech’ rights permitting corporations to spend money to influence elections). But the threat to people, communities, the environment and democracy itself is much greater and includes additional parts of the First Amendment, as well as other amendments of our constitution.

Ending corporate constitutional rights is more than simply reversing the 2010 Citizens United vs FEC Supreme Court decision and more than simply ending political money defined as First Amendment-protected ‘free speech.’

The entire series is at https://movetoamend.org/toolkit/corporate-hijacking-us-constitution

Understanding the totality of corporate constitutional rights (better known as “corporate personhood”) is critical. Corporations did not originally possess constitutional rights in this country.

Several legislative and amendment alternatives to Move to Amend’s “We the People Amendment, HJR48 (https://movetoamend.org/amendment) reference corporate constitutional rights, but only focus on the Citizens United Supreme Court decision or only address corporate political money in elections. These alternatives provide a gaping hole for the power elite by simply using their remaining constitutional rights to assert control over people and communities and to further plunder the planet — as they once did prior to winning corporate political free speech rights.

Reversing Citizens United isn’t enough. Simply ending corporate political free speech rights isn’t enough. We must abolish all forms of corporate personhood if we expect as self-governing people to assert our authority to protect ourselves, families, communities and what remains of a livable world…not to mention creating a political system for the very first time where We the People include All the People.

-Greg Coleridge. Member of the POCLAD Collective
and Move to Amend Outreach Director

 

Rest of article at http://poclad.org/BWA/2019/BWA_2019_Oct.html

 

Working to restore the voices of ordinary people

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October 3, 2019

https://www.tdn-net.com/opinion/columns/71364/working-to-restore-the-voices-of-ordinary-people

By Deb Hogshead

It’s neither a conservative nor liberal issue. It’s a constitutional issue, and that’s what Greg Coleridge will talk about when he visits Troy on October 12.

Greg is the national outreach director for the non-partisan, grassroots coalition Move to Amend, and he will explain how a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution will restore the voices of ordinary people — individuals like you and me — in government decisions.

Large corporate entities (for example, business corporations, associations, labor unions and non-profit organizations) have a louder voice than we do in Washington and Columbus. Through a series of rulings over the course of many years, the Supreme Court made this possible by ruling that corporations are people with constitutional rights — including free speech rights that allow them to spend large amounts of money to influence elections and legislation.

Corporate entities play a critical role in society and warrant privileges and protections, but they should not have a louder voice than we do when it comes to decisions that affect our daily lives — decisions about such things as the quality of our water supply, access to affordable healthcare, disclosure of ingredients in our food, the dumping of out-of-state toxic materials in our communities and protections for locally owned businesses and family-owned farms against chains stores and out-of-state agribusinesses.

A 28th Amendment would shift political power away from corporate entities and back to the people. It would move decisions about corporate privileges and protections from the Supreme Court back to the people, through their elected representatives, where it had been at the beginning of our nation’s history.

There’s already a resolution in Congress with language for a proposed amendment. It’s HJR 48, and it has 64 co-sponsors, including three from the Ohio delegation. HJR 48 makes clear (1) constitutional rights belong to human beings only — not artificial entities such as corporations, associations, unions and nonprofit organizations — and (2) money spent on elections is not a protected form of speech and shall be regulated.

Support for a 28th Amendment has been growing since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v FEC. Let me give you a few examples:

Across the nation, nearly half a million people have signed a petition supporting a 28th Amendment; of those, more than 16,000 are Ohio residents and 1,215 live in Ohio District 8.

Well over 600 communities have passed citizen initiatives or council resolutions in support of a 28th Amendment. In Ohio the number is 24.

Of the 50 states, close to 20 have passed ballot initiatives or resolutions calling for a similar amendment. In Columbus, resolutions calling for a 28th Amendment have been re-introduced in both the House (HR 140) and the Senate (SR 221).

These numbers will grow as more people understand the impact of corporate dominance in our governance.

Please join us from 1-3 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Lincoln Community Center, 110 Ash St.

Kent “Democracy Day” Testimony

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TESTIMONY AT “DEMOCRACY DAY” PUBLIC HEARING

Greg Coleridge, Outreach Director | Kent, Ohio | October 2, 2019

Happy Democracy Day!

Congratulations to all those who circulated petitions.

Thanks to all those who voted for “Democracy 4 U and ME! Yes on Issue 43!”

And kudos to the organizers for somehow convincing the state of Ohio to support this initiative by coordinating state road signs with that exact number go right through the center of town!

Kent is one of more than 500 communities and more than a dozen states that have passed municipal resolution or citizen initiatives calling for ending corporate constitutional rights and money defined as First Amendment-protected free speech.

Over 460,000 individuals have signed our petition, hundreds of organizations have endorsed our initiative, and our We the People [constitutional] Amendment (HJR 48) has 65 cosponsors, including Rep. Tim Ryan.

This growing movement is a reflection of the growing disconnect between what people want on issue after issue and the policies that our elected representatives don’t pass – which is contributing to the growing movement for transformational change.

This movement is also a reflection of the growing awareness of the absurdity of money being defined as free speech and corporations having constitutional rights. Neither of which existed at the time of this country’s founding.

Many have said the greatest threat to democracy or a democratic republic is the mistaken belief that we actually have an authentic one. We the People have never been All the People.

People with property have always had more rights. Social/democracy movements driving women and people of color, among others, have partially changed that.

While white, male, property owners were certainly well shielded by the US Constitution, corporations weren’t. They, in fact, aren’t mentioned. Thus, corporations were defined as subordinate creations of the state, only able to provide goods and services as instructed in their charters or licenses, which was passed early on one-at-a-time by state legislatures.

Corporate entities only acquired “constitutional rights” because activist Supreme Court justices fictionally interpreted parts of the Constitution and Constitutional Amendments to apply to these artificial legal creations of government.

Corporate constitutional rights, or corporate personhood goes well beyond corporate political money spent in elections being defined as “first amendment free speech.” As harmful to people, places and the planet and to democracy as these are, there’s so much more.

Corporations have hijacked Constitutional Amendments and parts of the original Constitution — with impacts in many cases that limit the ability of local and state legislatures to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents, citizens, communities and state.

For example:

-A state law mandating the labeling of certain ingredients in food has been overturned as violating a corporation’s right not to speak under the first amendment

-Employees of a corporation wanting to access contraception coverage were denied by the court as a violation of the business corporation’s first amendment religious rights (Hobby Lobby).

-A state regulation limiting the amount of fossil fuels that can be extracted from the ground has been overturned as violating a corporation’s “taking” rights under the 5th Amendment — which could have direct implications in trying to keep fossil fuels in the ground to save the climate.

-Laws giving preferential treatment to locally owned over big box stores has been overtured by corporations claiming the law discriminates under the 14th Amendment

-Numerous laws limiting the importation of toxic materials and other items in communities in the name of health, safety and welfare have been overturned under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause that places principle of commerce or trade over the principle of health, safety and welfare.

The list goes on to include the numerous instances of local laws across the country preempted or trumped by state laws or the courts to protect corporate interests over community concerns.

The point being: elections are not enough, laws are not enough, and regulations are not enough — not when the foundational rules and the interpretation of those rules are rigged to protect corporate rights over human rights and the rights to a livable world.

Amending the constitution to abolish not only political money in elections as first amendment protected free speech but also all forms of corporate personhood is essential. The We the People Amendment is that amendment. Only people are persons.

Victor Hugo once said, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

Thank you Kent residents for contributing to this growing awareness and to shifting the culture — prerequisites to changing our foundational governing rules. This is an idea…and a proposal…whose time has come.

 

Talking Democracy on Oct. 12

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https://www.miamivalleysunday.com/2019/09/12/talking-democracy-on-oct-12/

TROY—Greg Coleridge, national outreach director for the non-partisan, grassroots coalition Move to Amend, will be the featured speaker at “Stand Up for Democracy,” 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Lincoln Community Center, 110 Ash St. The program is hosted by We The People Miami County and Move to Amend.

Also speaking will be Mary Sue Gmeiner, affiliate coordinator of Greater Dayton Move to Amend. Representatives from area justice and peace organizations will be on hand to share information about their work and ways for people to get involved.

The program will begin with the screening of the 30-minute documentary “Legalize Democracy.” Gmeiner will explain how corporate power relates to the issues faced by the participating justice and peace organizations. Coleridge will discuss solutions to the problem of corporate dominance in politics and offer suggestions for restoring the voice of the people. A Q&A will follow.

In addition to his work with Move to Amend, Coleridge is a principal leader of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) and an advisor to the American Monetary Institute (AMI). He previously served on the national governing board of Common Cause. For more than three decades, Coleridge worked with the American Friends Service Committee in Ohio. He is the author of “Citizens over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio” and “Challenges to Freedom in the Future” and script writer for the documentary “CorpOrNation: The Story of Citizens and Corporations in Ohio.”

Move to Amend is a national, non-partisan grassroots affiliation of people and organizations working for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that makes clear constitutional rights belong to human beings only and money spent on elections is not a protected form of speech and shall be regulated. We The People Miami County is a local ad hoc working group in partnership with Move to Amend

For questions or more information about We the People Miami County, contact wethepeoplemiamicounty@gmail.com. For information on Move to Amend, visit movetoamend.org.

 

Radio interview

WTAM
May 19, 2019

First hour: Greg Coleridge and Sally Hanley of “Move to “Amend” a national organization- that seeks to put an amendment in front of congress.

Testimony at Democracy Day Public Hearing

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Greg Coleridge / February 26, 2019 / Brecksville, Ohio

Happy Democracy Day! Congratulations once more to the citizens of Brecksville for voting for a ballot initiative in 2012 calling on Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to end corporate rule and big money in elections by declaring that corporations don’t have constitutional rights and money spent in elections is not equal to political free speech.

Big problems require big solutions. The amendment is a big solution.

While much deserving attention tonight will be devoted to one piece of this proposed amendment – the impact of money in elections from the super wealthy and corporate entities, it’s not the only fundamental problem this amendment would fundamentally solve. The other problem is corporate rule or governance. Ending all corporate constitutional rights goes beyond corporate influence in elections to corporate power in direct rule making.

Inalienable rights apply to human beings. The Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment affirmed certain rights to human persons, not to corporations.

Corporations aren’t mentioned in the Constitution. Originally, they came into existence when sovereign state legislatures granted charters one at a time with clearly defined functions. Corporate charters were democratic instruments. No voter, citizen, social movement or elected official has ever granted corporations constitutional rights. Rather, it’s been activist Supreme Court Justices taking their cues time and again from corporate attorneys.

So, what’s been the impact of the corporate hijack of the Constitution? It’s been lethal on people, communities and our democratic republic.

Corporations have hijacked 1st Amendment “free speech” rights beyond the right to donate to political elections. The never intended corporate 1st amendment right NOT to speak has, for example, preempted passed laws informing consumers whether or not toxins are in their food. Never intended corporate 1st amendment “religious” rights have prevented women employees from receiving health care coverage because it violated the religious right of the business corporation – not the owners — but the corporation.

Corporations have hijacked 4th Amendment “search on seizure” rights. The courts have overturned democratically enacted laws and regulations requiring mandatory inspections of corporate property to ensure worker safety or environmental protections. Corporate rights have preempted these community rights to protect workers and the environment.

Corporations have hijacked 5th Amendment “takings” rights. Courts have overturned regulations ensuring the protection of homes, land and communities from a corporate action – claiming that regulations are “takings” and must be compensated. Thus, corporate property rights have preempted personal property rights.

Corporate have hijacked the 14th Amendment due process and equal protection rights – rights that were intended to apply at the end of the civil war solely to freed slaves. Laws passed by local communities that, for example, support local businesses that keep jobs and money recycling in the community over mega chain stores have been overturned by courts as “discriminatory” under the 14th Amendment.

And corporations have hijacked the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The power of local public officials to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and the community have by the scores been preempted by corporations claiming that, for instance, toxic waste is commerce and therefore legally permissible to be dumped in a community’s backyard. Efforts by farmers and rural communities in many states against agribusinesses or initiatives that mandate only those who farm the land can own the land have been overturned by the courts as a violation of the Commerce Clause in favor of corporations.

Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Yet, paradoxically, this amendment is extremely conservative because it advocates returning to a system where questions of money in elections and the relationship between corporations and people are no longer decided in the judicial arena (the courts) but are shifted back to the legislative arena – where they once were decided — where We the People have greater power.

It’s no wonder small businesses, family farmers, and local public officials support this amendment and why citizens across the country who have had a chance to vote on these initiatives like you did in Brecksville vote yes – by the hundreds – because it promotes the fundamental democratic right to decide.

Passing a constitutional amendment that not only ends political money defined as free speech but also ends all constitutional rights will help create real democracy. Awareness is spreading, as is the support because our rising fundamental problems require people to rise up for fundamental change.

It’s nice to have a Democracy Day. But I’m for — and I hope you are as well — real democracy year round.

Thank you.