An open space for global conversation
The People's Rights Amendment
End Corporate Personhood
In homage to one of the "winter soldiers" that Thomas Paine memorialized, my old colleague Richard Grossman, who died too soon this November 22, 2011, I offer this plea for sanity.
Richard attended Columbia University, graduating in 1965, and then served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, while living in the Washington, DC area, Grossman founded Environmentalists for Full Employment (EFFE), a group that sought to unite environmental activists and unions years before the critical importance of this alliance was clear to grassroots activists of all stripes.
In the 1980s, he worked at the Highlander Research and Education Center, a social justice organization in Tennessee, and was executive director of Greenpeace USA.
Richard Grossman was the co-director of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD). He was co-author of Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation and lectured widely on issues of corporate power, law and democracy. He was also one of the teachers for the Daniel Pennock Democracy School, which worked to help people understand how and why corporations have more rights than human beings.
The group came together in the early nineties when a dozen activists who had spent much of their lives working on issues of peace, labor, women's rights, and the environment decided that something more had to be done. "It's time," he said, "that people took back control over corporations."
I first met Richard in DC back in 1978, when I was an organizer for the Clamshell Alliance and he was directing EFFE. I last worked with him in 2004 when I organized the first county Kucinich for President campaign in New Hampshire.
In the month before his untimely death, Richard was working on "An Act To Criminalize Chartered, Incorporated Business Entities", which stated:
As of 12:01 a.m. on July 4, 2012, no incorporated business shall exist or operate within the United States and its territories, or within any State or municipality.
As of 12:01 a.m. on July 4, 2012, all existing business corporation charters granted by the United States, and by all States, shall be null and void.
Neither the United States nor any State shall issue new charters for incorporated businesses. Any chartered, incorporated business entity – domestic, foreign, alien – existing and operating after the above date shall be deemed a violent, criminal, and terrorist conspiracy. Its directors and executive officers must be charged with ecocide, criminal conspiracy and crimes against humanity.
corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility. - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
criminal, n. A person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation. - Howard Scott, first Research Director for the IWW
It would be a fitting tribute to Richard Grossman's life work if, on that Independence Day 2012, the #OWS National General Assembly scheduled to meet in Philadelphia would stand behind a Constitutional Amendment to outlaw Corporate Personhood.
There is the beginning of a nationwide campaign to introduce, through state legislatures, a resolution to enact a 28th amendment to the US Constitution. Before an amendment can take effect, it must be proposed to the states by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by two-thirds of the states, and ratified by three-fourths of the states. It is a difficult and laborious process, as it should be, but two of its proponents – Ben & Jerry – believe that, with the momentum provided by #OWS, it's now possible.
"Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person." - David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, former Professor of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business
This evening, November 29, 2011, I was part of an overflow crowd at a church in Montpelier VT which assembled to hear a presentation on responses to the Citizens United decision, which affirmed corporate personhood for the purposes of the 1st Amendment and re-affirmed the Court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision which equated money with speech. At the head table, were the founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, two women professors from VT Law School, and David Cobb, the 2004 Green Party candidate for president of the United States and now leading Move to Amend (http://movetoamend.org/) and is a Fellow with the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution.
"The Tree of Liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of Tyrants and Patriots both."
- Thomas Jefferson
This is the simple lesson that Cobb provided:
The US Constitution is based on just two categories: We the People (the first three words of the document), and the Government which we "do ordain and establish". It is clear from the document that We the People are primary and the Government secondary.
We the People are free and sovereign, meaning we alone have the authority to rule our lives, and the Government that we established is subordinate and accountable to us. We the People have rights that precede government – natural or inalienable rights. The Government has only duties. We the People live within a private sphere of civil liberties, while we interact within a public sphere of communitarian responsibilities.
The Government has no sovereignty beyond what limited authority we grant it, and we retain the right to amend or revoke that authority at any time. Since Government has overstepped its legitimate authority, and the Courts have unconstitutionally granted human rights to the legal entities we call corporations, it is time to amend that original charter once again to revoke those grants and to restrain Government.
Free Speech for People (http://freespeechforpeople.org/) conducted a professional survey of public opinion late 2010. They found that the overwhelming majority of Americans don't care for corporate behavior, think our political system is tilted heavily toward corporations, and support a constitutional amendment to ban corporate personhood.
The People's Rights Amendment
Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.
Section 2. People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.
Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.
State Resolutions have been introduced in support of amending the Constitution in California,
Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Washington in 2010; and in Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington in 2011. A number of towns in Massachusetts have passed similar resolutions and there will be a campaign to pass resolutions in town meetings in Vermont in 2012.
Move to Amend has issued a Call to Action for January 20, 2012 to occupy the courts.
Inspired by our friends at Occupy Wall Street, and Dr. Cornel West, Move To Amend is planning bold action to mark the second anniversary of the infamous Citizens United v. FEC decision! Occupy the Courts will be a one day occupation of Federal courthouses across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday January 20, 2012. Move to Amend volunteers across the USA will lead the charge on the judiciary which created – and continues to expand – corporate personhood rights. Americans across the country are on the march, and they are marching OUR way. They carry signs that say, “Corporations are NOT people! Money is NOT Speech!” And they are chanting those truths at the top of their lungs! The time has come to make these truths evident to the courts. Join us Friday, January 20, 2012 at a Federal Court building near you!