In 1902, at the height of the women’s suffrage movement in England, advocates began carving messages into the English penny that read “Votes for Women.” The suffrage movement tapped into the viral movement of money in order to spread their message and help create visual demand for the change that soon followed. While the emergence of the internet has profoundly altered the way we communicate, connect and organize, the tactic of using money to spread a message can create an unparalleled symbolic demand for action. That’s what Ben Cohen is doing with the StampStampede.org and, along with tens of thousands of patriots, he is stamping all of his dollars with messages like ‘not to be used for buying elections’ in support of a 28th amendment that states: 1) Corporations are not people; and 2) Money is not free speech.
Over the last 150 years, there has been a vast expansion of voting rights thanks to the 15th amendment, which extended the right to vote to African Americans, the 19th amendment, which extended the right to vote to women, and the Civil Rights Act, which ended the Jim Crow laws used to disenfranchise African-Americans and others. But absurd Supreme Court rulings like Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United v. FEC have diminished the value of the individual vote by allowing an unprecedented amount of campaign cash from corporations and wealthy elite looking to buy up representatives…or at least rent them. As a result, misguided 5-4 Supreme Court rulings have transformed the voting booth into the auction block.
Thanks to Citizens United, “A shocking 72 percent of political advertising by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006.” In 2012, over 2 billion dollars was spent by special interest groups to influence the election outcomes. This influx of big money has corrupted politicians and devalued everyone’s vote.
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It’s time to tell Congress that “We the People” mean business by flooding the US currency with bills stamped with the message to #GetMoneyOut of politics. According to the Federal Reserve, each dollar bill circulates for 5.9 years on average. That means it is seen by approximately 875 people over the course of its lifetime. What does that mean to you? It means that if you stamp five bills a week, you can generate over a million impressions in a year. That number is magnified as people find stamped bills in their daily life and post photos on social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. It’s not uncommon to see photos of these stamped bills posted on the web with messages like “probably the best change I’ve received in a while.”
Stamping dollars amplifies the voice of the 99% of Americans who can’t attend $50,000 a plate fundraisers and rub tuxedoed elbows with the political elite. It invigorates the 90 percent of Americans – Democrats and Republicans – who think that corporate money is corrupting our democracy but don’t know what they can do. It creates a mass visual demonstration of public support for a constitutional amendment that will stop big corporate dollars from corrupting our lawmakers. And as more and more stamped bills enter circulation, it provides fuel for the movement to amend the constitution and take back our democracy.
And just like something as simple as carving messages on English pennies helped win women’s suffrage, stamping dollar bills (if you join in) will finally wrest our democracy backfrom corporations and the wealthy elite and bring it back to one person, one vote.