The 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC with its brilliant if disingenuous moniker, has become the whipping boy for a covert, decades-old effort to convert American democracy into a political marketplace. A leaked memo from 1971 illustrates how Justice Lewis Powell laid the groundwork that could mark the end of the American Experiment in self-government.
“There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” There is a real “pick me up” from our second President, John Adams. No one wants to believe such a dire prediction, but it is rare that democracies last more than 200 years. Our beautiful country is now a decade away from its 250th birthday and over 80 percent of Americans — of every political stripe — know that global corporate money is choking American democracy. The Powell Memo and Citizens United helped bring us to this cliff. Recognizing the damage, we can keep from plummeting into oligarchy where private gold comes before public good, and claw back to our democracy — together — through the Constitution.
When we talk about “overturning Citizens United,” it sounds like we want to kill puppies. After all, what could be more American: citizens… united… eating apple pie? When we replace the word citizens with the word corporations, we have a clearer picture of what the Supreme Court actually did to American democracy in 2010. That year, our Supreme Court granted Constitutional rights of free speech to corporations, unions, and superPACs. Now, with unprecedented legal protection, money does talk — without limit — to frame the national conversation, manipulate our elections, bully our elected representatives, and perhaps, even convince us to act against our national self-interest.
So what comes next? The 28th Amendment to the Constitution. Right now, with over 80 percent backing of ALL Americans, citizen leaders have been successful in establishing broad-based, and deeply rooted support to limit big money in elections with reform resolutions across the nation: 750 cities and towns, 18 states (2 more on Election Day 2016 alone), hundreds of supporters in Congress, millions of citizen signatures, and traction in the mainstream press. This is the action of local citizens who have had it with inertia, are done with half measures from elected officials, and are fed up with the lack of recourse when public servants ignore their constituents in order to dance with the special interests who brung ‘em.
We the People know that our democracy no longer reflects the principles of equality outlined in our history books, due in large part to the presence of unlimited, undocumented, and unelected power from concentrated global wealth. The loss of control over our lives and national destiny has been diminishing American exceptionalism and we can see and feel what that has wrought.
The 28th Amendment says that we human beings — not money — govern ourselves. To that end, we have the right to set reasonable spending limits in our elections. All other reform will flow from this Amendment. To reconsider what the Founders wanted for us, 1776 seems like a good place to start. Our earliest citizen leaders created Article V of the Constitution so that We the People can have the last word. This 240-year old gift is a still shiny mechanism to amend the Constitution in extraordinary times when we Americans can rely only on ourselves to lead because our elected officials will not. We have done this 27 times before. Twelve times in the 20th Century alone. And seven of the twenty-seven overturned Supreme Court rulings (abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, voting age, etc).
In towns and cities across the country, American Promise – founded to win the Amendment — is working strategically with citizen leaders to secure our democracy where: human beings have sole claim to Constitutional rights, each citizen is equal to the next in the eyes of our laws, and all citizensbear responsibility for our effective self-government.
The seismic results of the 2016 presidential election syphoned most the air and airwaves on November 8th. However, the movement to reverse the damage of big money in politics and to regain human control of our own lives has plenty of oxygen and won the day in elections across the country: California and Washington State won ballot initiatives to end Citizens United. Dozens of communities across Wisconsin and Ohio followed suit on reform measures that won with as much as 86% AND 91% support in communities red & blue!
Local American Promise Associations are forming now for a 50-state National Citizen Uprising leading up to the 2018 election cycle. This is how we move the country forward, all together, to build the infrastructure to secure victory for a 28th Amendment: local action, national connection, and cross partisan courage.