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Restore our democracy

Mary Boland

Are we actually seeing rays of light indicating a possible end to this long, gray tunnel we're in? This long gray, tunnel of complete powerlessness in the face of the capture of our courts and federal and state legislatures by the big bucks of corporations and the rest of the 1 percent.

This long, gray tunnel wherein most of us have been losing all we hold precious — our strong middle class, our strong economy providing opportunities for all, our affordable institutions of higher learning, our world-class infrastructure, our constitutional privacy rights and even our sovereignty.

Yes, it is very clear from the very nature of the free-trade agreements that multinational corporations keep pushing down our throats that these corporations want a sovereign World Trade Organization whose unelected international bureaucrats can knock down any labor or environmental protections enacted by national governments as restraints on their "free" trade.

Of course it is only "free" for the shareholders of the multinational corporations benefitting at the expense of virtually everyone else and their rights.

The keystone of this tunnel, what makes it almost impossible to change peacefully, is the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations have a First Amendment free speech right to spend as much money as they want to influence elections. The Constitution, of course, applies only to people. Thus, In effect, the court said that corporations are people and that money equals speech.

Now I don't believe for a moment that money equals free speech. And I entirely agree with the Occupy Wall Street protester who held up a sign saying, "I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one."

Well the hope, the ray of light I've referred to, lies in signs that this evil decision just possibly could get overturned by the necessary constitutional amendment saying once and for all that corporations are not people and have no rights under the U.S. Constitution, and furthermore that money is not equal to the free speech protected by that Constitution.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders both support such an amendment and, in recognition of its public support, even Hillary Clinton has stated she favors it. I doubt Mrs. Clinton would fight for it as hard as O'Malley or Sanders, both of whom have longstanding and strong records on this basic issue.

In terms of public support, the latest poll, a New York Times/CBS poll, shows 85 percent in favor of either "fundamental changes" or a "complete rebuild" of our campaign finance system. And 13 percent think they want "minor changes." That leaves 2 percent either satisfied with things as they are or knowing nothing.

Furthermore, surprisingly large crowds are greeting Bernie Sanders in Iowa as he delivers his fiery reform speeches ahead of that state's caucuses.

Are enough of us finally paying attention? Are we finally waking up to the fact that we have to act now to protect our own interests?! We must pay close attention to the issues during this election and get out and work for and vote for candidates who will restore our democracy by promoting the needed constitutional amendment.

As long as the Citizens United decision stands, nothing else much matters because big money will just continue to have its way at the expense of everyone — indeed even at the expense of the planet we depend on for our very lives.

That bizarre decision overturned all precedent and flew in the face of the clear intention of our Constitution's framers to keep corporations out of politics. It also overturned a century of congressional law and the laws of 22 states prohibiting corporate spending in elections.

It is common knowledge that corporations are artificial entities created and regulated by the states for economic purposes only. And in Dodge v. Woolsey, 1855, the Supreme Court itself affirmed that the U.S. Constitution confers no inalienable right on a corporation, ruling that the people of the states have "not released their power over the artificial bodies which originate under the legislation of their representatives."

And on our contemporary Supreme Court, four of the nine justices were outraged by the majority decision in Citizens United. Writing for this minority, Justice Stevens said that the majority ruling by Republican appointees "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation." How true, how true, but the threatening is finished and the undermining has been proceeding at a rapid pace.

Are we slaves or are we going to do something about it? For further information, go to movetoamend.org.

Mary Boland's column appears on the third Saturday of each month. She is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale.