Ashley Sanders speech announcing victorious SLC ballot signature drive

April 16, 2012

4-16-12 – W. Steps of SLC City and County Building

Ashley Sanders – Co-Coordinator of Move to Amend Salt Lake City

We are standing in front of you today to give you some numbers, and here they are.

We are standing here today because 150 average, everyday people have spent the last 60 days going door-to-door, store-to-store and park-to-park trying to get their democracy back. We are here because in those 60 days, those 150 volunteers collected signatures from 11,400 people who believed emphatically that corporations are not people, money is not a form of speech, and that we need to amend the Constitution to say the same thing. That’s 11, 400 people who think their government is controlled by corporate interests. That’s 11, 400 people who believe their representatives no longer represent them. That’s 11,400 people who know that $5 billion will be spent in the next election cycle, and who know what that means. That’s 11,400 people who, despite being treated every day like they are not powerful, not important, not strong, decided to ignore all that and believe in the possibility of a genuine people’s movement.

And it’s not just 11,400 people. If you know community organizing, you know one thing: to get those 11,400 voters, we actually spoke to 20,000 people. That’s right. 150 people spoke to 20,000 people in 60 days. That’s 350 people every day, 350 people who heard the following speech:

Hi, my name is Ashley Sanders and I am from an organization called Move to Amend. I am talking to people today because I want to get corporations out of our democratic process. Are you familiar with the idea that corporations have rights that were intended only for human beings? And do you know that they use these rights to flood our elections with dirty money, pollute our air, poison our water, destroy good jobs, and tank our economy? Yeah, you’re right. That is crazy. I know, I know, who actually believes that corporations are people? Well, actually, nine unelected judges on the Supreme Court. Yeah, I know, you never voted on it. I know, it’s unfair. Well, would you be willing to sign a petition so we can get on the ballot in November and declare our independence from corporate rule?

And 8 out of 10 Salt Lake voters signed. Of those 20,000 folks we talked to, most who didn’t sign couldn’t, because they lived outside Salt Lake City, but they wondered when we’d be coming to their town. And we said: soon. We told them that this year alone, 90 cities across the country are passing Move to Amend resolutions calling to abolish corporate personhood and get money out of elections. We told them that we wouldn’t stop there—that we’d take it to other cities next year, then to the county, then to the states, then drive it into Congress through sheer force of will and people power.

They said: Be in touch.

8 out of 10 people. Tell me: what more proof do you need that our government does not represent us than to know that 80 percent of the population is for something, but it doesn’t happen because a few corporate elites don’t want it to?

The other people who didn’t sign all said something similar. They said: “I believe in what you’re doing, but it just won’t work.” They laughed and said, “That’s cute, that you believe this stuff still works.” They said, “I don’t do politics.” And I’d ask them why and they’d say, “Because everything is broken. Because people have no power.”

And I would look at them and ask them, “Do you think I would be out here if I believed the system was working? Do you think I would stand in the heat and the cold, getting kicked out of every public and private space I stood in, because I think things are good? I am here because I know the score. I know the system is broken. I have no illusions about how hard it will be to fix, how many people it will require or how long it will take. I am here for only one reason: Because I believe in a beautiful, giant, unstoppable grassroots movement of everyday people. Because I used to accept that corporations control every meaningful part of my life, then sat in my basement sad and paralyzed. Because I did that and it didn’t make me feel good.”

I meant what I said to those people. This is not an issue of policy reform. This is not just about money in politics or Citizens United or campaign finance. Ask yourself: How strong was democracy before Citizens United? Yeah, I thought so. This is a democracy movement. It’s a movement about sovereignty. It’s a movement about people making decisions on the issues that affect their lives. It’s a movement of everyday people declaring their independence from corporate rule.

Those are big words, and we mean them, too.

In 1776, a group of folks known alternatively as rebels or revolutionaries gathered together in Philadelphia and passed a remarkable document. They called it the Declaration of Independence. It was, to say the least, a bold document. It said that human beings, not monarchs, were the rulers of their own government. It said that governments existed not just for these people, but because of these people. It was a revolutionary document in the truest sense: it reordered the world, turned it upside down. It questioned the entire logic of government that had existed for centuries. It said kings were no longer sovereign. It said people could rule themselves. It said people were in charge.

At the time of its writing, the Declaration was just a pile of words. The people who wrote it were still wholly under the thumb of the very system they were defying. They had just begun to organize, just begun to fight.
The people who wrote that declaration won their fight, and they wrote a Constitution. It starts with the phrase "We the People."

There was only one problem. Given the requirements, only 8 percent of the people in this country counted as part of that “we.” Certainly not women, who built this country alongside men. Certainly not African Americans, who were enslaved in the name of profit. Certainly not poor people, who had fought for economic independence but were still, essentially, serfs. And certainly not Native Americans, whose land this is and who experienced the revolution was a genocide.

If we understand this, we can understand one vital thing. That the history of this country, is, as Howard Zinn claimed, a history of people toiling and organizing and fighting to drive themselves into the phrase We the People. That if there is anything valuable about being American, it’s the beautiful history of all the people who weren’t considered Americans in the first place.

It is a good thing to be counted as a human. It means you are real, powerful, entitled to basic rights and dignities. It is something so important that people have been lynched, assassinated, imprisoned and repressed in their fight for it. Most of the people working for a real democracy never saw it, and they are counting on us to make it real. And if we understand that, we will understand why we are gathered here on these steps, almost 250 years later, to declare our independence from corporate rule. We will understand why it is such a grotesque insult, after decades of oppressed people fighting to be understood as people, that corporations have invaded this sacred terrain and claimed it as their own . We will understand that what is at stake is not just campaign finance or representative democracy, but all the rights humans have fought to have for centuries. Because a corporation is not a person. It does not die. It does not sleep. It does not love. It has no feelings. It is incredibly powerful. And if a corporation is a person, if money is speech, then democracy cannot exist. Real people suffer.

250 years ago, people declared their independence from a form of concentrated political power known as monarchy. We are here today to declare our independence from a form of concentrated economic and political power known as corporate rule. We are here to legalize democracy, because when corporations have human rights, democracy is illegal . And finally, we are here to create democracy, because real democracy has never existed. We are here because we actually believe these words: that all people are created equal, that they are endowed with unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

We are here to ask thousands, millions of everyday people if they believe those words. We are here to ask: Does your government exist for you? Does it protect your life, liberty and happiness? Do you, a real person, matter in your democracy?

The answer is no. And since these are not just words we repeated in high school civics, we will have to take seriously our subsequent duty: to alter or abolish the form of government that deprives us of those unalienable rights . That is why we are standing with 90 cities across the country today to say one thing: We demand an amendment to the Constitution to say that corporations are not people and money is not speech. We demand the right to be real.

We have no illusions about the difficulty of our task. It is tempting to do what corporations want, and what the declaration warns against: to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. It is tempting to believe that our system is so broken that a people’s movement is impossible, that we have been conquered. But we cannot accept that because our history is calling to us to make it real. The declaration of independence is not a historical document. It is an unfinished document, marred by racism and sexism and classism and short-sightedness. But in its words is a mandate for the future: to declare our independence from all systems that ignore or harm the unalienable rights of real and equal people. Our government doesn’t give us those things. We are those things already. Our government is real only if it recognizes us for what we already are.

So we are here to declare our independence. Today, we are submitting two things: Our petitions, our grievances, and our principles.

Our grievances are these: That corporations have taken over our government. That they flood our elections with dirty money. That they make our laws and control our elected officials. That they have invaded every space, every thought, and every decision we make. That they have destroyed our elections, our land, our economy, our jobs, and our future. That they have taken from us our right to make the very meaningful decisions that would fix those things. That they rule over us.

And our principles: That regular people matter. That they are smart, and capable, and able to make their own decisions. That we are the government, that the government is ours. That we have a right to all the things that real beings need to survive: clean air, clean water, clean food, good jobs, good ideas, respect, dignity, creativity. That these things are inalienable, invaluable, and so much more important than profit.

Personally, I am doing this for a woman I met while lobbying for clean air in DC. She was from Kentucky, and she was very sick. She said she came from a town that was ringed round by pollution: on the one side a trash incinerator, another a mountain top removal site, not to mention a refinery and coal plant. “Everyone in my town is dying,” she said. “Everyone from my town is sick. We have no jobs and we are dying.” I am doing this because I know that, if this woman were given a meaningful choice in her democracy, she would not create a circle of poison all around her. If she mattered, she would use her mattering to better the world. She can’t do that, though, because she is not given a voice. She can’t do that because right now, she—a person—doesn’t matter as much as money—as profit. This movement wants to give this woman and everyone else in America the chance to be as powerful and smart as they are.

So we offer to you a stack of the 11,400 people who have signed our declaration. We’re waiting for you.