Fight the Power: Cleveland Heights to host 7th annual Democracy Day on Jan. 30

January 19, 2020
Thomas Jewell, special to cleveland.com

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Coinciding with this month’s 10th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling that opened the floodgates for even more big money in politics, the city will host its annual Democracy Day starting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 in council chambers.

It will be the seventh installment of local public hearings intended to counteract corporate influence on elections, mainly through campaign contributions, since corporations still can't vote -- or speak, as critics point out.

But money certainly talks. Back in 2010, the nation's high court ruled 5-4 that corporations otherwise have the same rights of free speech as individual private citizens, a ruling that further rejected corporate spending limits in elections.

Three years later, through the "Move to Amend" initiative, In 2013, Cleveland Heights voters overwhelmingly passed Issue 32 in support of a 28th constitutional amendment clearly stating that:

-- Only human beings, not corporate entities, have constitutional rights

-- Since money is not speech, money spent on elections can be regulated.

Issue 32 also established annual public hearings "to examine the impact on our City, our state and our nation of political influence by corporate entities and big money" in elections, a city press release stated.

About 40 people attended the 2019 Democracy Day, with 20 speaking on a variety of topics outlining how they felt corporate "personhood" was having far-reaching effects, from blocking common-sense gun laws and lead-based paint reforms to charter schools and corporate standardized testing draining public education funds.

There were also some lighter touches, such as a poem entitled "My Life as a Corporation," by Ray Lesser, co-founder and co-publisher of Cleveland Heights' own homegrown humor publication The Funny Times.

Members of Cleveland Heights Move to Amend, now part of Cleveland East Move to Amend, work to coordinate speakers and testimony for Cleveland Heights Democracy Day each year.

A letter and a summary are compiled and forwarded to state and federal legislators. The city's web site archives the letter to elected officials, written

minutes, and full video of each Democracy Day under “Public Hearings,” which are put at the end of the archived agendas and minutes for each year.

In their monthly Heights Observer column, Carla Rautenberg and Deborah Van Kleef noted that when they and Move to Amend proponents refer to "corporate entities," that can also include nonprofit as well as for-profit corporations, labor unions and professional associations -- "which often engage in lobbying."

They also pointed to other Ohio cities that held Democracy Days last year, including Brecksville, Chagrin Falls, Cleveland, Defiance, Kent, Mentor, Newburgh Heights, Shaker Heights, Toledo and South Euclid.

Under the guidelines in Cleveland Heights, “members of the general public will be afforded the opportunity to speak on these matters for up to five minutes per person,” the city press release states. “Join us to speak or just to listen. It’s your democracy.”

Councilwoman sets public “listening session”

Meanwhile, on the night before (Jan. 29) at 7 in the Imani Temple, 2463 North Taylor Road, Councilwoman Melody Joy Hart will hold her first community listening session for residents.

Hart has also started putting together a “spread sheet” of citizens’ comments made during the public portion of regular council meetings, which is then distributed to city officials.

“This is a real listening session with a real facilitator where I will listen and not make speeches other than welcoming people,” Hart said. “I am going to invite other council members to attend -- if the purpose is listening.”

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