Legalizing Democracy: The Right to Vote vs. Corporate Rights

May 15, 2017
Garrett Jennings

Many Americans think that the United States is the world's most exceptional democracy. Some believe that the U.S. Constitution is the most democratic legal document to ever exist, and others believe the Constitution to be sacred. They think that every American has the right to vote--the most basic and established pillar of a democracy--but they would be wrong on all three points, especially the last.

The Constitution has no explicit mention of the right to vote for its citizens even though voting is the most widely recognized way for individual citizens to express their preferences (although it is not the only way). The lack of a right to vote in the United States solidifies its history of demonstrably weak democratic principles, which is largely why the highly regarded Economist magazine classifies the United States as a 'flawed democracy.'

This is the reality in what Paul Ryan falsely claims is the world's oldest democracy, a country that has for its entire history deliberately and routinely denied the right to vote to millions of its citizens. Of course its necessary to acknowledge the most recent and widely successful efforts by many right-wing politicians to enact voter ID laws designed to disenfranchise the poor, minorities, and the elderly (sometimes an intersection of all three) as well as the Supreme Court's recent attack on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by striking down a critical component of the law which ensured states maintain fair voting practices.

However, the struggle for the right to vote is not new and should not treated as one. On the very day the Constitution was signed, only rich white men, who owned property, were given the freedom to vote. Past (and present) elected leaders, loath to share their power, have always stood in the way of expanding the vote to We the People. The gains achieved to enfranchise communities of color and women came from years of diligent activism within social movements, commonly given short shrift in high school civics lessons. The people's gains are being lost--legislated away by a ruling elite in thrall to corporations and their owners.

From the Jim Crow style laws of the late 1800's which used literacy tests, poll taxes, and other more sinister methods to bar African Americans from voting, to women's suffrage, which wasn't achieved until 1920--less than 100 years ago--the people's so-called right to vote has only been expanded upon demand by a vibrant social movement.

In an effort to establish the right to vote as an indistinguishable feature of American democracy, FairVote, a non-profit committed to grassroots coalition building to create a more fair and accurate depiction of a real democracy, is behind a right to vote amendment in Congress, House Joint Resolution 74. The amendment states:

"SECTION 1. Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation."

This seemingly straightforward amendment might not seem necessary at first, considering the gains achieved so far, but there's nothing to prevent them from being taken away in the future, as the Supreme Court did in 2013. To stop the continued debate over voting laws by states that each have their own rules and policies, many of which deliberately disenfranchise certain groups, this must-pass amendment declares, once and for all, that every US citizen has the right to vote.

Move to Amend supports FairVote and this amendment as part of a larger strategy to legalize democracy. Move To Amend is organizing to pass the We the People Amendment; our mission is to realize the dream of American democracy by building an authentic participatory democracy that serves the interests of all people over property and profits. Our broad grassroots coalition seeks to amend the Constitution to end corporate rule (fascism) by declaring that campaign contributions are not protected political speech and corporations are not people with human rights. The We the People Amendment overturns the Citizens United ruling and other Supreme Court decisions which have endowed upon corporations human rights found in the 1st, 4th, 5th and 14th amendments. The most egregious of these is the 1886 case which found that under the 14th Amendment, corporations had equal protection under the law.

The 14th Amendment recognized the rights of freed male slaves, but was instead hijacked by corporations in an unprecedented power grab. What is more disturbing is that corporate rule can only thrive when We the People are kept divided, and racism has always been the tool of choice to achieve and maintain division among the classes. To allow the corporate ruling elite to legally use the 14th amendment for their selfish and destructive purposes is among the worst outcomes of any case in US history. It has led directly to the election of a corporation in the form of Donald Trump, and a cabinet full of billiionaire corporatists intent on redistributing the wealth of this nation into the pockets of the 1%.

Building a vibrant and transformative democracy is a team activity which requires participation, debate, and solidarity building. All communities, especially those on the frontlines of struggle, must be represented as We the People come together to form a more perfect union, by assembling our demands and developing and implementing a strategy to build and take power. Small "d" democrats will gather in Minneapolis August 2 - 6 for the Democracy Convention, seven conferences on democratizing the Constitution, the environment, economy, media, education, open government, and global democracy--under one roof.

Resisting Trump is a necessary evil; but it isn't enough to change the status quo. The best defense is a good offense, and building power to create real participatory democracy for the first time in our long history is the best defense against the ongoing assault on We the People. Join us in Minneapolis and start building real democracy in the US before the next election and the further erosion of the people's rights.


Garrett Jennings is a Senior Intern with Move to Amend and a recent graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he earned a degree in political science concentrating in public policy, with a minor in economics. Follow on Twitter: @GarrettJ8

 

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