Riki Ott is the co-founder and director of Ultimate Civics and author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Ultimate Civics is a co-organizer with the national Campaign to Legalize Democracy.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a radical undermining of our sovereign self-governance. It ushers in government of, for, and by the Corporations. The ruling leaves ordinary citizens little power to keep corporate influence out of democratic decision-making.
Citizens United is merely the last straw in a haystack of successful corporate attempts to extend corporate constitutional “rights” to corporate persons. The U.S. Supreme Court first blurred the distinction between “natural persons,” or real living human beings, and “artificial persons,” or corporations, in 1886. Since then, the high court has doled out a number of constitutional rights for corporations, leading up to Citizens United.
Wielding human rights and legal protections that real people don’t share, corporations have steadily amassed enormous wealth and power, creating a democracy crisis. This democracy crisis lies at the heart of the climate crisis, economic meltdown, campaign finance abuse, globalization and other societal ills that undermine our sovereign self-governance. Human rights are being trumped by corporate rights and privilege.
The timing of Citizens United overlays the eye of the hurricane of citizen outrage over the economic meltdown and recession, failure to pass health care reform, and the lack of a response to the climate crisis. In this cauldron of chaos lie the seeds of deep fundamental change – the seeds of creating a true democracy and a government of, for, and by the People.
My wake up call came at 7:00 AM on March 24, 1989. The Exxon Valdez had dumped a million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in what became North America’s largest oil spill. Twenty years, three nonprofit organizations, and three books later, I am still dealing with the social, environmental, and economic wreckage from Exxon’s spill.
Corporate power repeatedly thwarted my efforts to hold Exxon accountable to the people for its spill. Frustrated by the takeover of America by Big Business and the resulting loss of control over our own lives and our government, I joined efforts with similarly frustrated friends and we formed Ultimate Civics, a project of Earth Island Institute. We made it our mission to help coalesce a popular movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to affirm that only human persons are entitled to constitutional rights.
Five months later in fall 2009 we co-created, largely with Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, and convened a meeting of democracy activists that resulted in the national Campaign to Legalize Democracy. In anticipation of an adverse decision in Citizens United, we organized. Now 50 diverse groups strong and growing rapidly, the Campaign aims to amend the U.S. Constitution and end the illegitimate legal doctrines preventing the American people from governing themselves. First and foremost, the campaign will move to amend that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights by tearing out the root of the problem – corporate personhood.
On a national scale, the Campaign to Legalize Democracy is growing a grassroots movement to pass municipal legislation and resolutions that defy the Court and strip corporations of their personhood (human rights) status. We must strike corporate personhood language from State laws. Action to abolish corporate personhood in municipalities, counties, and states could be the forefront of a movement to push this issue right back to the federal level and force Congress to consider amending the U.S. Constitution to do the same. For ideas on how to get involved, please visit www.movetoamend.org.
Ultimate Civics is working to raise funds to produce a 20-minute animated and narrated film on The Story of Corporate Persons to focus on a topic introduced in the film, The Story of Stuff, which has logged 7.2 million viewers. A film on the evolution of corporate persons and the demise of democracy, in the same genre as The Story of Stuff, would be a powerful educational and organizing tool for our Campaign to Legalize Democracy.
We must unite to reverse this outrageous ruling – and the underlying morally wrong premise that corporations and other artificial persons are entitled to real human rights.
All aboard for democracy!
Video: Ultimate Civics
By Riki Ott