Guest Commentary: We the People Can Reverse the Erosion of Democracy
By Doug Miller
As the moonscape of our political system turns into something out of dystopian science fiction, we must remember that We the People can reverse the erosion of democracy. And we don’t have to rely on compromised congressmen to do it.
In an episode of the original “Star Trek” series, Captain Kirk and crew find a planet that parallels Earth, except that this world was devastated in its 20th Century by a bacteriological war in which Chinese communists drove American forces into hiding. The primitive descendants of the two factions — the Yangs (Yankees) and the Cohms (Communists) — continue to make war on one another.
Kirk discovers that the Yangs preserve the Constitution of the United States as a holy relic, and allow only their chiefs to look upon it. Kirk shocks them by declaring “This was not written for chiefs.”
The Constitution, he tells them, “was not written for the chiefs, or the kings, or the warriors, or the rich, or the powerful, but for all the people.” Including the Cohms.
The words of this most revered document, Kirk proclaims, “must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing.”
As Americans on this Earth mark the 230th anniversary of the Constitution, it would seem that our chiefs could stand such a reminder.
The promise of equal protection under law rings hollow as elected officials do the bidding of the wealthy individuals, corporations and industry groups that fill their campaign coffers. The U.S. Supreme Court has, in a series of catastrophic rulings, rendered Congress and the states virtually powerless to regulate the flow of money poisoning our system of government, giving moneyed interests undue influence to the detriment of most citizens.
Scholars from Princeton and Northwestern universities studying 20 years worth of data have determined that the likelihood of a given policy becoming law has little to do with its popularity among voters, and has everything to do with whether that policy is supported by high-income households and industry lobbying groups. This state of affairs is rapidly growing worse under the high court’s logically contorted assertion that regulating campaign finance is somehow an impingement on First Amendment rights.
The people are far from powerless, but we can only correct this injustice — which forms the root of many injustices, including gerrymandering, mass incarceration and environmental degradation — with a constitutional amendment that reserves constitutional political rights to human beings (and excludes artificial entities such as corporations) and affirms the ability of Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money for political purposes.
In Congress and in statehouses across the nation, activists are pursuing this 28th Amendment. Here in Maryland, a growing band of volunteers has been working at the state level to employ a little-known (and often misunderstood) provision of Article V of the U.S. Constitution. Article V spells out the two avenues through which the Constitution can be amended. One way, of course, is that Congress proposes an amendment, which then goes to all the state legislatures. If three-fourths of them approve, the amendment is ratified.
Article V also establishes another path: a convention of state delegates to draft and propose an amendment. Should the legislatures of two-thirds of the states (currently 34) call for such a gathering to address a specific issue, Congress must convene it. An amendment proposed by this convention must, just like any proposed by Congress, win approval from three-fourths of the states (38) to be ratified.
An amendment convention has never actually occurred, but it is worth noting that Congress has proposed amendments that ultimately were ratified — including the one that repealed Prohibition — because of pressure applied by citizen movements pursuing conventions. One such movement came within one state of triggering a convention before Congress proposed the 17th Amendment, which requires that U.S. senators be elected directly by voters of their respective states, instead of being appointed by state legislatures.
Get Money Out–Maryland (getmoneyoutmd.org) has been working to add our state to the five that have already called for an amendment convention aimed at affirming the power of our individual votes and eradicating the “corporations are people, money equals speech” doctrine. Our all-volunteer organization has, through lots of shoe-leather politics, built support within the General Assembly, and we have high hopes of finally winning approval of the Democracy Amendment Resolution in the 2018 session.
If Congress cannot — or will not — take up the task, it’s up to We the People to rescue American democracy from those who have seized it for personal gain.
Doug Miller serves on the board of Get Money Out–Maryland.