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March 2012, Week 1

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Tue, 6 Mar 2012 20:54:49 -0500
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Vermont Town Meetings Model People-Driven Democracy 

Town resolutions and small 'd' democracy challenge Citizens
United and 'Corporate Personhood'

Common Dreams staff
March 6, 2012 
Common Dreams

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/03/06-4

Voters in ten states take to the polls today for a 'Super
Tuesday' focused mostly on the Republican race for the
presidential nomination. As they do so, the national media
busies itself cataloging the now requisite speculative horse
race play-by-play while giving audience to uninvited
strategic advice from political operatives and paid
partisans. Quietly, however, in the thinly populated New
England state of Vermont, a wonderfully quaint and seemingly-
forgotten practice is taking place: democracy.

Vermonters rally at their state capitol on January 20 to
protest Citizens United and support Sen. Lyons' call for an
amendment to overturn it. Tuesday, March 6th is Town Meeting
Day for most Vermont cities and towns. Meeting day often
doubles as election day for local officials, but they also
offer a chance to discuss issues of public importance, help
to set municipal budgets, and allow towns to make collective
stands on policy or social issues of state, national, or even
global, importance.  This year, in addition to the various
local issues, at least 52 towns in Vermont will be voting on
town resolutions calling attention to the woeful influence
that corporate money has come to exert over all levels of US
government.

The Associated Press reports:

States and communities from Maine to Hawaii and Florida to
Alaska have considered similar calls, but tiny Vermont - with
its penchant for using its annual testament to participatory
democracy to offer the world opinions on issues way beyond
the town budget - is making the most concerted effort.

The goal is to get rid of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court's
Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations, unions
and wealthy people to raise and spend unlimited campaign
funds via political action committees known as "super PACs"
as long as they don't work directly with a candidate.

At the heart of the debate is "corporate personhood," the
U.S. legal concept that gives corporations rights like those
of an individual. Critics say that it poisons the electoral
process and that the only way to trash the practice is by
amending the U.S. Constitution.

"People are starting to put the pieces together; they're all
doing it all at the same time, all across the country," said
Bill Butler, of Jericho, who helped write the proposal being
considered by many Vermont towns.

"You start putting these together, I think you have the
beginning of the most dynamic political movement in this
country. It's because people are realizing they have to do it
and they have to do it now." A sample ballot:

For critics who say that small village meetings are not the
place to address national issues, members of the 'end
corporate personhood' have a ready response.

"You've got to start somewhere," said Montpelier attorney
Anthony Iarrapino, who helped get the issue on his city's
Town Meeting Day ballot. "A process of amending the
Constitution has to start somewhere and like the Constitution
itself, the process of amendment should start with the people
and there is no better forum for voicing the will of the
people than Town Meeting."

John Nichols, writing at The Nation, adds:

The "Vermonters Say Corporations Are Not People" campaign is
part of a [much larger] movement. National groups that are
backing the amendment strategy -- including Public Citizen,
Common Cause, the Women's International League for Peace and
Freedom and Move to Amend -- are helping the town-meeting
push, as are the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the
Peace and Justice Center of Vermont and Occupy Vermont.

According to a new poll by the Castleton Polling Institute,
76 percent of Vermonters favor amending the Constitutional to
limit spending on political campaigns. Notably 57 percent of
Vermonters who identify as Republicans support such an
amendment. 

Jessica Pieklo, writing at Care2, describes the
various town efforts in Vermont and a singular state
resolution: 

The initiatives call on the Vermont Legislature and
congressional delegation to support a constitutional
amendment that clarifies that money is not speech and
corporations are not people. If passed such an amendment
would make it possible for Congress to limit election-related
expenditures by for-profit corporations, nonprofits, unions
and individuals.

"Vermonters are taking a lead in the growing movement for a
constitutional amendment to limit the influence of big money
and corporations in our democracy," said Aquene Freechild,
senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For
People campaign. Public Citizen - along with Move to
Amend/Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom,
Vermont Peace and Justice Center, VPIRG, Vermont Businesses
for Social Responsibility, Rural Vermont, Common Cause
Vermont, Occupy Burlington, Vermonters Say Corporations Are
Not People, Vermont Action for Peace, Vermont Workers Center,
and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (co-founders of Ben &
Jerry’s ice cream) - has worked with Vermont activists to
collect signatures and get the resolutions on town meeting
agendas.

The towns with ballot measures challenging corporate
personhood include Albany, Barnet, Brattleboro, Bristol,
Burlington, Calais, Charlotte, Chester, Chittenden,
Craftsbury, East Montpelier, Fayston, Fletcher, Greensboro,
Hardwick, Hinesburg, Jericho, Lincoln, Marlboro, Marshfield,
Monkton, Montgomery, Montpelier, Moretown, Mount Holly,
Norwich, Plainfield, Putney, Richmond, Ripton, Roxbury,
Rutland City, Rutland Town, Sharon, Shrewsbury, South
Burlington, Starksboro, Sudbury, Thetford, Tunbridge,
Waitsfield, Walden, Warren, Waltham, Williamstown, Williston,
Winooski, Windsor, Woodbury, Woodstock and Worcester. The
list is also available at www.citizen.org/Towns.

A state resolution - introduced by state Sen. Virginia
"Ginny" Lyons and currently in the Senate Government
Operations Committee - calls on the Vermont delegation to
support an amendment clarifying that corporations are not
people under the U.S. Constitution. Lyons was also a leader
in starting the town meeting effort, working with diverse
groups to put forth sample language. Lyons' resolution, JRS
11, is a "joint resolution urging the United States Congress
to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution for
the states’ consideration which provides that corporations
are not persons under the laws of the United States or any of
its jurisdictional subdivisions." 

The resolution continues:

Whereas, free and fair elections are essential to American
democracy and effective self-governance, and

Whereas, individual persons are rightfully recognized as the
human beings who actually vote in elections, and

Whereas, corporations are legal entities that governments
create and can exist in perpetuity and simultaneously in many
nations, and

Whereas, they do not vote in elections and should not be
categorized as persons for purposes related to elections for
public office, and

Whereas, corporations are not mentioned in the United States
Constitution as adopted, nor have Congress and the states
recognized corporations as legal persons in any subsequent
federal constitutional amendment...

Whereas, the Court in Citizens United has created a new and
unequal playing field between human beings and corporations
with respect to campaign financing, negating over a century
of precedent prohibiting corporate contributions to federal
election campaigns dating to the Tillman Act of 1907, and

Whereas, the Citizens United decision has forced candidates
for political office to divert attention from the interests
and needs of their human constituents in order to raise
sufficient campaign funds for election, and

Whereas, corporations are not and have never been human
beings and therefore are rightfully subservient to human
beings and the governments that are their creators, and

Whereas, the profits and institutional survival of large
corporations are often in direct conflict with the essential
needs and rights of human beings, and

Whereas, large corporations have used their so-called rights
to successfully seek the judicial reversal of democratically
enacted laws passed at the municipal, state, and federal
levels aimed at curbing corporate abuse, and

Whereas, these judicial decisions have rendered
democratically elected governments ineffective in protecting
their citizens against corporate harm to the environment,
health, workers, independent business, and local and regional
economies, and

Whereas, large corporations own most of America’s mass media
and employ those media to loudly express the corporate
political agenda and to convince Americans that the primary
role of human beings is that of consumers rather than
sovereign citizens with democratic rights and
responsibilities, and

Whereas, the only way to reverse this intolerable societal
reality is to amend the United States Constitution to define
persons as human beings and not corporations, now therefore
be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives
that the General Assembly urges Congress to propose an
amendment to the United States Constitution for the states’
consideration which provides that corporations are not
persons under the laws of the United States or any of its
jurisdictional subdivisions...

###

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