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The Political Issue Uniquely Suited to the Occupy Movement

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The Occupy movement so far has steered clear of articulating any clear policy goals, or engaging at all in the political process. That’s been smart, because the movement’s been able to grow as quickly, and effectively, as it has precisely for this reason. If Occupy had become about this bill, or that legislation, or whatever, the movement easily could have become too narrowly defined and been diminished as a result.

But now a political issue has come along that is as big as Occupy itself; one that is at the core of what animates the movement, and itself would rely on the kind of geographically dispersed support that Occupy represents. It’s been said often that the Occupy movement is diverse, and that the protesters themselves have differing views. However, if there is any single overarching grievance behind the entire movement, it would be too much corporate influence in our lives, and in our government.

Several Democratic senators on Tuesday unveiled a new proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an amendment which would strike back specifically at last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision that gave corporations even greater unfettered reach into our government. The constitutional amendment would authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures, and allow states to regulate such spending at their level. It would also provide for implementation and enforcement of the amendment through legislation. “By equating campaign spending with free speech, the Supreme Court has essentially ruled that the wealthiest among us should have the loudest voices in our elections,” says Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, one of the sponsors of the proposed amendment. “The American public is fed up with the outsize influence that money has on our politics. This constitutional amendment will restore the balance to our system that the American people expect in a democracy. It is time to return our elections to the hands of everyday citizens rather than the special interests.”

The fact is that it is hard, by design, to enact a new amendment to the Constitution. It’s been amended just 27 times in all of U.S. history, and 10 of those all came at once as the Bill of Rights. The Constitution’s not been amended successfully in 20 years. Even an amendment as basic as the Equal Rights Amendment has failed.

Given the fact that this new proposed amendment would cut into the influence of big, deep-pocketed corporations, you can bet those corporations will fight back hard to prevent it. It will take the sustained pressure of a movement the size and power of Occupy to get it done. Moreover, enacting a new amendment takes more than just convincing Washington to do so. 

An act of Congress is only the start of a long process. To become enacted, an amendment must be ratified be three fourths of the state legislatures. That’s 38 of the 50 states, and that’s where Occupy’s geographical reach comes in. Whether in Oakland, Calif., New York City, or Wichita, Kan., Occupy has proven its staying power to keep the pressure on its message. It will take that strength and commitment to ratify this new amendment. It would have to be the Occupy movement versus corporate influence, day in and day out, until that 38th legislature finally did the right thing.

It would seem to be just the kind of fight the Occupy movement was built for.

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About Scott Nance

  • John Lake

    Seems there should be ways to implement these ideas, which may be short of sufficient, without a constitutional amendment. Clearly this is a step in the right direction!

  • People get romantic, starry-eyed ideas about constitutional amendments because they want to get their way with knobs on. For this precise reason, the Founding Fathers ensured that amendments would be not only extremely difficult to add to the constitution but also just as difficult to remove. (For instance, it was clear almost immediately that Prohibition was going to be a disaster, but it still took 14 years to overturn it.) Without their foresight, there would undoubtedly be all kinds of fucking stupid amendments by now.

    Statute law is not difficult to reverse. Congress could pass a law requiring all federal employees to wear blue ties, then two years later the next congress, under a different party’s control, could pass a new law saying that they must all wear red ties. Or, for a real-world example, consider how Republicans are champing at the bit at the prospect of dismantling the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, or whatever it’s called, the second they get a chance.