By Deb Hogshead
“We should take the time to analyze our political and economic structures while wearing someone else’s shoes.”
That’s what Justin Coby wrote in an earlier guest column describing social disparities that exist here in Miami County and have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as even more neighbors face food, shelter and health care insecurities.
Walking in the shoes of school children and teachers and staff, we see a widening achievement gap despite our best efforts under a variety of circumstances beyond our control, as Tom Dunn and David Larson have noted in columns of their own. Walking in the shoes of a local cattleman, as reported by Melanie Yingst, we see our family’s livelihood threatened by powerful meat-packing companies that control 80 percent of the market. And walking in the shoes of “essential workers,” we see the disconnect between our hero status and employment that comes without paid sick leave, health benefits or incomes sufficient to cover an unexpected $400 car repair, let alone a three- to six-month emergency.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know our nation’s political and economic structures reflect what we value.
No. Let me rephrase that.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know our nation’s political and economic structures reflect what the most powerful say we should value.
The question becomes, how is it, in a democratic republic, that the powerful have a louder voice within our political and economic structures than the rest of us? How is it that their values and agendas steer the car while ours are locked in the trunk, if not abandoned along the road?
The answer, which is rather complex and beyond the scope of this column, lies in part with decades of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have granted constitutional rights to corporate entities.
In our nation’s history, states granted charters to corporate entities for a limited time and for a specific purpose that had to serve the common good. People had power over corporate entities, and states revoked the charters of those that violated the public trust.
Our country took a turn May 10, 1886, when an error in the head note of the court’s Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision suggested that corporations are people with 14th Amendment rights. But even before then, the court had been inching in the direction of putting corporate entities on an equal footing with human beings. In its 1919 decision in Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, the court ruled the purpose of a corporation is to make a profit for its shareholders.
A national, nonpartisan, grassroots movement called Move to Amend was started in 2009 in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s 2010 split decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which affirmed 1st Amendment rights of corporate entities to spend money on political messages. The decision opened the floodgates of big money—and dark money—into campaigns. And we all know that money buys access to elected representatives and influence over decisions that affect us here in Miami County.
One of Move to Amend’s major goals is a 28th Amendment that makes two things clear: Constitutional rights are for human beings only, and money spent on elections is not a protected form of speech and shall be regulated.
Corporate entities warrant privileges and protections from government overreach. But they aren’t people. They should not have constitutional rights. People should have power over them.
Language for a proposed amendment — House Joint Resolution 48, the We the People Amendment — already has more than 70 co-sponsors in the House, including three Ohio representatives. Ohio volunteers are busy promoting H.J.R. 48 while educating voters, elected representatives and candidates for office about the dangers of “corporate constitutional rights” and “money as speech.” Of seven Ohio affiliates, one is in Dayton, and Miami County is home to one of three ad hoc working groups.
Inequities and injustices come at a high price for all of us, and the costs will keep increasing if we don’t demand systemic change. For change to be sustainable, we must have a constitutional remedy. Otherwise, the Supreme Court will continue to rule in favor of corporate entities when deciding cases where human rights conflict with corporate interests.
So, as we continue to analyze our political and economic structures, let’s also walk the walk and work for the change we need to move forward from the current crisis, make real the promise of our democratic republic, and build a stronger nation.