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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 6.30.11




A Republic in Peril

On our 235th anniversary

By We the People-Eugene

The January 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision released a flood of corporate money into our political process. Corporate spending on the 2010 congressional election skyrocketed. Prospects for corporate spending in the presidential election next year are enough to frighten the most optimistic among us.

With their Citizens United opinion, the Roberts Court decided that political spending by corporations cannot be limited by the people. The word "bribery” has lost its meaning in this country. Websters Dictionary defines "bribe” (noun) as "A price, reward, gift or favor bestowed or promised with a view to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct of a person in a position of trust, as an official or a voter.” Under the Citizens United decision, corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to sway political campaigns.

Did you know that 3 percent of ExxonMobil profits last year is more than all the money spent on congressional and national elections in 2008? The stage is set for corporations to assume complete control over our political process.

Meanwhile, global corporations post record profits as our social safety net unravels and we wage war on three continents. And the same financiers who created the mortgage bubble and crashed the world economy in early 2008 are recruited by the White House and entrusted with the responsibility for fixing the economic damage they helped create. Incredibly, their solutions involve trillions in government bailouts to financial corporations, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in bonuses to their former colleagues.

How did the state of our politics come to this? Is there a way to awaken from this nightmare? We say yes.

A group of local citizens has come together this year to join the nationwide social movement to restore peoples based democracy. We call ourselves "We the People-Eugene.” We have come to realize that our situation is the result of a centuries-long battle between financial elites and we the people, the citizens of these United States. We note that our nations founders warned us of the dangers outlined above:

In 1776 Adam Smith, "father of the free market,” saw unregulated corporations as "a conspiracy (of moneyed interests) against the public.”

Thomas Jefferson said that purpose of representative government is to "curb the excesses of the monied interests.” In 1791, in discussions about the first Bank of the United States, Jefferson said "The end of democracy and the defeat of the American revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of the lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.” And that "corporations that will grow up around (the banks) will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

And this from Abraham Lincoln, in 1864: "I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the (Civil) war, corporations have been enthroned, and an air of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

The American Revolutionary War with England was directed against a corporation: the notorious East India Company, which sought domination over American commerce. Political pamphlets of the day warned of the privations and oppression Americans would face under the cruel hand of the company.

For nearly a century after the revolution, states were able to rein in corporations, but then the immense financial power of the railroads was used to take control of state legislatures and secure sympathetic appointments to the courts. Wholesale bribery thus eventually allowed corporations to assert rights as "persons” under the First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments, so as to escape state controls. Our generation is witness to the culmination of this process in the absurd Citizens United decision, which legalizes bribery in the name of corporate "free speech.” Three out of four Americans across all political boundaries disagree with the Citizens United decision.

We find ourselves in the situation Smith, Jefferson and Lincoln warned us about. The power to regulate corporations, which our Founding Fathers won for us, has been given back to the "monied interests” through their corrupting of the intent of the American Revolution.

But wait; our own state constitution reminds us that the power and responsibility to solve this problem remains with we the people. The opening lines of the Oregon Constitution, written in 1857 before the Civil War ã and before corporations bought control of the federal courts ã declare: "Natural rights inherent in people. We declare that all men, when they form a social compact are equal in right; that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.”

We The People-Eugene works to make information available about what our political climate looks like and why. We invite you to join us at our fifth town hall meeting at 7 pm July 27 at Harris Hall. Come hear lawyer and LCC political science professor Stan Taylor explain how Wall Street acquired such power. Please join our discussion of ways to reverse the tide of corporate domination and come together with us to answer that most basic of human questions: How are we to govern ourselves?

This essay was co-authored by Fergus Mclean, Graham Lewis, Alicia Markus and Stan Taylor. Contact wethepeopleeugene@gmail.com