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Occupying Democracy

We the People, not We the Corporations

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"It's coming from the feel That this ain't exactly real, Or it's real, but it ain't exactly there ... Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."

--Leonard Cohen, Democracy

To the U.S.A.? No, Cohen's got it all wrong.

As our leaders loudly preach, democracy is something that we export to the rest of the world--to certain monarchies and autocratic regimes that rule Arab nations, for example. And it's understandable though regrettable, they tell us, that there would be eruptions of pent-up anger at aloof upper classes in India, Greece, Spain and Israel.

But a genuinely populist uprising to bring democracy, both economic and political, to the U.S.A.? No way! Yet, there it is: the sassy, brassy and savvy Occupy Wall Street movement, rapidly spreading to every zip code.

It is real. Yes, it's youth-driven, broad-based, determinedly democratic and deeply grounded in the most basic of American values of economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all. It's not about left-right ideologies, but top-down realities. It's f ocused directly on the narcissistic greed of today's financial and corporate elites and on their gross corruption of our political system by a flood of money from corporations that now masquerade as persons.

Is it exactly there? No, not by a long shot; but it has a shot. The spunk, motivation, idealism, creativity and passion of these young people are genuine, not the product of partisan consultants, think tanks, rich funders or large organizations. So the movement's direct street action is turning out to be the spark that millions of disgusted grassroots people have needed to stop moaning and start acting, which is why Occupy Chicago, Occupy McAllen, and hundreds of other Occupies have sprung up spontaneously across the country within three weeks of the Wall Street initiative. These people are on target and on the move.

If you doubt it, note the edgy tone of Mitt Romney, who recently expressed alarm about the rising rabble who're daring to confront the corporate order: "I think it's dangerous, this class warfare."

This was hardly the first plutocratic pronouncement by Romney, a dedicated warrior for the corporate class. In August, the well-heeled seeker of the GOP presidential nod, dressed in preppie-casual togs, hopped atop a hay bale at the Iowa State Fair. He looked as natural as a goose in a tuxedo. But then, after a somewhat testy exchange with fairgoers who had challenged him to end corporate tax breaks rather than cut benefits for people, Romney blurted out one of the stranger tenets of right-wing theology: "Corporations are people, my friend," Romney said, with a little condescending chuckle.

Actually, corporations are nothing but pieces of paper issued by state governments. Nonetheless, the rising supremacy of America's corporate plutocracy is based on courts and politicians having blind faith in the legitimacy of the corporations-are-people idolatry. It is not, however, something that its disciples wish to take to the people as an election issue, because, well, because it's pure poppycock, and it would be resoundingly rejected if it were ever put to a direct vote. So, let us praise this chucklehead for inadvertently injecting the right-wing fiction of corporate personhood directly into the 2012 presidential election.

The good news is that across the country, the overwhelming majority of people (i.e., us living, breathing humans) despise the anti-democratic domination of our elections and, therefore, of our government, economy, media and environment by a relatively few self-aggrandizing corporate behemoths. This public anger has intensified since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v FEC.

Corporations are people? Who came up with that?

Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas. On January 21, 2010 these five Supreme Court justices defied the Constitution, common sense, the expressed will of the American people and nature itself to distort hundreds of years of judicial precedent in a case titled Citizens United v FEC. The five decreed that-- shazam!--artificial, lifeless corporate entities are entitled to the First Amendment rights of people, and are endowed with more electioneering rights than us real-life persons, enabling them to buy public officials and intimidate others by dumping unlimited sums of corporate cash into our elections. In one abrupt blow, these five men reversed more than a century of campaign-finance law and more than 200 years of broad public agreement that corporate interests should be subjugated to the public interest. Talk about your judicial activism.

Now, not only can the living, breathing executives of corporations continue dumping millions of their own dollars into elections--money that totaled more than $1 billion in the 2008 election cycle--but henceforth, the trillions of dollars held by the corporate entities themselves can also be poured into electioneering ads and other forms of speech. All big-money corporations, from Wall Street to Walmart, now have permission to open the spigots of their vast corporate treasuries and funnel unlimited sums of cash into campaigns to elect or defeat candidates of their choice for any and every office in the land.

Rather than merely influencing our elected federal, state and even local legislators with direct campaign donations from company executives, corporations can now utilize their often billion dollar-plus corporate treasuries to intimidate the people elected to serve all of the people. Big Insurance, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Box Store, Big Banking, Big Whatever have suddenly been armed with the unlimited, devastating spending power of their practically bottomless corporate treasuries. Their lobbyists can bluntly say to a lawmaker, governor, mayor or other official, "After you support this little bitty tax break for us, we will spend a million bucks to re-elect you. If you don't, we'll spend the same amount to see you defeated."

Ironically, Citizens United v FEC has united America's citizenry in broad, deep and vehement opposition to the absurd notion that a corporation is entitled to inclusion as one of us as in We the People. In poll after poll, huge majorities consistently scream against the ruling and demand strong action against it. A Hart Research survey in January 2011--a year after the Court's edict was issued--found that public opposition remained fervent, with 87 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents and 68 percent of Republicans favoring passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and to make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people.

Supreme Court cases and arcane matters of campaign finance don't usually move the needle of public awareness from "Huh?" to "Hot damn!" But the perversion of our politics and government by deep-pocket corporations has been like sticking the public's tongue in an electric socket. People are energized by it, and they've turned such terms as Citizens United, the Roberts Court, the Koch Brothers, SuperPACs and corporate personhood into curse words. The issue has even become a comic punch line: "If corporations are people," asked a letter writer to the New York Times, "can I marry one? Is General Electric single?" And here's one from my state: "A corporation is not a person until Texas executes one."