Berkeley Calls for Amendments: Money Not Speech, Corporations Not People

Berkeley, Ca., April 27, 2010 — On Tuesday evening Berkeley’s mayor and City Council voted by unanimous consent to call for amending the U.S. and California constitutions to declare that corporations are not entitled to the rights of persons and that corporate money is not free speech and to request that other communities take a similar stand. The Peace and Justice Commission prepared this Democracy Resolution in anticipation that corporate spending in elections will increase due to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Federal Elections Commission in the Citizens United case.

Seventeen people had written and 28 had signed a petition in favor of the Resolution. People held up signs at the meeting, including U.C. Berkeley student Stefanie Rawlings. Three people were allowed to speak in favor of the measure during public comment. Pancho Ramos-Stierle held an earth flag while stating, “The people of Berkeley have a tradition to support the values of the Earth Community. This is the Berkeley of the creative Charles Townes, of the courageous Mario Savio, of the wise and inspiring Joanna Macy. To abolish corporate personhood in this unique city is to exemplify a harmonious legacy for this planet.”

Peace and Justice Commissioner Phoebe Sorgen quoted President Obama who said of the Citizens United ruling, “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists.” She quoted John Kerry: “The Court has struck at the very heart of our democracy,” and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy: “…it will allow major corporations — who should have law written to control their effect on America — to instead control America.” She even quoted a Republican, former Senator Warren Rudman: “Supreme Court opinion notwithstanding, corporations are not defined as people under the Constitution, and free speech can hardly be called free when only the rich are heard.” She paraphrased a new song by local storyteller Nancy Schimmel: “It isn’t a person if it doesn’t have a belly button.”

Council member Kriss Worthington explained that, though Berkeley took this stand in 2004, it is worth reiterating because of the Supreme Court ruling and because the Resolution also supports a related amendment introduced in Congress by Donna Edwards (D-MD) and cosponsored by Barbara Lee. H.J. RES 74 would permit Congress again to regulate corporate spending in elections.

Stefanie Rawlings proclaimed, “The resolution to support people over profits serves as a ray of light in this mire of corporate control that so deeply affects every aspect of our lives. I hope other communities are inspired to join the call for sovereignty of the people!” The Resolution will be sent to state and federal representatives.

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