Forum addresses efforts to combat big money in politics
At Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, Ann Arbor residents gathered to hear a presentation on business corporations' influence on democracy. The even was titled “We the People vs. Corporate Rule: It’s Up to Us” and was hosted by the Ann Arbor Friends Peace and Social Concerns Committee, Move to Amend and the Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America. The venue featured Move to Amend’s Outreach Director Greg Coleridge, as well as three community activists.
Move to Amend is an organization committed to building a movement that will lead to the passing of their 28th Amendment. The organization’s proposed bill would end corporate constitutional rights and make clear that money is not speech.
Coleridge started his talk with the idea that, though it may seem corporations are the only influence on the U.S. democracy, it does not always have to be this way. He used a quotation from meditation teacher and author Sally Kempton, when speaking about how much of the battle is in peoples’ minds.
“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head,” Coleridge said. “What Kempton was trying to get at is the dominant culture that defines today in our society … has so conditioned us into thinking that, when it comes to bringing about change, that's sort of the arena that we can operate within.”
Coleridge went through the extensive history of democracy in the U.S., highlighting the fact the country was originally meant to benefit white, male property owners. According to him, corporations have earned more rights than people as the country has progressed.
“Corporate entities were successful at gaining personhood rights — constitutionally protected, inalienable rights,” Coleridge said. ‘“Only human beings should have inalienable rights.”
He mentioned the court case Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon (1922), which found private property subject to public use if corporations deemed the land a loss of profits. He said the coal company was digging under people's homes for oil, causing them to sink. Action was eventually taken, but did not go in favor of the people.
“So there was a law passed that said, ‘you can't dig where there are homes,’ and the coal company said ‘no, that potentially lost profits,’” Coleridge said. “‘And if you want those homes not to sink, then you have to give us just compensation for that.’”
Recent University alum Hoai An Pham works with Planned Parenthood in Washtenaw County. She spoke regarding how the organization is trying to create an image of an unbiased healthcare center.
“Sometimes people only think that we’re an abortion clinic,” Pham said. “(We’re) reforming the idea of Planned Parenthood as just a healthcare clinic. As a healthcare center, we aren’t trying to politicize abortion, but abortion has been politicized for us.”
Pham asked how many audience members received their healthcare through their jobs, and the majority of audience members raised their hands.
“A lot of times corporations actually become the source of healthcare,” Pham said. “The issue with that is that, when you get healthcare from your job, if your getting good healthcare from your job, then you might have to stay in that, even if you don't like it.”
Meg Berkobien, a member of the Huron Valley Democratic Socialist Association explained her organization’s definition of democracy.
“Our working definition is that it’s shared power,” Berkobien said. “That it’s built through mutual aid, solidarity and really coming together as comrades, to think about a different vision for the future.”