Reclaiming Our Democracy (Part I of II): Miliary Democracy
I sit on the floor of the Duck House with thirty others, brainstorming for the January action. Neither men nor women dominate the group. We are young, and surprisingly old. Counter-culture and conservatively clad. We question whether it is nobler to seek permits or just show up unannounced. We speak of banners, flyers and street theater—anything to educate the public about our goal.
Even when I still lived in Arizona, I had heard of this place. Democracy Unlimited Humboldt County (DUHC) or “Duck” was on the forefront of the war against corporate power. In 1998, they helped pass a ballot initiative establishing the Democracy and Corporations standing committee in Arcata’s city council here in California.
The Committee’s primary functions are: to research and present to the Council options for controlling the growth of “pattern restaurants” in the community; to cooperate with other communities working on socially responsible investing and procurement policies; to make recommendations to the Council, and/or with the Council’s approval, provide educational opportunities to promote “fair trade”; to inform citizens of corporations with negative social and environmental impact; and to provide advice on ways to foster sustained locally-owned businesses, publicly or locally owned services and worker-owned cooperatives and collectives.–City of Arcata
The committee was hailed by Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Jim Hightower. Ralph Nader commented, “I look forward to Arcata being a luminous star in the rising crescendo of democracy in our country.”
Embolden by this success, they passed Measure T in 2004. It forbid nonlocal corporations from contributing to local political campaigns. Two corporations immediately challenged the initiative as unconstitutional. Before the case could be decided by the courts, Humboldt’s Board of Supervisors succumbed to corporate pressure and declared this popularly elected law nullified.
DUHC learned from this experience. They won’t be going it alone, this time. They are but one small seed of democracy, but they are amassing with others to change the political landscape in America. They have joined Move to Amend in a miliary campaign, and this time their aim is not a city ordinance in some far off town on the edge of America, but changing the highest law in the land.
Consider the humble millet seed: small and bland looking. Completely outclassed by the avocado or mango pit, or even the none-too-flashy pumpkin seed. Toss a few in an open field and, over time, they take over with sheer proliferative force. Even an avocado sapling must tremble before the power of the lowly millet seed.
Marijuana advocates, and same-sex marriage organizations recognize this power. Regardless how you feel about these hot button issues, you can’t help notice the changes in our political climate. Organizations seeking change to our economic and political world could learn a thing or two from their slow, plodding, but relentless progress. Their advocates could not have achieved such success with the more direct route of lobbying Congress. Instead, their proponents utilized the concepts of miliary democracy. They took their issue to The People in state initiatives. Once one state said yes, another and then another was enlisted. Slowly, these smaller laws are turning a national tide, despite long odds.
Why Does it Work Against Consolidated Power?
The powerful in our world are very organized and hierarchical. This has served them well, particularly with the masses divided by nation-states, race, religion, political beliefs, etc. But there is a downside to such organization. It is incapable of coping with unconnected groups organized around a single issue. WikiLeaks, Anonymous and modern terrorists exploit this weakness. There is essentially no heart or head to these organizations for the powerful to strike. Destroy one nidus of activity, and the rest are unaffected. Disallow a site on one server and it pops up on others. Capture one person and others move to take that person’s place. Governments are unable to attack all points at once with “shock and awe”. The attempt is like attacking a body of water with a sword.
Miliary campaigns have similar advantages. Strike down one state law, and laws in other states are unaffected. In the state where the law was struck down, another referendum can be run next election cycle. Relentless in their pursuit, they slowly change the political scene in the US. The dogma of the central government is challenged. People learn about these subjects and see them in a new light.
A Successful Miliary Campaign:
Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court have consolidated American power to the federal level. Right now, the three branches of the federal government are willing to betray the majority of Americans for a powerful minority. The fact that most of us don’t want corporations to be “people”, campaigns to be financed by those with the most money, or bank bailouts for the few with austerity for the many does not matter to the Federal Government. If The People are so openly ignored, how can we make our voice heard?
Advocates for marijuana and same sex marriage faced a similar problem. They were universally denigrated and no legal body took them seriously. To overcome such long odds against establishing legitimacy, they set their goals on a far horizon.
The first referendums were for education. Advocates with a sympathetic and articulate voice addressed the media. It is hard to watch the police arrest an obviously ill person in a wheelchair and feel that justice had been served. The video of these events touched a diverse group of people.
Marijuana advocates realized that the far left and the far right have many of the same desires, but different methods for achieving them. Their success in speaking to both sides of the aisle was illustrated recently when Barney Frank and Ron Paul cosigned a marijuana bill.
A successful miliary campaign, therefore, should have a message that is sympathetic to a large group of people. It should unite the masses instead of divide them.
It should first seek to educate and drive sympathy for the cause. It should utilize already existent and diverse groups. These groups can be networked around the issue at hand, but if one group does not achieve success, it should not effect the other groups. They must work independently.
A single website should serve as the glue between the groups. A broad based bill available for download needs to be available on the site. Important areas of such a bill can be left blank or have drop down menus so the bill can be personalized to a state, county, city. This allows local groups to make the bill their own, while providing a baseline direction for the campaign.
The website should also provide instructions for getting a referendum or initiative on the ballot. Educational materials should be easily downloaded from the site. The better sites also provide podcasts, or video webinars that keep groups connected and informed about the progress the issue is making. A forum for organizers to support each others efforts, brainstorm and solve problems should also be included.
Initiatives should be run in as many states (counties, cities) as possible in the same election cycle. This splits the efforts of opposing forces. The opposition cannot be all places at once. Each successfully passed referendum should support other similar laws in other states and provide some support for campaigns in states where the bill has yet to pass. This provides a network of connection and makes the law stronger with each bill that becomes law.
Possible Uses for Miliary Bills:
Health Care Bill
I have the most experience with this example, because I actually wrote a miliary health care bill. I wrote the bill to be used at the county level after discovering that states are forbidden from forming voluntary health care insurance. However, the bill could easily be converted to a state level.
The bill sets up a commission to administer nonprofit, county-run health care to be purchased voluntarily. The county would be free to use all cost containment methods at its disposal, and would not need to advertise. The bill is a mail merge Word document to make it easy for anyone to use. A person downloading the document only needs to fill in the blanks. Any counties passing this bill would be networked with other counties passing the bill to form a national health care system.
You can read a short overview of the bill here. Unfortunately, working alone, I was unable to get the bill to go anywhere.
Creating Cooperative Friendly States
We have talked extensively in this discussion group about the advantages of a cooperative employment. Creating a coop friendly environment in the US might include tax breaks, state loans, or small business advice and assistance. Enlisting the education system to teach cooperative concepts in community college or even demanding that cooperativism be taught in high school econ classes. These could all be written into a miliary bill and spread through the US.
Creating a State Run Bank
North Dakota is weathering the financial crisis fairly well. They have low unemployment and a stable economy. No one in North Dakota is talking austerity, partially because they have their own bank.
The citizens of North Dakota put their savings in their state bank, and the state uses it to capitalize new businesses. The state bank loans money to its citizens and the interest pays for education and roads. (Long time readers of this blog are probably having a sense of déjà vu. Sounds like a coopertive bank doesn’t it?)
What if all fifty states had a bank? What if they had one by next election cycle? What if the bank was mandated to create jobs? What if the mandate was to create a stable economy or an egalitarian economy? We have already seen that giving a bank a mission other than greed can create outstanding and surprising results.
Undoing Corporate Personhood
Move to Amend started their campaign shortly after the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that corporations could spend as much as they liked on campaign contributions. The Court felt corporations were people, just like you and me, and treating them as less than human was prejudice. Since some corporations have vast resources, much larger than any human person could amass, this gives large multinationals the ability to purchase our government.
Move to Amend lobbied Congress to change the Constitution and revoke corporate “personhood”. They were met with blank stares from the very people who were getting financially fat from multinational contributions to their campaigns.
So Move to Amend took their campaign to the streets. They are mounting a miliary campaign to pass as many city and county ordinances against corporate personhood as possible, to educate the public and put pressure on Congress. [Click the link for an example of their resolution.] Their website is exemplary of the sort of organization needed to run such a campaign.
They are launching their campaign with Occupy the Court on January 20th, the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. This action will take place across the country in order to educate local citizens about the issue of corporate money corrupting our democracy. All district courts and the Supreme Court will be “occupied”.
Though I applaud Move to Amend’s efforts and their creativity, I doubt they will succeed. They are asking the very people making huge sums of money off corporate corruption to kill the goose laying the golden eggs. Another, less well known, group is trying a more direct approach. Call a Convention is going directly to the states and The People to amend the Constitution.
The Convention they wish to call is the same as the one that originally drafted the Constitution. This is one of the two methods for changing the Constitution actually outlined in the Constitution. Each state sends representatives to the Convention. The Convention can amend the Constitution in any way they agree upon.
While I agree that the Constitution needs a serious overhaul, calling a Convention is risky business. Once the Convention is in place, they can literally do anything they want to change the government of the United States. There are no prohibitions on corrupting such a Convention with money.
If they are successful, another miliary bill might be useful at setting parameters for such an endeavor, and giving the members of a Convention hard instruction about what the people will and will not accept.
In truth, the hurdles to convincing Congress to change the Constitution or calling a Constitutional Convention are so high it is unlikely to occur in our current situation. Congress has the ability to quash any decision made by a Convention and even if it is the overwhelming will of The People, Congress has proven disinterested in the will of The People.
Mutiny has a negative connotation, but understand that mutiny is a about refusing to take orders from a higher authority. In the military, where hierarchy is critical to getting young people to waste their lives for the powerful, mutiny is frowned upon. But if you live in a society that claims to be self-governing, mutiny is a completely rational and acceptable course of action, when you are ordered to do something obviously against your self-interest.
The Supreme Court has declared the United States a plutocracy (one dollar=one vote). A mutiny bill puts democracy (one person=one vote) back into clear focus in the state where it passes. It asks, should the majority be subservient to any minority—even Congress or the Supreme Court?
Currently courts use the Fourteenth Amendment to declare corporations are people. The problem is that corporations end up with more power than actual people. Human people,who vote to restrain a corporation, find that the federal government will prevent them from doing so. If a community votes to disallow gas-fracking or sludge dumping in its neighborhood, a judge will explain that they have no right to collectively make that decision because the Fourteenth Amendments does not allow the interests of one group (humans) to override the interests of another (corporate “people”).
The men who drafted the Constitution never intended the federal government or corporations to reign supreme within the state. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments guaranteed the rights of the state and the people.
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.–Wiki
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.–Wiki
The Supreme Court overturned the Bill of Rights by reading a different clause of the Constitution as evidence that federal law always trumps state law, removing this check and balance from our legal system. The political right has mainly owned this issue but the Tenth Amendment Center is a non partisan group working to restore the rights of the state.
A Right to Self Governance Bill would declare any measure passed by 66% of the people would supersede any federal law or judicial decision. The governor would be instructed to enforce the state measure OVER the federal law. A Governor refusing to do so, would face a mandated re-election in 30 days.
Once your state has declared that its citizens have free will, limits to free will magically disappear. Corporations can be declared non-persons within your state. This allows human people to place restrictions upon them.
More on this important concept in Part II of this series on December 18th.
Dismantling the Totalitarian State
The Bush administration’s surveillance without oversight laws were strengthened by President Obama. If you don’t want to have the government with a right to tap your phone, or look into your Google searches without court supervision, then give your state the power to imprison or heavily fine those caught doing it. That might not completely stop the federal government, but it would make Google and AT&T think twice before they cooperated.
Similar laws could make it illegal to arrest people or transport a person across state lines without due process, making it harder to disappear people into indefinite detention. Many bills are before states now declare the state will not cooperate with federal agents to enforce The Patriot Act, The Real ID Act, intrastate commerce regulations or immigration laws that the state sees as unjust laws.
Printing State Currency
The Federal Government is financially starving the states. This disempowers the states to the point they cannot help their citizens. Education and roads go begging while Exxon and banks get tax bailouts and the military gulps down an ever increasing proportion of our GDP.
What if your state printed money? State money could be accepted to pay state taxes. (currently illegal under federal law.) A state could set up its own bank and distribute wealth to industries as it saw fit—like creating more cooperatives, making the state’s real economy more resilient.
Here is a truly radical idea that should marry the far left to the far right. Most of us do not want our money going to endless war, banks that are gambling with the money and welfare for oil companies that poison our water. But what recourse do we have? If you do not pay your personal income tax, you risk huge fines and imprisonment. This makes it impossible for a single person to have any say in where their tax dollars are spent.
But what if you, personally, were not at risk. What if the entire state of California decided to collect personal income tax from its citizens and then keep the percentage usually allotted to the state (Federal incentives and assistance, etc) while passing on the rest to the federal government in one lump sum. For one thing, that would be a more efficient system than sending money from every person in every paycheck to the federal government, just so they could send a portion of it back to the state.
In this system, withholding income tax could actually mean something. California could vote to keep the amount usually spent on a war. Or its percentage of the amount loaned to big banks in the bail out. Or the tax incentives and write-offs allotted to Exxon and Shell. Sends shivers down your back, doesn’t it?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I would love to hear your ideas about what we could achieve with this tool.
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