I love being at the polls during an election in my town, where true democracy is still vibrant, a testimony to the belief that voting matters. I love the scene of a small town showing up to vote: parents bringing their kids into the voting booth, fishermen and millworkers talking along the wall, women proudly carrying babies in buntings, hugs among good friends, bursts of laughter from the waiting line, talk of friends’ health and the church steeple project.
I love to watch the loyal women in their tight grey curls checking the voter registrations, people of all stripes slipping their paper ballots into the old wooden box and new voters registering to vote, preserving same-day voting rights here in Maine. I can feel good about this. It’s authentic democracy.
But this past election, I felt less sure that the votes of these good people would matter. It seems what mattered most this time was how much money was spent on the campaigns: For the first time ever, more than $1.245 billion dollars were spent by Super-PACs and wealthy individuals promoting their interests. It was the most costly election in history, testimony to the belief that advertising works.
This is a direct result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that gave corporations the same inalienable rights as natural persons in the Citizens United v. The Federal Elections Commission ruling. Think of it: Undisclosed wealthy individuals and their corporate allies (the “1 percent”) can spend uncontrolled, limitless capital on lobbyists and advertising that promotes their for-profit agenda over the good of the public. In essence, the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech, which tips the scales to no money equals no speech.
To my mind, this underscores the end of what was meant to be a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people.” The reality is that we live in a “corporatocracy” — a nation of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations. “Money talks” is more true than ever, and free speech isn’t free anymore. We all know how Super-PACs churned out attack ads and dominated the media. If you don’t know who’s donating the money, you can’t know what interests they are really representing, and you can’t trust the message for its truth or consequences. The only way to change this situation is through an amendment to the Constitution.
When Clean Elections Maine and Public Citizen launched a postcard campaign to start the ball rolling for an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, I signed up to collect signatures for the post cards. They read, “Dear lawmaker, I call upon you to support a U.S. constitutional amendment that would allow us to regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds and keep our government accountable to the people, not corporate and wealthy donors.” Across the state, more than 10,000 signed postcards were collected on Election Day.
It’s just the beginning. To amend the Constitution is a long, hard process and requires solid grassroots support. The route used for most of the 27 constitutional amendments passed is for state legislators to request that two-thirds of Congress pass a resolution to amend the Constitution, the final wording to be worked out through bipartisan cooperation. Then it must be ratified by three-quarters of the states.
That brings us back to the grassroots and the post cards. It took from 1848 to 1920 for organized groups to win the vote for women. With “social media” and modern technologies, this one shouldn’t take that long, especially since polls show that 80 percent of Americans oppose the outcome of Citizens United. I urge everyone to join this campaign. Go here to find out what to do: www.mainecleanelections.org, www.citizen.org or www.movetoamend.org.
Nancy Galland, of Stockton Springs, is a retired organic farmer.