Democracy means Rule by the People

August 1, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More

In this video of his March 4, 2010 lecture, David Cobb, a “pissed off American,” presents important historical background regarding the relationship between the United States government and corporations.  “Corporation” never appears in the U.S. Constitution, while “people” appears 34 times. It was traditionally a privilege to form a corporation, not a right, and corporations failing to act in the public interest could have their charters revoked.

The United States is, technically speaking, a constitutional representative democracy.    “Democracy” means “rule by the people.” After offering this definition (that exactly matches the etymology), Cobb asked how many people in his audience believed that we currently have a functioning democracy in the United States, and the answer was overwhelmingly no. He argues that Citizens United eliminates our ability to have a functioning democracy. Unelected and unaccountable corporate CEO’s are deciding how much toxic waste will be dumping into the environment and what choices we will have regarding transportation and health care. They are even deciding whether the U.S. goes to war.

Thus he (along with Riki Ott, seen in the latter half of the video) are working with the Ultimate Civics and Campaign to Legalize Democracy, an effort to establish that corporations are not “persons.”  This group seeks systemic changes.  He reminds us that many organizations that are now well-recognized as having effected important changes were disparaged and harassed when they were making those changes.   It’s time for the people to make dramatic change in how we run our society instead of begging “for a few less parts per billion.”  He argues that the abolitionists didn’t tinker at the margins.  They demanded substantial and immediate change.  They exhibited courage.

As Ott asks, “Do we care enough to make a difference?”    Are we willing to take real steps to make sure that “human values count?”

Here’s the bottom line:  Abolish corporate personhood.   “Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to Constitutional rights.”   Further, we need to establish that “Money is not speech, so that we can have appropriate and proper campaign finance laws” that won’t allow corporations, or any other party to control the electoral process.   Local communities need to be able to regain control.  It is a movement from the grassroots.  Cobb argues that he doesn’t expect any visionary leadership to come from NGOs, because they are too wrapped up in the corporate culture.

To sum up, here are the goals:

  • Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
  • Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
  • Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.

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Category: Corruption, Politics, populism

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    A few months ago, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. What we need in order to get this country back on track is to re-establish a sense of community.

    I recently realized that I don't know any of my neighbors, and they don't know me. It wasn't always this way. When I bought the house, and moved in, I knew my immediate neighbors quite well, Even when I lived in an apartment complex, I knew my neighbors.

    I live in a neighborhood with a lot of rental homes. I am one of less than a dozen private homeowners in the subdivision where over half of the remaining homes belong to a family owned real estate company, and the remainder are owned by a corporate holding company and managed by a property management corporation.

    Must of the adults currently in the neighborhood speak Spanish, but there are also some Asian families, some Ethiopian immigrants as well as a few Arabic speaking immigrants. The language barrier is part of the problem, but the children all speak English and get along quite well.

    The attacks of 9-11 seems to be the turning point.I remember that day very well. In the evening, my wife (who is Palestinian), insisted that I bring home some carryout kubbeh and Hummus for supper. Most of the Middle eastern businesses in Nashville were closed, as the owners feared reprisals and stayed home to protect their families. I think the media planted the seeds of paranoia and distrust on that day, and has nurtured that negativity ever since, turning shock into anger, and anger into hate. We have changed, from a nation of diverse communities into a nation of isolated individuals focused on our individual needs and desires, with out trust. We have been divided.

    We have been conquered.

    Our great free market empire has turned to feed on itself.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Niklaus: I agree that the loss of the sense of community is huge. Yes, we've been convinced to divide and conquer ourselves.

      Even though I live in a rather homogeneous neighborhood, many of the folks don't know each other. It take effort to knit the social fabric. The story you told about the loss of trust regarding Middle Eastern businesses is a depressing one.

  2. Nicklaus,

    Two things:

    One, by "back on track" just what do you mean? When were we "on track" that you compare our present state to?

    Second, I've heard that often about not knowing our neighbors and somehow this is to the deficit of our country, etc.

    How? I know people all over the country and a few outside of it and we form a "neighborhood" that, to my mind, is more national in character, a bit more cosmopolitan, but certainly no less vital and binding than if we presumably lived next door to each other.

    I don't really want to know my neighbors. I know several of them well enough to know that arm's length is fine. That classic American "strong neighborhood" stuff comes from a time when we really had little choice but to socialize with people we could get to by crossing the street or walking a couple of blocks. Long distance was expensive, travel was for vacation…

    Just wondering.

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    If there is any loss of a sense of community, it is largely self-inflicted.

    My neighborhood does block parties in the summmer and at Hallowe'en, we do parties for sledding, egg hunts, Fourth of July, pumpkin carving and the women have "girls nights out." I have failed to get the men together, yet. I suck.

    At our church we have various activities for us and the kids which let us get together and celebrate. There are sports, Parish School of Religion (for us public schoolers!), fundraisers and fish fries.

    At my kids' schools we volunteer to be home room parents, do parties, do fundraisers, go on field trips and do Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts.

    I support and volunteer for various political candidates and issues work in my community, and sometimes the kids want to come along (ony if they want to go!).

    I participate in this community. I also contribute my comments to Huffpo, Salon, the Washington Post, New York Times, McClatchy and the various writers and columnists there. I even teak the noses of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners from time to time, and others at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. if i don't know about some issuie, I try to find an expert who will talk to me, personally.

    I always acknowledge these wonderful people. I often wish I did these correspondences via snail mail so I could have them all in a file for my kids and posterity.

    It is still true that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. If we have no connectedness to others, I assert such is so because we have made no personal demands for the same. "Lead (or is it lay?)on MacDuff, and damned be he that cries "Hold, enough!"

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:


    the track O refer to would be something of a "Mayberry" state of mind. This is the small town approache applied to neighborhoods, where you know your neighbors by name, know who you can trust and who you can't trust, who needs help and who is willing to help when needed. Back in the 70s, most people knew a neighbor who they trusted with a key to their house when they went on vacation, someone they could count on to water the plants, bring in the mail and generally keep an eye on the place for a few days. That is what we've lost.

    While the global village concept is good in its own way, but it can't replace the type of social support structure provided by actually being nearby.

    Tim, it is partially self inflicted, but the current economic and political environment is having a toxic effect on neighborhoods and small communities.

    For people to maintain a civil society, they need to be social. What is happening across the country, particularly in the blue collar neighborhoods, is that the onslaught of negativity in the media is not only creating fear and distrust, but paranoia as well.

    Because if the economic hardships of the past few years, blue collar workers, mostly from construction and manufacturing have found it necessary to move often, as job opportunities become available elsewhere. A large part of the workers are immigrants, most documented ,from many cultures and nations. This usually results in communications difficulties, for many immigrants speak little or no English, and some have a strong accent that makes understanding difficult.

    All these factors become barriers to knowing your neighbors as individuals and promote acceptance of stereotypes, and it's the stereotyped thinking that is manipulated by right wingers to gain support for promoting the corporate agenda.

    We need the sense on community to be able to plead our individual point of view and be heard without prejudice. It is a cornerstone of civility. it allows us to join together at the grass roots level.

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