At this week’s convention, we’ll be reminded that elections matter—and they do. But electoral victories, though necessary, are never sufficient. Uprooting inequality and restoring prosperity will require much more. Last week, we got an important reminder of the importance of grassroots organizing. It came from the president of the United States.
During an “Ask Me Anything” session with readers of the website Reddit, President Obama lent his personal support to the effort to amend the Constitution to reverse the Supreme Court’s devastating Citizens United decision.
“Over the longer term,” said the president, “I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight [on] the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”
(Other campaign officials had previously expressed support.)
These are welcome words. First, because (as I’ve argued here and elsewhere), we can’t become a more perfect union as long as our elections remain playthings for self-interested corporations. As Public Citizen puts it so well: Democracy is For People. (And as Lee Fang reports in the current issue, if you think post–Citizens United Super PACs are bad for our democracy, trade associations are even worse.)
Obama’s words send a strong signal where we need to go. But they’re equally important for what they say about how we get there.
In becoming the nation’s top constitutional amendment endorser, Obama reminded us that he remains our first community organizer president. From the beginning, some of the smartest minds in the movement to overturn Citizens United movement have seen the amendment process as an organizing instrument, not just a legal lever.
Obama’s support for an amendment puts him on the right side, with over a hundred municipalities who’ve moved to amend, and against the plutocrats who want to buy our elections. It sharpens the contrast between a president committed to “We the people” and a challenger convinced that “corporations are people.”
And it’s heartening to see the president’s personal step forward on the issue echoed in his party’s new platform, which backs “campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary.”
But Obama’s statement also raises the question, Given that the president gets how social movements make change happen, why does he only sometimes act like it?
Obama’s 2008 campaign paid repeated tribute to the power of citizens acting in concert against injustice. Indeed, he led an effort that captured the feel of a true social movement in a way few presidential campaigns do. And he won.