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The Great Vermont Uprising Against Corporate Personhood | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

The Great Vermont Uprising Against Corporate Personhood

Vermonters went to their town meetings this week to settle questions about dump fees, snowplowing contracts and utility meters.

They also decided to take on the corrupt campaign system that is steering the republic toward catastrophe.

And they have done so in a voice loud enough to be heard all the way to Washington.

By Thursday morning, sixty-four towns reported they had moved to amend the US Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling—as well as the false construct that says, in the words of Mitt Romney, “corporations are people, my friend.”

“Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Town Meeting Day voters understood that corporations are not people,” declared US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, a champion of his state’s uprising against corporate personhood. “The resounding results will send a strong message that corporations and billionaires should not be allowed to buy candidates and elections with unlimited, undisclosed spending on political campaigns.”

Vermonters are not the first Americans to urge that the Constitution be amended to renew the century-old principle that citizens have a right to prevent corporations from buying elections. Referendums have already passed in Boulder, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin. Cities across the country, including Los Angeles, have urged Congress to begin the amendment process. State legislatures in Hawaii and New Mexico have done the same.

But what has happened in Vermont is remarkable. Over the course of several days, town meetings across the state have taken the issue of money in politics up and endorsed what once seemed a radical response to the crisis.

And it is not just liberals who are saying that corporations are not people.

“Support for the resolution cut across party lines. Six towns in Republican districts and 13 cities and towns that have sent both Democrats and Republicans to the state Legislature voted for the resolution by wide margins,” says Aquene Freechild, the senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “This bipartisan opposition to the Citizens United ruling mirrors several nationwide polls on the issue.”

The Democracy Is For People Campaign played a critical role in organizing and encouraging the Vermont uprising, as part of the “Vermonters Say Corporations Are Not People“ coalition that brought together national organizations that are backing the amendment strategy—including Common Cause, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Move to Amend—as well as Green Mountain state groups such as the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Peace and Justice Center of Vermont and Occupy Vermont.

Inspired by the success of the Vermont initiative, the Democracy Is For People Campaign is now launching Resolutions Week project, which will encourage communities across the country to follow Vermont’s lead. The goal is to get as many local pro-amendment resolutions passed as possible in the second week of June. “Already,” according to Democracy Is For People organizers, “more than 500 Public Citizen activists in 300 cities and towns have signed up to help pass resolutions in their towns.”

Public Citizen is coordinating the Resolutions Week campaign with national groups, such as the Communications Workers of America, US PIRG, the Main Street Alliance, the Move to Amend coalition and People For the American Way, as well as state-based partners.

And they have a partner in the Senate.

Vermont’s Sanders is ramping up his advocacy for the Saving American Democracy Amendment he proposed last December. It would restore the power of Congress and state lawmakers to enact campaign spending limits like laws that were in place for a century before the controversial court ruling.

“I hope,” says Sanders, “[that] the message coming out of the town meetings in Vermont will spark a grassroots movement all across the United States that a constitutional amendment is needed to overturn the ruling.”

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