coming from the feel

That this

ain't exactly real,

Or it's

real, but it ain't exactly there ...


is coming to the U.S.A."

— Leonard Cohen,


To the

U.S.A.? No,

Cohen's got it all wrong.

As our leaders loudly preach, democracy is

something that we export to the rest of the world—to certain monarchies

and autocratic regimes that rule Arab nations, for example. And it's

understandable though regrettable, they tell us, that there would be eruptions

of pent-up anger at aloof upper classes in India, Greece, Spain and Israel.

But a genuinely populist uprising to bring

democracy, both economic and political, to the U.S.A.? No way! Yet, there it

is: the sassy, brassy and savvy Occupy Wall Street movement, rapidly spreading

to every zip code.

It is real. Yes, it's youth-driven, broad-based,

determinedly democratic and deeply grounded in the most basic of American

values of economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all. It's

not about left-right ideologies, but top-down realities. It's focused directly

on the narcissistic greed of today's financial and corporate elites and on

their gross corruption of our political system by a flood of money from

corporations that now masquerade as persons.

Is it exactly there? No, not by a long shot; but

it has a shot. The spunk, motivation, idealism, creativity and passion of these

young people are genuine, not the product of partisan consultants, think tanks,

rich funders or large organizations. So the movement's direct street action is

turning out to be the spark that millions of disgusted grassroots people have

needed to stop moaning and start acting, which is why Occupy Chicago, Occupy

McAllen, and hundreds of other Occupies have sprung up spontaneously across the

country within three weeks of the Wall Street initiative. These people are on target

and on the move.

If you doubt it, note the edgy tone of Mitt

Romney, who recently expressed alarm about the rising rabble who're daring to

confront the corporate order: "I think it's dangerous, this class warfare."

This was hardly the first plutocratic

pronouncement by Romney, a dedicated warrior for the corporate class. In

August, the well-heeled seeker of the GOP presidential nod, dressed in

preppie-casual togs, hopped atop a hay bale at the Iowa State Fair. He looked

as natural as a goose in a tuxedo. But then, after a somewhat testy exchange

with fairgoers who had challenged him to end corporate tax breaks rather than

cut benefits for people, Romney blurted out one of the stranger tenets of

right-wing theology: "Corporations are people, my friend," Romney

said, with a little condescending chuckle.

Actually, corporations are nothing but pieces of

paper issued by state governments. Nonetheless, the rising supremacy of

America's corporate plutocracy is based on courts and politicians having blind

faith in the legitimacy of the corporations-are-people idolatry. It is not,

however, something that its disciples wish to take to the people as an election

issue, because, well, because it's pure poppycock, and it would be resoundingly

rejected if it were ever put to a direct vote. So, let us praise this

chucklehead for inadvertently injecting the right-wing fiction of corporate

personhood directly into the 2012 presidential election.

The good news is that across the country, the

overwhelming majority of people (i.e., us living, breathing humans) despise the

anti-democratic domination of our elections and, therefore, of our

government, economy, media and environment by a relatively few

self-aggrandizing corporate behemoths. This public anger has intensified since

the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC.


Corporations are people? Who came up with


Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts,

Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas. On Jan. 21, 2010 these five Supreme Court

justices defied the Constitution, common sense, the expressed will of the

American people and nature itself to distort hundreds of years of judicial

precedent in a case titled Citizens United v. FEC. The five decreed that


— artificial, lifeless corporate entities are entitled to the First

Amendment rights of people, and are endowed with more electioneering rights

than us real-life persons, enabling them to buy public officials and intimidate

others by dumping unlimited sums of corporate cash into our elections. In one

abrupt blow, these five men reversed more than a century of campaign-finance

law and more than 200 years of broad public agreement that corporate interests

should be subjugated to the public interest. Talk about your judicial activism.

Now, not

only can the living, breathing executives of corporations continue dumping

millions of their own dollars into elections — money that totaled more

than a billion dollars in the 2008 election cycle — but henceforth, the

trillions of dollars held by the corporate entities themselves can also be

poured into electioneering ads and other forms of speech. All big-money

corporations, from Wall Street to WalMart, now have permission to open the

spigots of their vast corporate treasuries and funnel unlimited sums of cash

into campaigns to elect or defeat candidates of their choice for any and every

office in the land.

Rather than merely influencing our elected

federal, state and even local legislators with direct campaign donations from

company executives, corporations can now utilize their often billion

dollar-plus corporate treasuries to intimidate the people elected to serve all

of the people. Big Insurance, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Box Store, Big Banking,

Big Whatever have suddenly been armed with the unlimited, devastating spending

power of their practically bottomless corporate treasuries. Their lobbyists can

bluntly say to a lawmaker, governor, mayor or other official, "After you

support this little bitty tax break for us, we will spend a million bucks to

re-elect you. If you don't, we'll spend the same amount to see you defeated."

Ironically, Citizens United v. FEC has united America's

citizenry in broad, deep and vehement opposition to the absurd notion that a

corporation is entitled to inclusion as one of us as in We the People. In poll

after poll, huge majorities consistently scream against the ruling and demand

strong action against it. A Hart Research survey in January 2011 — a year

after the Court's edict was issued — found that public opposition

remained fervent, with 87 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents, and

68 percent of Republicans favoring passage of a constitutional amendment to

overturn Citizens United and to make clear that corporations do not have the same

rights as people.

Supreme Court cases and arcane matters of

campaign finance don't usually move the needle of public awareness from

"Huh?" to "Hot damn!" But the perversion of our politics

and government by deep-pocket corporations has been like sticking the public's

tongue in an electric socket. People are energized by it, and they've turned

such terms as Citizens United, the Roberts Court, the Koch Brothers,

SuperPACs, and corporate personhood into curse words. The issue has even become

a comic punch line: "If corporations are people," asked a letter

writer to TheNew York Times,

"can I marry one? Is General Electric single?" And here's one from my

state: "A corporation is not a person until Texas executes one."


Waiting for the Powers That Be

In response to such strong public outrage, our

elected stalwarts in Washington have risen up and responded decisively, by

doing exactly nothing.

Republican leaders, long wedded to the corporate

plutocracy by ideology and money, openly cheered the Court's move. President

Obama squawked briefly about the judicial hijacking of our democracy, and the

Democratic party's congressional leaders flapped their arms in anger for a

while — but then they just let it go, slinking quietly away from the

issue. (Importantly, a feisty Progressive Caucus in Congress continues to push

the issue aggressively.)

The new tea party Republicans, who had barged

into the congressional club with thundering claims that they had come to

"take our country back" and "restore power to the people,"

have been conspicuously silent on this most fundamental issue of the people's

power. Instead, they've slipped comfortably into it, with not a peep of protest

over the fact that five unelected government officials have dictated that Big

Money is a person with political rights to buy our government.

Now comes 2012, and tea partiers, Republicans

and corporate Democrats alike can be seen scurrying around like hunger-crazed

squirrels in a frenetic grab-fest for the tens of millions of dollars —

even hundreds of millions — that Mitt's people are gleefully throwing


The money dump is well underway, and it's

massive. The tip of this destructive iceberg is a legalistic gimmick known as

the SuperPAC. Authorized by Citizens United, these are super-sized,

super-energized, political action committees. Unlike the regulated PACs of

yesteryear, SuperPACs can – and will – invest tens of millions of

dollars right out of corporate coffers — as well as from unions and

individuals, but corporations are the monster players — and put the whole

load directly into ads and other efforts to elect or defeat any candidates they


How big of a load? Just one of these money

monsters, Karl Rove's American Crossroads raised a whopping $28 million from

corporate interests to elect Republicans in last year's elections. But that's a

mere trickle compared to the tsunami now headed our way; Rove's Crossroads PAC

is presently amassing a democracy-shattering $240 million for 2012.

Every major presidential candidate has at least

one of these things sacking up and spending money specifically on their behalf.

Rick Perry, for example, has six of them. Technically, SuperPACs are

independent entities that must not coordinate their spending with the

candidates they're supporting. This legal prohibition against coordination is

absolute. And it's absolutely a farce and a fraud.

Perry's top SuperPAC, modestly named Make Us

Great Again, intends to put $55 million behind the Texan's effort to win the

GOP presidential nomination. It was created and is headed by Mike Toomey, a top

corporate lobbyist in Texas before sliding over in 2002 to be Perry's

gubernatorial chief of staff. In 2004, Toomey slid back into lobbying, using

his tight ties to Perry to become Austin's preeminent corporate influence

peddler and a fundraiser for the governor.

This year, Toomey helped Perry set up his

presidential campaign, serving as both advisor and fundraiser. Now he runs the

Make Us Great Again outfit, insisting that it is entirely separate from Perry's

campaign. Helloooo! The PAC and the campaign don't have to coordinate, because

both are embodied in Toomey.

It's up to us. We are it.

Do politicians think that people can't see their

cynical and deliberate scamming of our democratic process? If so, they might

peek at some of the letters, emails, and Facebook messages I get practically

every day. Not only do folks see it clearly, they're looking to join in some

serious butt-kicking:


"CEOs represent a clear and present danger to the overall well-being and

security of our country. Big money has plucked our eagle."



"We need to get under one umbrella. How can we do it? I'm so angry at the state

of things. Still, I'm trying to stay positive." – Melody

* "I like

the idea of petitioning to reverse the Citizens United decision. I would be

pleased to help with the petition in Kansas if it gets going, or to start one.

Where does one begin?" – Robert

* "The most

effective campaign to launch is to get every org to focus lobbying, dollars and

message on the one issue: End corporate influence and power."


This is not just another issue. It is central to

practically every one of our issues, for it amounts to surrendering our

democratic authority to, in Jefferson's words, "the aristocracy of our

moneyed corporations."

The Court and the political elites have forced

you and me into another of those when-in-the-course-of-human-events moments

that Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence. This is a time

in which ordinary people are called forth by history to do what our leaders

won't: Assert the American people's independence from authoritarian rule by

corporate plutocrats.


Just say yes

The Powers That Be want us to believe that this

effort is hopeless, that we can't really undo the legal scaffolding of

artificial personhood that the corporados have erected over us flesh-and-blood

citizens. Rather than attempting to deconstruct the Brave New America, they

tell us, we should be satisfied with softening its rougher edges with things

like campaign finance reporting requirements.

Now there's a rallying cry for an angry public:

"Give us campaign finance reporting regulations or give us death!"

How insulting to say that Americans today are

too small to achieve big democratic results. And how erroneous. As a friend of

mine notes, those who say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are

doing it.

Here's a partial menu of actions that are

underway or that you could start right where you live:

1. Amend. Two major coalitions are aggressively

organizing grassroots power from coast to coast to demand and pass a

constitutional amendment to prohibit corporations from buying our elections.

Yes, this is a difficult and lengthy process, but as an old Spanish dicho puts it, "Big

maladies require big remedies." The people have passed amendments before

and we can again, especially for a cause that starts with such broad and

passionate public support.

2. FreeSpeechForPeople.org proposes a

straightforward amendment to repeal the Supremes' infamous Citizens United ruling. The coalition's

battle cry is: Citizens United against Citizens United. MoveToAmend.org

proposes a broader amendment to declare that only human beings, not

corporations, are persons with constitutional rights.

Both coalitions have grassroots organizers,

do-it-yourself toolkits for raising the issue locally and getting others

involved, petitions to be circulated and sent to public officials, videos and

other graphic materials for getting people informed, sample resolutions for

local and state officials to pass, ways to connect people to each other and to

the national movement, and a wealth of other organizing ideas and resources.

3. Uncover. One of the little-noticed and

unfulfilled promises included in the Court's Citizens United ruling is that

corporations should at least have to disclose to shareholders and the public

how much political money they spend on whom. Congressional Republicans,

however, have blocked proposals to implement this minimalist democratic

gesture, and President Obama so far has not issued administrative rules to

shine even a little sunlight on secret electioneering by corporations.

But you don't have to wait on Washington.

Citizens groups in Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Boulder, Colorado, have

pushed disclosure requirements into law and at least nine federal courts have

ruled that these requirements pass constitutional muster. Groups in Los

Angeles, Fort Wayne and Chicago, in New Mexico, Connecticut and elsewhere are

pushing conflict-of-interest laws to ban or restrict campaign donations by

corporations that seek government contracts.

In addition, employees and shareholders of some

big corporations, along with other innovative citizens, have launched their own

do-it-yourself disclosure campaigns. Using both inside tips and the occasional

leak of secret corporate donations, they are publishing the information á la

wikileaks and holding protests at corporate offices to expose publicity-shy

executives who're funneling shareholder funds into elections.

4. Impeach. At least two of the

corporate-coddling Supremes — Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas

— had undisclosed ties to the Koch brothers and other secretive corporate

plutocrats at the time the Court was considering the Citizens United case. Two national

organizations have extensive information about the justices' blatant disregard

of basic ethics and are collecting petitions to hold them to account.

CommonCause.org seeks a Justice Department investigation of the two and

proposes that Supreme Court members be subjected to the Judicial Code of

Conduct that applies to all other federal judges. RootsAction.org goes further,

calling for impeachment proceedings against Thomas for accepting gifts from

participants in cases before him and for filing false financial reports.

5. Connect. It's not all bad news in Washington.

Many members of Congress are pushing national policies to end or at least

curtail the corrupting power of corporate political cash. It's important to

have an inside-outside strategy on these policies, linking grassroots strength

(ideas, courage, energy and numbers) to those fighting inside for real reform.

One of the best points of connection is the Progressive Caucus, co-chaired by

Reps. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis and Raul Grijalva of Tucson.

6. Confront. The time to get the attention of

congress critters is now, when they're running for office. Every candidate

— incumbent, challenger, Republican, tea partier, Democrat, et al —

should be confronted politely but insistently on the corporate money issues: Citizens


corporate personhood, public campaign funding, etc. Make appointments, attend

their campaign events and town hall sessions, send queries and disseminate

their responses as broadly as possible, even if all you get from them is


7. Localize. All across the country, clean

election coalitions have passed laws to give local and state candidates the

alternative of using a public pool of money to finance their campaigns rather

than having to kiss the ring of corporate interests. Learn about these

successes and how you can launch a similar effort where you live by going to


Likewise, get information and inspiration from

the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy and

ReclaimDemocracy.org about local communities that are restricting or outright

rejecting the fiction of corporate personhood. From such small towns as Arcata,

California, to cities like Pittsburgh, people are uniting to prohibit

assertions of a corporate right to run over them. As Pittsburgh city council

member Doug Shields said of a successful effort last November to ban natural

gas fracking in his city, "It's about our authority as a community to

decide, not corporations deciding for us."

8. Enjoy. Whatever you do, think fun: How could

this be more humorous, more lively, more entertaining, more welcoming, more

engaging and, therefore, more effective? As much as possible, turn your

meetings, work sessions and events into parties with a little food and drink,

music, videos, cartoons, puppets, skits, stunts, contests, stories and whatever

else the group can think of.

Whether it's the Arab Spring or the American

Autumn, democratic progress doesn't come on the winds of history, but on the

shoulders of a determined people. Occupy Wall Street offers millions of strong

shoulders with which to shove corporate money out of our politics and make

"people power" more than an empty slogan. While the Constitution says "We the

People," not We the Corporations, the people themselves must make that

distinction real.

Author, radio commentator, and all-round populist agitator Jim

Hightower has spent the past four

decades battling the Powers That

Be on behalf of the Powers that ought-to-be.

His monthly Hightower Lowdown is available at hightowerlowdown.org


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