The news is still very sketchy, and as of last night it was being reported as "dozens," but according to Vermont Public Radio [this morning], at least
70 Vermont town meetings passed a non-binding resolution yesterday calling for our state and federal legislators to begin the process of passing an amendment to the US constitution to make it clear that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.
Edit-- "over 70" was VPR's headline when I posted the diary. It has changed. There's a list online maintained by Public Citizen, [here.] Read on for the update.
Personal stuff about our town meeting below.
Obviously such a sweep doesn't happen without organization. Strongly as I feel for the cause, I have not been a part of that organization. I'd been feeling guilty, like a bad citizen, I really want it to happen and had done virtually nothing but show up at a couple of big-name meetings, including one of Bernie Sanders' brunch conclaves, and one called by state senator Ginny Lyons who is the main driver in the State House.
But apparently there were a couple of petitions out there-- one at the Town Clerk's Office, one at the little general store which is on the huntin' & snowmobilin' end of our cultural spectrum-- to put the resolution on my town's agenda. Without anybody making any fuss at all that I could see, enough people signed to bring it in.
These kinds of resolutions have been a part of Vermont town politics since the Nuclear Freeze movement. Some have found them extremely annoying, but they've grown accustomed to them. They're always scheduled at the end of the meeting, after everything that involves spending money, and meetings tend to run long, so attendance has always dwindled by the time they are taken up. Mostly the people who are annoyed with them go home first. This time, I'd say two thirds of the people stuck around and I'm guessing a lot of them stayed specifically to vote on this resolution. That could have been good or bad, depending.
Somebody said, "Bernie wants this," which he certainly does, God bless him. And that goes a long long way, around here.
One of our selectmen had been approached by a local ACLUer to remove the anti-personhood language. He stepped away from the panel to speak outside his official capacity, and offered an amendment to the resolution that would instead call for something like "congress shall have the right to limit advertising during a limited period of time designated for electoral campaigns." He pointed out that it's a good idea for good-hearted nonprofits to be secure from search and seizure, for example.
I raised my hand. My legs took me to the front of the room before the microphone came to me. I looked at the people, they looked at me. We were all very serious and thinking very hard. I spoke from the heart-- it's something I've been thinking about for a long time. Corporations are not people. We all know this. Nobody will seriously argue about it unless they are taking money from corporations. It's hard to amend the constitution, it's good to go with something people across the political spectrum feel in their heart.
I don't remember exactly what I said, beyond that, but I could feel my words resonate with the audience.
There was more discussion of the selectman's amendment-- somebody pointed out that there were other towns calling on the state legislature to move, and what are they supposed to do if the votes are on different amendments, somebody pointed out that Citizens United was a last straw but there was plenty of evil before that-- then the vote on it; the amendment failed to pass. By then, everything had been said, for the resolution itself there was no need for discussion. It passed without a single "no."
More than many of these things, the process felt very serious, very strong, very real. You don't need to convince anybody about this, you just need to remind them of what they know.
I honestly believe we have a chance to do this. Good thing, because we are so screwed if we don't.
Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 7:27 AM PT: The actual number of towns is still unclear. Vermont Public Radio has changed the figure in the linked story-- it did read 70 when I posted this diary, but no longer does. I called Public Citizen, and they think that the Rutland Herald's current figure of 64 is as good a number as we can currently bank on, though more towns are at least possible. Some of our towns are tiny and don't employ full time town clerks; some of the clerks may not be returning phone calls from "away." It's still a good number, and will certainly grow from year to year, just as the Nuclear Freeze resolution did, way back in the eighties.
And to those who are in despair about these things, never did I think that Ronald Reagan, of all people, would end the nuclear arms race that had frightened me my whole life, and with the Soviet Union begin our long walk back from the edge of that particular imminent doom.