Occupy the Constitution

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

If the above were true, Occupy Wall Street would be one step away from victory. Unfortunately, modern politics is not that clear-cut. (Nor is attribution: That quote, usually credited to Mahatma Gandhi, was actually uttered in 1918 by a trade union organizer with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.) The mainstream media managed to ignore the Tahrir Square-inspired occupation of Zuccotti Park until one over-zealous cop pepper-sprayed some young, nonviolent, Constitution-abiding women. But even when Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC finally began to cover the uprising in Manhattan, the Occupation still had to hop through media hurdles that neither Gandhi nor those early trade unionists could have imagined.

Attempts to ridicule the dissidents as a “mob” or people “flying their freak flag” didn’t address the obvious clarity of their anger over political corruption, corporate greed, and income inequality – perfectly captured in the slogan: “We are the 99%.” The GOP official who first hurled the charge of “class warfare” was closer to the mark. But, as one protester quickly – and correctly – responded: “So what? You started it!”

One of the biggest cudgels waved at the Occupiers was the demand that the “inchoate” demonstrators settle on “one understandable message, one clear demand.” The Occupation draws strength from its diversity and the multiplicity of its concerns – economic, social, and planetary. The insistence on a single set of demands would give Wall Street just what it would love to see: a unified, collective opposition split into bickering factions.

But there may be an answer to the cynical challenge to submit “one clear message” – an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the US Constitution. The ESRA is the work of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and it has been endorsed by Representative Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), among others. Of course, passing a constitutional amendment is no small feat. At the very least, though, the ESRA offers a vision of how we can protect the planet from environmentally destructive economic behavior and increase democratic control over economic and political institutions.

Article One of the proposed amendment is the pro-democracy clause. It says that the Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments “shall apply only to human beings, not to corporations or other artificial entities.” Currency shall not be considered a form of “Constitutionally protected” speech. Toward this end, Congress would regulate the flow of money used to shape public opinion in any federal election “to assure that all major points of view … receive equal exposure.”

Article Two would mandate that corporations uphold standards of environmental and social responsibility in their operations. It says that any domestic organization, corporation, or foreign firm doing business in the United States would need to secure a charter acknowledging the company’s “responsibility to promote the ethical, environmental, and social well-being of all life on the planet Earth” and accept the need to “demonstrate the ethical, environmental, and social impact of their proposed activities.”

Article Three seeks to enhance human community and environmental stewardship. It would mandate that Congress “develop legislation to enhance the environmental sustainability of human communities and the planet Earth,” including plans to address global warming, pollution, the ecological balance of the oceans, and “the well-being of all forests and animal life.”

Article Four lays out procedures for implementation. If the ESRA were approved, corporations with more than $100 million in annual gross receipts would need to obtain a new charter every five years. A grand jury of ordinary citizens would determine whether to renew a charter based on “the degree to which the products produced or services provided are beneficial rather than destructive to the planet and its oceans, forests, water supplies, land, and air, and … to future generations.” If the grand jury were not convinced that a company was upholding those standards, the corporation would be placed on probation for three years. If the firm failed to shape up, under the ESRA, “the jury may assign control of the board and officers of the corporation to non-management employees of the corporation and/or to its public stakeholders.”

I’m sure all of this might seem audacious. But then it’s no more audacious – or any more brazen – than the daily environmental and human exploitation by banking firms like, say, Goldman Sachs. So heads up, Wall Street. The 99 percent are getting ready to re-occupy the US Constitution.

Gar Smith is editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal. To read the full text of the ESRA, visit: www.spiritualprogressives.org.

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