Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bill of Rights are for People, not Corporations

Today is Bill of Rights Day. On December 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments were added to the Constitution.

Outside of the first three words contained in the Preamble, We the People, the most well known and, for many, cherished portions of our constitution are contained in the Bill of Rights. It provides a set of protections from political and social government intrusion.

The Bill of Rights include:
Amendment 1- Freedom of speech, press and religion
Amendment 2 - The right to bear arms
Amendment 3- Protection of homeowners from quartering troops, except during war.
Amendment 4 - Rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure
Amendment 5 - Rights of due process of law, protection against double jeopardy, self incrimination
Amendment 6 - Rights of a speedy trial by jury of peers and rights of accused
Amendment 7 - Rights to trial by jury in civil cases
Amendment 8 - Protection from cruel and unusual punishment, excessive bail
Amendment 9 - Protection of rights not specified in the Bill of Rights
Amendment 10 - States rights, power of the states.

As we celebrate, honor and (re)commit to protect these sacred Rights on this day, here are five points to keep in mind.

1. These basic and “inalienable” rights weren’t part of what we know of today as our nation’s “original” constitution. The US constitution that became binding on June 21, 1788 didn’t contain a Bill of Rights. It was only enacted with the understanding that a set of political and social rights would be added in the near future. The “rabble” (the 99% of the day), many who had fought in the revolution for freedom and liberty, were incensed the drafted founding document of the new nation was void of basic political and social rights. They rebelled. They forced their state legislatures to condition ratification with a Bill of Rights. It took three and one-half years of educating, organizing and agitating for the Bill of Rights to finally be added as the constitution’s first 10 amendments.

2. Our nation’s first constitution was not the document that begins with We the People in the Preamble. Prior to that was the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781. For seven years our nation existed under a much more decentralized set of national governing rules. States possessed most political power. Most states also had their own Bill of Rights. This added to the outrage of those at the grassroots who saw the “new” constitution absent a Bill of Rights as a step toward a return of centralized authority. Adding to this perception, if not reality, was how the second constitution was created People from each state had gathered in Philadelphia to merely “amend” the Articles of Confederation. Once there, they locked the doors, tossed out the Articles and started over. The minutes from James Madison of the Constitutional Convention weren’t made public for over 50 years.

3. The Bill of Rights is limited in the provision of basic “inalienable” rights to political and some social. They represent a sliver of those rights professed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which call for political, social, civil, gender, cultural, developmental and economic rights. In the midst of WWII, President Roosevelt called for a second Bill of Rights, an Economic Bill of Rights, including the right to income, medical care, education, housing and employment. "We have come to a clear realization of the fact," FDR said, "that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence."

4. Providing protections from political and social government intrusion, the purpose of the Bill of Rights, is extremely important. These protections have allowed for dissent and democratic participation. These political rights, however, don’t include the right to govern in direct and defining ways. The right to vote and to have one’s vote count, for example. Or the right of people to have control of their economy. Or the right to control and define corporations.

5. Corporations are not mentioned in either the constitution or the Bill of Rights. They were never intended to possess any inalienable constitutional rights — which were reserved exclusively to real human beings. The lack of their inclusion as a right of people to define these creations of the state created enough of a vacuum for corporate agents to argue that corporations were meant all along to be protected right along side real human beings from government intrusion.

The Bill of Rights and virtually every other amendment to our constitution is proof that changing the constitution can be beneficial in expanding the rights of people. Most every amendment occurred following major social movements, some longer and more diverse than others. It’s happened before. It can and must happen again. In the spirit of those who fought long and hard against the power elite of their day for a Bill of Rights, rights for women and people of color, expanding the popular vote for Senators and among young people, it is time once more to become part of expanding our Bill of Rights to include the right of we, sovereign people, to declare that a corporation is not a person and can be regulated and that money is not speech and can be regulated — as called for by the Move to Amend amendment --

Bill of Rights Day is a good day to (re)commit to these ends.

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