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New England Town Meetings To Challenge Corporate Personhood

Common Dreams staff

People hold signs during a rally in support of a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people in Montpelier. (AP/Toby Talbot)

Town Meeting Day is held in Vermont every year on the first Tuesday in March. The day is a state holiday and it allows for each town in the New England state to come together and make legislative decisions in a traditional Town Hall Meeting format, one of the purest forms of democracy practiced in the United States. This year, in addition to setting budgets and electing local officials, more than four dozen towns will also address the role of corporate personhood and call for resolutions protesting the US Supreme Court's 'Citizen United' decision.

In Portland, Maine last month, the city council of the state's largest city passed a resolution calling for the abolition of 'corporate personhood' and now many of the state's smaller towns are following their example.

The Portland Press Herald reported this week:

Residents [of Freedom, Maine] will vote at town meeting in March whether to ask President Obama and Maine's congressional delegates to amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that corporations do not have the same rights as people.

Sarah Bicknell, 23, of Freedom presented enough petition signatures to selectmen Monday to put the nonbinding measure before voters.

Citing the Occupy movement and similar votes nationwide – including one last month in Portland – Bicknell said the goal of her effort is to require the disclosure of corporate contributors to political campaigns, events and advertisements.

"The actual petition and passing of a resolution is completely nonbinding. It's more of a statement against corporate funding of campaigns," said Bicknell, a Unity College student. She collected the signatures with her partner, Adam Cram of Freedom.

Bicknell said Tuesday that the petition is in part a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 that the government may not limit corporations' political spending. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts, without disclosure, on campaigns.

And Vermont Public Radio describes the statewide trend in a report today:

.. from Woodstock to Montpelier, the corporate personhood question will ask Vermont voters whether they think local government should urge Congress to propose a constitutional amendment that says "money is not speech," and that "corporations are not persons."

Even though the corporate personhood resolution isn't town related, [William Boardman of Woodstock] says it'll give voters a chance to express how they feel about whether the democratic process should be limited to human beings.

"It's not a complicated question," Boardman said. "The Supreme Court says corporations are people. These are transparently false assertions in any reality that any of us are familiar with. We live in a very surreal legal situation and this is an attempt to return the country to a more human scale."

Organizers say on Town Meeting Day more than two dozen towns will take up the question of corporate personhood, including Bolton, Crafstsbury, Fayston, Hinesburg, Waitsfield and Warren.

And they say in another two dozen towns citizens plan to raise the question from the floor of their town hall.

Move To Amend, one of the many national groups working to promote a constitutional amendment to fight back against corporate personhood and unlimited campaign financing of political campaigns, have encouraged these town resolutions and think that winning these local battles, even if largely symbolic, will ultimately help create the conditions necessary for the ultimate goal, an amendment to the US constitution.

After a different Portland -- Portland, Orgeon -- passed a city resolution last month, Move to Amend had this to say about the effort there and the nationwide trend:

Portland, Oregon joins the cities of New York City, Los Angeles, Duluth MN and others in passing resolutions supporting amendment of the Constitution. The cities of Madison WI, Boulder Co, and Missoula MT as well as Dane County, WI have all passed ballot measures with strong majorities declaring that corporations are not people and the money is not speech. The resolution calls on the city attorney to study how Portland's city council can also refer a measure to Portland vote.

“The city today confirmed that allowing corporations to have constitutional rights is not in the interest of the American people. And that the constitution needs to be amended and should be amended to protect the American people from the excesses of corporations,” said David Delk, founder of Move to Amend Portland. “We are seeing the start of an American people's movement. It is the start of our American Democracy Movement.”

And journalist Bill Moyer's recently added his voice to the movement with this video, entitled, 'How can ordinary people help to overturn or nullify the Citizen United Decision?':

Ask Bill: How can ordinary people help to overturn or nullify the Citizen United Decision? from on Vimeo.



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