5 Ways You Can Fight Citizens United

The Story of Citizens United v FEC: How we the people can reclaim our democracy.

We never expected to be writing an article with this title. Aren't united citizens a good thing? Civil Rights movement? Egypt? Madison?

Yes, but that's not the kind of people power we're talking about here. What we want to fight is the disastrous 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision. Ironically, "Citizens United" is the name of a conservative advocacy group which receives corporate funding and works to promote increased rights for corporations. The Citizens United v. FEC case originally dealt with the question of whether or not airing Citizens United's documentary about Hillary Clinton was an advocacy ad, and therefore subject to existing restrictions on election ads under the McCain-Feingold law.

But in a brazen act of judicial activism, the court decided to consider the much broader issue of corporate spending to influence elections, which wasn't even presented in the original case. In a decision that stunned democracy advocates and trampled a number of campaign finance laws, a slim five-Justice majority ruled that corporations--including for-profit corporations--do indeed have a right to spend as much money as they want to elect or defeat candidates in our elections.

This decision effectively grants corporations the same First Amendment Free Speech protections granted to real live people.

The catch is that corporations obviously are not people. Someone get the Supreme Court a biology textbook! There are some really big, and really significant, differences. For starters, people are part of the biological system; we need clear air and water, a healthy environment, a stable climate to thrive. Corporations are legal entities, created by people, and have no such biological needs and thus no inherent reason to safeguard the environment.

People make decisions based on a constant balancing of many interests, including love for our families and communities, compassion, kindness, desire for a better world, as well as economic and material interests. Corporations don't have families and communities, nor hearts with which to love them. As Justice Stevens said in his dissenting opinion, "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts and no desires." Instead, corporations--by both law and the demands of the market--are under enormous pressure to focus on one thing: maximizing profit.

Their single minded focus, plus their enormous scale, means it's dangerous to invite them into our democracy. If corporations spend even a tiny percentage of their profits on influencing election outcomes, they can dwarf the contributions from real people, skewing election results to favor corporate interests, which aren't always the same as the interests of workers, families, and the environment.

At the Story of Stuff Project, we have partnered with organizations working for solutions to issues as diverse as climate change, toxics in consumer products, and the wastefulness of bottled water. In every case, when we ask these experienced organizers what the biggest obstacles to progress are, the answer is the same: corporate influence in the political process.

The Citizens United v. FEC decision makes this problem even worse. Reversing it is a critical step to reclaiming our democracy by the people and for the people. Yes, we know that reversing this case won't immediately prevent the myriad other ways that corporations exert influence in our democracy, but it is a really, really important place to start. Reversing a Supreme Court decision requires a new Constitutional Amendment so we're joining with a number of organizations launching a national campaign to obtain one. It's not going to be quick or easy, but working for big changes requires big efforts. And while we're working on it, we can be building a broad-based national movement to get corporations completely out of our democracy--and get the people back in.

This is a really important fight. Until we wrestle control back from the corporations, we can't leverage our amazing democracy for real progress on any of the issues we care about. So, whether your passion is protecting the environment or creating green jobs or improving public education--or really any other issue on which corporate interests are blocking real solutions--this is your campaign too. Here are five ways to plug in and get started.

Five Ways to Fight Citizens United:

  • Watch The Story of Citizens United v. FEC

    Watch The Story of Stuff Project's latest film, The Story of Citizens United v. FEC: Why Democracy Only Works when People are in Charge at www.storyofcitizensunited.org. Then share it widely! Post it on Facebook, tweet about it, blog about it, organize a showing in your school or church, put a link on your website. Help turn the volume up on this much needed conversation!

    Video Trailer:

  • Party for the Cause
    Hold a house party to screen the The Story of Citizens United v. FEC and invite others to join the campaign. Invite friends, neighbors, family members over to your place for an evening of democracy in action! You can download our House Party Guide, which has house party tips and action ideas, here.
  • Sign on
    Sign Public Citizen's petition calling for a Constitutional Amendment clarifying that free speech is for people, not corporations. We need a lot of signatures to launch this ambitious campaign. Please download the petition here, make copies and carry them around with you collecting signatures--and thus telling others about the campaign--everywhere you go. If you want to sign electronically, please do so here and forward this link on to your friends and family.
  • Get National
    Join a national organization working on taking back our democracy. This way your local efforts can be magnified and it'll be a lot easier to track this issue and identify opportunities to get involved locally and nationally. Check out Public Citizen, Free Speech for People, People for the American Way and Move to Amend.
  • Democracy: Use it or Lose it
    One reason corporations have been able to hijack our democracy is that many of us haven't engaged much in it ourselves lately. If we want policy makers who prioritize public good, healthy jobs, and a sustainable environment, we need to get involved, hold them accountable, and engage as active citizens every day--not just on voting day. Join a local organization working on an issue you care about, host a community event to share information, write letters to your congresspeople and local newspapers to share your opinion. There are an infinite number of ways to get involved and once enough of us do, we can take back our government so that it really is by the people, for the people. Then, we can get to work solving today's pressing problems with a government working for us, instead of big business.

YES! Magazine encourages you to make free use of this article by taking these easy steps.

Annie Leonard and Allison Cook wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Annie is the author and host of The Story of Stuff and the director of the Story of Stuff Project; Allison is special project coordinator for the Story of Stuff Project.

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This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.