On Thursday, 5 October 2017, Kent held its annual Democracy Day event, a chance for every citizen who wishes to speak out publicly and to City Council about the problems of money in politics. Chairman of Kent Environmental Council Lis Regula, and board member Ted Voneida both spoke out on how the infamous Citizens United ruling creates challenges for the environment. Lis’s words are found below, and Ted’s words came from Bob Heath’s address in Akron concerning the currently pending Regulatory Accountability Act and his concerns with this legislation.
“The US has the equal protection of rights as a central tenet to our identity as a nation, right alongside the freedom of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. We have debated how to define rights and how to define citizen throughout our history, and I’ll again thank the city of Kent for extending those protected rights in Kent earlier this year. Today, however, I’m going to be focusing on that definition of citizens instead, or who exactly is entitled to those protected rights, because today’s definition of “person” is possibly different than what one might think.
As a biology teacher, I deal with how to define living things all the time. We define life as something that uses energy to grow and reproduce, responds and adapts to its environment, maintains homeostasis, and is made of cells. I think most of us would probably agree that humans fit that description, and that humans in the US have the freedoms set forth in our Bill of Rights. However, today corporations also enjoy those protected freedoms. This has not been an overnight occurrence, and in fact has been a slow, gradual process beginning with the Santa Clara County versus Southern Pacific Railroad ruling of 1886 which granted the 14th amendment and equal protection under the law to corporations. In 1906, the Hale versus Henkel decision extended the 4th amendment preventing unreasonable search and seizure to corporations. This trend continued with the 1976 Buckley versus Valeo ruling which granted 1st amendment protections to corporations, and culminated in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision that ruled money as a protected speech.
Which brings us to today’s Democracy in Kent. Living organisms like humans require a few things in order to stay living, such as clean air to breathe, a source of nutrition for building and repairing our cells, clean water to help maintain our homeostasis. Without access to these things, living organisms are highly likely to weaken, fall ill, and eventually cease to live, or die. Corporations do not suffer this same affliction of dependency on the natural environment. Corporations are legal constructs, which right now have similar rights to humans, and can control vast amounts of wealth. One right that corporations yet lack is the right of the vote, however, since 2010 and the Citizens United decision, corporations have been able to spend unprecedented amounts of money to influence how actual people *do* vote, usually so as to elect representatives and legislation that benefits those corporations.
This is dangerous because corporations do not have those limiting requirements that humans do. As legal constructs they continue to exist, participate in the economy, and influence our political process without regard to the availability of those things necessary for living organisms. They may choose to act responsibly, or they may not, but they cannot be jailed and cannot die because of a degraded environment in the way that a living thing can. Corporations may not have the vote, but they have the money to influence the votes that matter.
At the same time, voter purges, gerrymandering, and restrictive voter ID laws across the country restrict the right of the vote for more and more humans, especially humans from historically oppressed classes. Those same groups of people are the people who have had to deal the most with environmental injustice, thanks to Not in My Backyard or NIMBY, attitudes. We have a system today in which essentially immortal corporations, that do not require any amount of environmental sustainability, have more ability to influence decision making within our government than humans, and especially people who have the least power in society who are also left to deal with the messes made by those corporations. Is that the democracy that we want?”
– Lis Regula