OTT: The Corporations Are Coming! The Corporations Are Coming!

March 16, 2010
Riki Ott

Alaska-Colorado-California-Oregon-Washington -- Three-plus weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out limits on corporate spending in political campaigns in Citizens United v. FEC, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 80% of Americans oppose the Court's ruling, including 65% who "strongly" oppose it. A whopping 72% want legislative action to overrule the Court and reinstate the campaign limits.

Opposition cuts across the political spectrum. 85% of Democrats are opposed to the ruling, as are 76% of Republicans, and 81% of Independents. The strong reaction against the Court's ruling in the polls is finding a voice in communities across the country, as ordinary people are organizing to overrule the Court -- just as prior movements organized to overrule Court decisions regarding slavery, women's suffrage, trade unions, and Jim Crow segregation.

David and I are part of this new community-based movement. We have both seen it grow and deepen first-hand. Twenty some years ago, David worked with Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD) to coin the meme of "Corporate Personhood" -- concentrated capital with human rights. During the last two years, Riki was on the road nearly 500 days using this meme, telling her personal story of raw injustice in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. On that tour Riki advocated amending the Constitution to affirm that only human beings, not corporate persons, are entitled to constitutional rights and protections.

In Riki's wild "Paula Revere" ride through 28 states, she saw the culture shifting even before the Citizens United decision as people sought to build more self-reliant communities that exercise real democracy -- where the people rule. In response to the Patriot Act, communities (and three states) had passed legislation to protect civil liberties. In response to the top-down pressure to prolong our dependency on fossil fuels (foreign and domestic), communities were pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and organizing as Transition Towns to find ways to become sustainable in a post-oil world.

People were working with farmers to support Community Supported Agriculture and farmers' markets. Youth were demanding solutions to the climate crisis: "We already know the problems." Teachers were responding with hands-on projects to grow food, convert waste food oils to power cars, capture solar rays to heat homes or schools, and design more energy-efficient buildings.

Recently, David and Riki teamed up for another "Paula and Paul Revere" ride post-Citizens United to coalesce communities to overrule the Court and, more importantly, to help organize people to create the society and culture we want rather than one shaped by the corporate elites and their go-to people in all three branches of our government. David and I are part of the Campaign to Legalize Democracy, a grassroots movement endorsed by over 73,000 Americans and counting. Click here to add your name to the Motion to Amend.

It's a new brave new world. People, including children, understand that two of the fundamental assumptions underlying the Citizens United decision are morally wrong and threaten real democracy or rule by the people. Money is not speech -- it is concentrated capital -- and corporations are not people entitled to inalienable human rights!

Our audiences -- previously filled with the "old guard" of civil rights, peace, labor, and social-economic justice activists -- are swollen with working people, moved to "do something" to get the health care they deserve and to protect their jobs, homes, savings, and children's future in light of the unleashing of corporate power from Citizens United.

What we are seeing is a fundamental clash of values and vision. In a real democracy, human values count. We ask people, "What do you value? What do you like?" Audiences -- children and adults alike -- respond with "family, friends, time to visit, peace, health, a home, a job, clean air and water," and more.

Yet our economy grows by money exchanging hands without these values attached. War profiteering, private prisons, disaster capitalism, sick people in need of expensive medicine and health care, and toxic products swell the Gross Domestic Product, our measure of economic prosperity. This growth reflects corporate capitalism and the corporate value of making money at all "costs" -- specifically the expense of protecting public health, the environment, and our planet's life-supporting climate.

We have found that people are serious about committing time and energy to challenge corporate power and build a deeply democratic society. Inspired by our talks, Colorado citizens' groups spontaneously linked efforts under a new umbrella federation, the Colorado Movement to Amend. Along the Pacific coast from Arcata, California, to Seattle, Washington, people volunteered to build the movement in our wake. Travelers that we met in restaurants came to our talks and invited us to speak and organize in their hometowns.

Citizens United has saved us decades of organizing. People are demanding deep cultural transformation like that demanded by the abolitionist, suffragists, trade unionists, and civil rights activists. With our passion, energy, and dreams, we can build a popular movement to co-create the democracy we've been promised -- and take back government of, for, and by the people.

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Riki Ott and David Cobb are national spokespeople for The Campaign to Legalize Democracy (, a coalition of national and grassroots groups calling to amend the Constitution to abolish the legal doctrine that allows corporations to claim constitutional rights. Ott is a survivor of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Her story of personal and community healing is shared in Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Chelsea Green, 2008) ( Cobb is a principal with the Program on Corporations Law & Democracy ( and Campaigns Director for Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County ( He can be reached directly at 707-269-0984 or