HOPE AFTER CITIZENS UNITED: An interview with Russ Feingold, www.eugeneweekly.com, Nov 3, 2011
Former senator and current progressive powerhouse Russ Feingold will give a free talk at UO on "Corporate Power in Politics and the Economy: What the Citizens United Decision Means for Our Democracy." Feingold will speak at 4 pm Monday, Nov. 7, at the EMU Ballroom. Seating is first come, first served.
The lecture will focus on the role of corporations in the economy and government, and will address one of the loudest refrains from the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Eugene movements (and the best satire on The Colbert Report), the elimination of the aspects of corporate personhood that raise corporations beyond the heights of persondom.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, settled in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision earlier this year, ruled that the government may not ban or limit political spending by corporations in candidate elections. The decision reversed election laws nationwide that attempted to limit the ability of corporations to influence elections through their enormous financial resources.
Feingold told EW that the Citizens United case was particularly shocking because the narrow ruling overturned 100 years of precedent. This includes two previous Supreme Court cases, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which held that a Michigan law prohibiting corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates in elections did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and part of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, which held that money is property, not speech.
While the legislation for which Feingold is best known, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (aka McCain-Feingold) is still intact, the older framework that the legislation was built upon is now demolished. "What it does is basically kick the foundations out from under McCain-Feingold," he said. "McCain-Feingold is still valid in that it prevents corporations and unions from giving unlimited contributions to the political parties. That's good law. The trouble is that the foundation on which has built has been destroyed in many ways."
To remove the ever-inflating influence of corporations on elections and government, Feingold founded Progressives United, an organization "focused on money and politics and this new phenomenon of corporate domination of our system." Progressives United uses different avenues to seek the limitation of corporate influence, but Feingold said that a future Supreme Court ruling reversing Citizens United is the likeliest route for change. "I think overturning the decision is the most direct way we can put the genie back in the bottle, if you will," Feingold said.
Feingold also said he approves of passing a Constitutional amendment that could serve the same purpose, but that it would be more difficult to accomplish than reelecting President Obama, who Feingold believes is likely to nominate "a fair-minded person" to the bench, "a jurist who would do the right thing."
While the difficulty of a Constitutional amendment is clear — the polarized House and Senate would each have to pass it by a two-thirds majority — Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkeley co-sponsored a proposed amendment, introduced Nov. 1 in the Senate, that seeks to correct the Citizens United decision. The amendment proposes to authorize Congress to regulate and limit the spending and raising of money for federal political campaigns and includes the authority to regulate and limit independent expenditures, such as those from Super PACs, made in support of or in opposition to candidates.
Despite the fact that campaign finance and corporate speech can sound like dry, wonky topics, Feingold said people care about the issues, and Progressives United has received an overwhelmingly positive response. "People really get it that this is one of the critical issues of our time," Feingold said. "We believe that this should be one of the two or three most discussed issues of the presidential election." — Shannon Finnell Eugene Weekly, Nov 3, 2011
• National Bank Transfer Day is Saturday, Nov. 5, encouraging people who have money or debt at a corporate-owned bank to move it to a local credit union. Occupy Eugene will also be holding a demonstration and march through the streets of Eugene in solidarity with the event, starting at 11 am at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza across from Saturday Market. Credit unions are reporting record numbers of new customers opening new accounts. SELCO plans to "roll out the red carpet" Saturday with extended hours and cookies to welcome new members who decide to move their money to a local member-owned not-for-profit credit union, according to Laura Illig, SELCO's VP for marketing.
• Russ Feingold, a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin and a leader of the progressive movement nationally, will speak at 4 pm Monday, Nov. 7, in the EMU ballroom on campus. His topic is "Corporate Power in Politics and the Economy; What the Citizens United Decision Means for Our Democracy." This year's Wayne Morse Center theme is "From Wall Street to Main Street, Capitalism and the Common Good." Find other events and speakers at waynemorsecenter.uoregon.edu
• What's next for Occupy Eugene and other demonstrations by the downtrodden 99 percent? The movement has successfully changed the national debate on economics and justice; but will that success be diluted if the Occupy movement continues much longer? Police brutality has already become the focus of Occupy Oakland, at least in the press. The message might get lost in local media as well, but news of progress makes us think Occupy Eugene could and should continue through the winter.
Alton Baker Park was a bad location with no public visibility and some campers said they felt unsafe. No place for kids and teens. The new temporary camp at UO was safer and easier for community supporters to stop by and hang out, and has allowed the group to evolve its consensus process and grow stronger. The camp is expected to move to a more permanent location at Washington-Jefferson Park.
Conservatives on the council are grumpy about the whole idea, but Mayor Kitty Piercy and City Manager Jon Ruiz have become allies in a collaborative effort to make Occupy Eugene a national example of how to conduct a peaceful and productive grassroots movement for social and economic justice. Let's keep it going and growing. This movement has the power to fuel the creation of a state bank for Oregon, single-payer health insurance and other long-overdue reforms. The movement locally has also become an ad hoc social services agency, giving attention and hopefully inspiring long-term solutions to homelessness in Lane County.
• Want to support Occupy Eugene without shivering all night in a tent as the temps drop to freezing? This week the group is looking for a computer printer along with warm clothing, sleeping bags, camping gear, food and laundry. Money is always useful to provide for unmet needs. Community groups such as churches, service clubs and schools can become allies and help broaden the base. We can also personally lobby police and local government agencies to continue to treat the campers with respect and consideration. We can join the campaign to move money out of Wall Street banks and into local credit unions. Let's also recognize that every movement has its flaws, but imperfections should not distract us from empowering this peaceful revolution.
While walking to the Oct. 15 Occupy Eugene march with my sign, a homeless man asked me what I had against rich people, said someday he was going to be rich and he wanted everything they currently have. John Steinbeck said: "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."
At another Occupy protest, some obviously not-rich people yelled at us. Do these people identify with the rich and are willing to do what it takes to be a billionaire, by exploiting people and destroying the environment?
Then there are the fence sitters who are waiting until the movement grows or are so scared they're willing to cling to the current shitstem.
This movement cannot be just about economic justice BUT must include environmental justice. What is the worth of more jobs, if it's at the expense of the planetary life support system?
Humanity is on the edge of collapse due to climate chaos. This movement is a critical opportunity. Any fence-sitting parents who are not helping this movement should be charged with child abuse for having them and then denying their kids a future.
Scott Fife, Eugene
CRY FOR CHANGE
I appreciate the efforts and sense of justice offered by the people of Occupy Eugene. This occupation represents a cry for fundamental change towards balance and fairness in our society. This occupation is an example of people joined together out of a common sense of community. This occupation will require a sustained period of growth and support in order to succeed. I cannot attend the occupation full time, but I can go there, meet the people, and find someone whom I can help to get through the coming winter. Any positive act to make the occupation strong and safe is a direct response against greed and division.
Bill Ganser, Eugene