What is a Bill of Rights and why do we want/need one?
Americans are taught and most believe that our government is designed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Whether or not that is true in practice, it seems fair to say that we Americans value a government in which the power to govern rests with the people. That is what we mean by freedom.
Most Americans also know that corporations and other moneyed interests have skewed our governmental processes in their favor, if not co-opted them completely.
Members of the Community Rights Coalition of Jefferson County Washington have studied this issue in-depth over the last year and among the many things we have learned are the following:
- In the United States of America, government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is a myth. There is no such language in the United States Constitution.
- Our system of government is not a democracy and was never intended to be, except in name. It was originally designed to give power only to wealthy, white men.
- The writing of the U.S. Constitution was essentially a coup; it was written behind locked doors by a few rich, white men to benefit themselves; and it replaced the original Articles of Confederation, which was a much more egalitarian document. The first Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitution, was a compromise, added because there was public outrage that the Articles of Confederation had been replaced without a democratic process.
- The Supreme Court of the United States has been populated throughout its history mostly by rich, white men who were often in the very businesses whose attorneys appeared before the court. Because of this inherent bias, almost 200 years of legal decisions by the U. S. Supreme Court have interpreted the U. S. Constitution in a way which firmly established the power of corporations as legally superior to the rest of us. As a result of these facts and as most of us are aware, members of Congress are elected with money provided by corporations. Corporate attorneys often actually write our legislation, which is then passed by a Congress which is indebted to those same corporations. What all this means is that you and I cannot change the law, because Congress responds to the influence of corporate money, not to the people. It also means that you and I do not have the right to stop a corporation from harming us or our environment.
We the people of Jefferson County Washington do not currently have the “legal” right to stop corporations from installing fish net pens in our waters, a bottling plant which would steal our water, growing GMO crops and seeds in our county or any other harm which some corporation might choose to force upon us.
ENACTING A LOCAL COMMUNITY BILL OF RIGHTS
So what can we the people do to have a government which truly represents our interests and carries out our wishes? Well, we have to create laws which protect us and our environment, which create the kind of government we want and which will stop corporations from interfering with our democracy. These laws could be expressed in a local Bill of Rights, put on the ballot and enacted into law through an initiative process.
We can take the first step in Jefferson County by voting for Home Rule Charter, which would give us the right to put our own initiatives on the ballot, a right we do not now have, but which is law in 24 states as well as 6 counties and 10 cities in Washington. Then, in future elections, by writing initiatives that express what we want, getting enough signatures to put them on a ballot and voting for the them, we can work together to create the world we want. Little by little, our community and others can create real democracy this way.
It took us a long time to get where we are and it is going to take awhile to dig ourselves out of it; and no one is going to do this for us. But if we want a real democracy and a world in which serious problems can be solved,then what choice do we have?