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Move to Amend LA co-chairs Mary Beth Fielder and Daniel Lee savor their victory at the press conference afterwards.

Move to Amend LA co-chairs Mary Beth Fielder and Daniel Lee savor their victory at the press conference afterwards. (Photo: ©Barry E. Levine)

Los Angeles City Council Resolves to Abolish Corporate Personhood in Concert with Coalition of LA Residents

On Tuesday, Los Angeles became the first major city to call for a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood as a City Council resolution passed unanimously before hundreds of enthusiastic local residents, igniting loud celebrations throughout the standing room only crowd in Council chambers and a packed overflow room.

“It's a great day for Los Angeles and it's a great day for the United States of America,” said Mary Beth Fielder, Move To Amend-LA’s founding co-chair who spearheaded the local coalition effort to strengthen and pass the resolution. “I hope this is the vote heard around the world and that it will inspire other who want to reclaim our democracy to begin organizing in their communities. Together we can build the grassroots support we need to actually amend our constitution.”

Council members and community members showed almost surprising solidarity as they discussed the merits of the resolution calling for legislative action to support the idea that corporations are not people and money is not the same as free speech.

“We have never seen the City Council Chamber so packed for any other issue,” said coalition Anjuli Kronheim of Common Cause LA. “There wasn’t even enough time for all community members and coalition partners to speak.” Common Cause LA is part of the local grassroots coalition to amend the constitution, and also advocates for many other democratic reforms.

Many speakers told heartbreaking personal stories about how corporations have negatively affected their lives and the lives of their families. Others, like Occupy San Fernando Valley’s Amber Brown, offered articulate dissertations.

“Corporations are designed to achieve specific ends, typically those of growth, profitability, and longevity beyond the span of human life,” said Brown. “They cannot make decisions nor take actions—not, at least, outside of the human beings who run them.”

The attendees spontaneously applauded and cheered and even gave standing ovations for many of the speakers with whom they most agreed, starting with a boisterous response to Fielder’s opening comments. “On behalf of We The People, we are willing to do the work that it’s going to take to amend our constitution to clearly establish that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights.”

One of the most popular speakers was the lone “dissenter” wearing a tuxedo and a top hat with play money stuffed in his pockets who spoke on behalf of a satire troupe called The Billionaires.

“To suggest that Corporations aren’t people is to ignore the many needs that corporate citizens share with their flesh-and-blood brethren,” said Clifford Tasner in character as Felonius Ax, “A corporation craves friendship just like everyone else. Which is why corporate citizens hunger to cultivate deep meaningful relationships with elected officials.”

Felonius took his seat next to fellow Billionaire Isaiah Hogg, who was rustling the newspaper he had been reading through most of the meeting, as the crowd erupted in laughter and applause.

move to amend

Billionaires Felonius Ax and Isaiah Hogg commiserate after their "One Dollar, One Vote" message suffered a crushing defeat.

“I could not believe the coalition of energy that filled the council chambers today,” said Council Member Bill Rosendahl. “It made a huge difference. It was democracy at its best!”

“The basic unit of a political system is the sovereign independent human being,” said Chris Durian of Move to Amend LA and Occupy LA. “By defining other entities such as corporations as sovereign individuals, the doctrine of corporate personhood has necessarily compromised the rights and powers of the sovereign individual. Now the very foundation of government is straining under the weight of billions of corporate dollars.”

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The resolution calls for “SUPPORT for Legislative actions ensuring corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or “rights” of human beings,” which is at the heart of the movement to abolish corporate personhood. It goes on to say that the expenditure of money is “no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech,” which is aimed directly at overturning at least two Supreme Court decisions which support the doctrine that money is speech, so spending in connection to an election is merely a corporation’s (read: person’s) exercise of free speech right.

Specifically, this resolution is a response to the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which gives corporations the same 1st Amendment protections as people and allows them to spend unlimited funds on campaign finance, which resulted in record corporate spending in the 2010 national elections.

The resolution was sponsored this summer by City Council President Eric Garcetti and seconded by Council Members Bill Rosendahl and Paul Krekorian with passionate support by Council Members Richard Alarcon and Paul Koretz. Their work was paralleled by a vigorous coalition grassroots effort led by the Los Angeles affiliate of the national coalition organization

For years before founding, David Cobb, Kaitlin Sopoci-Belnap, and other leaders had been working to abolish corporate personhood and advocate other democracy issues.

move to amend

City Council chambers was packed to standing room only for Tuesday's vote. (Photo: ©Barry E. Levine)

Move to Amend’s local affiliate was founded by Mary Beth Fielder a year ago and immediately began building a massive local coalition of support, beginning with the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council in June and ramping up support to an exhaustive list including volunteers from all over LA County, LA Neighborhoods Councils, unions, political clubs, and grassroots activists.

In November, at least 100 members of the LA coalition attended a City Council meeting, asking them to amend the resolution, which originally called for overturning Citizens United and taking money out of elections. The committee adopted the coalition’s amendments into the resolution motion in preparation for the Council vote on Tuesday.

After the resolution passed, Move to Amend-LA co-chair, Daniel Lee said, “The decision was significant because the council officially supported not only a call for a constitutional amendment but the official language on the Move to Amend national website.”

Lee was referring to the Council’s decision to attach the coalition’s proposed constitutional amendment to the resolution leading up to Tuesday’s vote. The language establishes that

  • corporations are not people,
  • money is not speech, and
  • the freedom of the press should not be abridged by establishing that corporations and the expenditure of money may be regulated.

That proposed amendment was officially attached to the LA City Council resolution before being passed on Tuesday.

“I want to thank the council members Garcetti, Krekorian, and Rosendahl for their introducing, for their championing the resolution and for forming a partnership with the people so that together we can take back control of our government,” said Fielder after the decision. “And I want to acknowledge the amazing coalition that we built, all the people that came together the last month all kinds of incredible groups and individuals working around the clock.”

“Every struggle to amend the constitution began as just a group of regular Americans who wanted to end slavery, who thought women should vote, who believed that if you're old enough to be drafted, you should be old enough to vote,” said Council President Eric Garcetti. “These are how American amendments move forward from the grassroots when Americans say enough is enough. We're very proud to come together and send a message but more than that, this becomes the official position of the City of Los Angeles, we will officially lobby for this."

Council Member Paul Krekorian said, “What we saw in that chamber today was the beginning of a sea change in the way people think about politics in America and I hope that this will be the first day of a long and sustained movement that changes the way we represent ourselves and the way we demand the kind of government that we deserve.”

michael evans

Michael Evans

Michael R. Evans is a writer originally from upstate New York. He is self employed as an English/Writing tutor and academic editor. His ever-broadening interests and expertise include spirituality of art, politics, and intercultural relations. He is currently a core volunteer with Move to Amend LA.