Our Common Purpose: The Struggle for True Democracy and Equal Rights

Friday, October 3, 2014
by Jeff Clements, Co-Founder & Board Chair, Free Speech for People and President, The Clements Foundation
The Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United, McCutcheon, Hobby Lobby, and related cases privileged new rights of money and corporations at the expense of people and of democracy. The consequences go far beyond campaign finance, or even legal or policy questions; they damage every aspect of American (and global) life: wages and economic policy; the climate catastrophe; local self-determination and community; our food; our health; voting rights; education, and so much more. 
At its core, the new Supreme Court jurisprudence reflects a denial of the fundamental promise of American life: that as human beings we are created equal and that, no matter our economic circumstances, we come to political participation, representation and citizenship as equals. To fulfill that promise, to reverse Citizens United and the doctrine of power and privilege, is our common purpose.
It was a pleasure to join Allison Barlow (Wallace Global Fund), Heather McGhee (Demos), and Julia Ho (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment or MORE) at a recent Philanthropy New York briefing on "Inequality, Democracy and Corporate Power" to discuss these recent court cases. One in a series on “Philanthropy and the Next Economy,” the well-attended briefing tied together questions of inequality, democracy, and corporate power. 
Our discussion featured many intersections and cross-support in the work of Free Speech For People, Demos, and MORE. From economic mobility, to the environment and voting rights in the nation, to the right of voters in St. Louis to challenge the use of their municipal tax dollars to subsidize Peabody Energy and other global fossil-fuel corporations. It is imperative that we work to overturn Citizens United and “corporate rights” to achieve jurisprudence of political equality and democracy for all. 
I was deeply encouraged to see that across so much of our different work runs a growing, shared determination to engage and win our national, Constitutional challenge for political equality and equal human rights in our time. Through the growing 28th Amendment movement, jurisprudence work in the courts, voting rights and local and national democracy reforms, that is our common purpose, no matter the other areas of focus for our philanthropy. With an enhanced commitment and philanthropic focus- perhaps even a “democracy tithe” as one participant suggested -  we will fulfill this purpose, sooner than many think possible. 
Many thanks to Philanthropy New York for hosting this diverse and stimulating briefing on these critical and interconnected issues of our time. I would also like to thank The Funders Committee on Civic Participation, the Kavelman Group, The Open Society Foundations, The Piper Fund, and the Sister Fund, for sponsoring the session.
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