By Jaime Estades, Esq. MSW
The Greeks of 400 B.C. viewed accumulation and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few as a great threat to democracy and a problem for society as whole. Oligarchs at that time and today believe exactly the opposite — that wider distribution of political power and concern for the social welfare of the community threatens their democracy.
The power of the economic elites has always been intrinsically connected with the regulation of democracy and the deregulation of the economy. The same corporations that benefit from the Citizens United decision that states that corporations are people and therefore they can invest as much as they want in an election without having to publicly document such expenses as long as they do not coordinate with directly with the candidate gives them a bigger bullhorn over the rest of millions of individual register voters. This decision was decided under to the constitutional protection of the 1st amendment of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression to all citizens. Funny it never mentioned corporations.
Since these decisions more than 5 billion dollars have been spent in deciding federal elections. Today corporations ruled elections in the US for one purpose only to make sure that the government is run for them in order to deregulate the market converting eventually this country in the jungle of “laize-afaire” that they have always envision. Corporations are now involved in local state voter ID legislation with the intention of large-scale voter suppression. Lately, fictitious persons have been granted more rights, while real human beings have simultaneously experienced a loss of their rights.
Is this new? No! In the U.S., oligarchs controlled voting since before the Constitution was created. At that time, most states excluded women, slaves and poor white men from voting. Only white men in possession of large assets, land and/or successful businesses were eligible to vote. Those who did vote were the same class of men who wrote the U.S. Constitution and controlled the U.S. Supreme Court.
Today, Citizen United’s corporations can only be successful if complemented by the new voting laws at state legislatures throughout the nation.
This type of strategy to control the vote originated during the Reconstruction Era. In the book “The Strange Career of Jim Crow”, author C. Van Woodward describes how the end of the slavery system left white society without the free labor of slaves, resulting in a dramatically deteriorated southern economy.
Therefore, it became imperative for white oligarchs to keep the economic and political control as close to the old slavery system as possible. Reconstruction had to be stopped, and voting for blacks had to be impossibility. As W.E.B. Dubois stated, “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back toward slavery”. This was in clear condemnation of the black Codes” created in the south in order to criminalized behavior of former slave in order to sentence them to continue working for their former masters and thus continuing supporting the southern plantation economy. One of the first things they did was take away the right to vote they had acquired after the civil war but in particular after the 13the Amendment of the constitution gave them that right. All this just to make sure that economical interest of the plantations owners could be enhanced by slave labor.
Two years ago in the case Shelby County v Holder, the Supreme Court eliminated section 4th of the Voting rights Act which create the criteria that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.
In a 5-4 decision SCOTUS under Chief Justice Roberts pen ruled that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965. Thus eliminating weakening the voting rights act ability to make accountable states with a history of discrimination to have a free hand in order to produce anti voting legislation as the used to before 1965.
This decision combined with “Citizens United” have diminished the voting rights of all Americans but in particular minorities forcing this country to travel backwards in time toward the old Jim Crow era while allowing corporation’s to have more access and influence over government.
These constitutional changes decided in Citizen United and Shelby will be fully tested in the upcoming presidential election in 2016. Ridiculous laws are being proposed shush as in Alabama where the state has decided that voters need to have a voter Id and that such Id can be obtained only trough the motor vehicle offices in the state while closing 23 of them in African American neighborhoods. These type sate anti voting legislation would have never happened if section 4th of the VA where still available. What we are witnessing is corporations acquiring more power while individuals are been depleted from basics constitutional rights. The big test will be in 2016. The Supreme Court in this new term will hear the case, Evenwell v Abbot that put in dangers the constitutional ability of the states to count “every person” for the purposes of redistricting. The proposal is to count only those citizens who are in voting age (18 and older). The consequences actions will definitely debilitated the one-person one vote right in the United States. But more on this case soon.
Jaime Estades is Founder and President of the Latino Leadership Institute