Weekend of Activism
by Kelly Brennan Clark
Recently, I attended American Promise’s National Citizen Leadership Conference in D. C. While there, I heard from leading political reformers, including Richard Painter (lawyer, professor, candidate for US Senate in Minnesota), Debra Winger (actress and advocate), Nina Turner (President of Our Revolution), Ben Cohen (businessman, activist, and philanthropist, best known as the founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream), Bill Moyers (political commentator, journalist, and former White House press secretary), Francis Johnson (board president Take Back Our Republic), Steve Lipscomb (managing director of FixItAmerica.org), recent graduates from Parkland high school, Noah Damiani, Demetri Hoth, and Angelina Lazi, and Jeff Clements (attorney, author, and founder of American Promise.)
All of the speakers focused on one topic: money in politics is breaking our system of government so that it is no longer of the people, by the people, and for the people. Instead, our government is placing more value on those that have the most money, leaving the rest of us behind. We must reclaim our democracy after the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.
The purpose of American Promise is to add a constitutional amendment that would limit the influence of money from corporations, unions, and other special interests on politicians, politics, and policy. Whatever your primary concern, (I.e. the environment, health care, gun violence, education, social justice, etc.) big money is the underlying problem. For an amendment to succeed and become part of the Constitution, it must be proposed by two thirds of both the House and Senate, then be ratified by three quarters of the states.
This is where American Promise comes in. Members meet with local, state, and federal politicians and candidates to educate them on the issue and ask them to commit to cosponsoring legislation working toward this amendment. On Monday of our conference, the Tricounty Chapter spoke with staffs of New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and Representative Bonnie Watson-Coleman. To cap off the day, we spoke directly with Representative Donald Norcross. Watson-Coleman has not yet signed on, but her staff felt that this was something the Congresswoman would support. Since both senators and Norcross have already pledged to support the amendment, we focused on asking them to help educate their peers and the public by writing op-eds and participating in town halls and other events where money in politics can be discussed.
Another part of the mission of American Promise is to educate the public about the problems inherent with money in politics. You may see members of our group at tables at farmers markets, fairs, and other outreach locations. Our goal is to make citizens aware of the pathway to fixing big money in politics. This is a cross partisan issue. Polling has shown that over 80 percent of Americans want big money out of politics. We want people to ask their candidates how they feel about this amendment. It should be a major campaign topic because every issue is tied to money.
So, how close are we to getting an amendment passed? By the end of 2017, we had commitments from 42 senators and 125 representatives. Currently in NJ, both Senators are on board, but Congressman Tom MacArthur has, so far, refused to meet with us. Sixty-seven senators and 290 house members are needed to move this amendment on to the states. We’ve come a long way since the founding of American Promise in 2016, but we still have more work to do. American Promise members across the country continue to make relationships with their legislators to show them the importance of making this change. In the meantime, American Promise is also working toward state resolutions that support this amendment, to ensure that when it gets through the house and senate, the amendment will be ratified quickly by the states. There are already 19 states that have passed the resolution to support this amendment. There is progress being made in 20 more states, either through ballot initiatives or bills in state legislature. Thirty-nine states that would be enough to ratify the amendment, but American Promise has constituents in all fifty states working to get this done. Passing amendments takes time (just look at the Equal Rights Amendment), but this amendment is on a faster track because of the framework set up by American Promise.
I’ll leave you with just a few quotes from the speakers at the conference and hope they inspire you to consider joining the fight for the 28th Amendment.
“Both political parties are complicit, and we need to put a stop to it.” -Richard Painter
“This is the fight of our lives because the republic is fighting for its life.” -Bill Moyers
“Imagine a world where the people have the power. Imagine it because that is the world we are going to create.” -Nina Turner