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The “Democracy is for the People” Movement

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Key Findings
 
1. When done correctly, grassroots campaigns can be highly effective in spreading information
and organizing citizenry within a democratic nation.
2. Information and mass involvement alone are not sufficient indicators of the success of a
movement. There have to be concrete results that arise as a result of the success of these
factors, such as the involvement of state legislature due to pressure from its citizenry.
3. Demonstrations, rallies and protests are an effective strategy in the effort to overturn rulings
that are passed down within a democratic nation.
4. The “Democracy is for People” Movement has implemented all of these factors to yield success
in pressuring state legislature and federal politicians to support an Amendment that overturns
Supreme Court rulings that allow freedom of corporations and individuals to donate unlimited
funds to politicians.
5. There is no reason to radically change the strategies of the movement, as it has shown several
signs of short term progress and, if given a few more years, could very feasibly pass the
Amendment in the near future.
6. The adjustments that could be made to the movement are small changes to the current
strategies, such as expanded tactics within social media campaigns to spread awareness and
sustain the momentum of the movement.
 
The “Democracy is for People” movement is a grassroots effort spearheaded by the
nongovernmental organization Public Citizen, based in Washington, D.C. The movement works under
the following motive: It believes that “the government should serve voters, not corporate interests”, and
it “pushes to curb the influence of money in politics by exposing the influence of big corporations on
government.” The main strategies of the movement exist within a grassroots effort to engage citizens to
sign petitions and encourage their state legislature to pressure the federal government to restrict
corporate spending on campaigns. In recent years, the main focus for the Democracy for People
movement has revolved around an attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v.
Federal Election Commission, which ruled in 2010 that the First Amendment prohibits the government
from restricting independent political expenditures from nonprofit corporations; the principles
articulated in the case have since been extended to forprofit corporations, labor unions and other associations.
In 2013, the ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC compounded upon this principle, when the
Supreme Court invalidated contribution limits as violating the First Amendment. The Democracy is for
People Movement has made several advances in the journey towards overturning these rulings. Some
of the milestones of success can be found in the following landmarks: over sixteen state legislatures
have called for an amendment overturning these ruling, over one hundred twenty five members of
Congress have committed to backing a Constitutional overturn of the ruling, and over two million
citizens have signed the movement’s petition to overturn. Although the obvious central goal for the
movement as of nowto overturn these rulings with an amendment prohibiting limitless spending on
campaignshas not yet been accomplished, these statistics are evidence of a clearly successful strategy
that has yielded immediate success and clear momentum over a short period of time. The strategy and
grassroots tactics of the movement should not be entirely altered, but rather should be expanded on a
grander scale via social media and nonviolent demonstrations in order to attract a wider audience to the
cause.
 
Background Context

The “Democracy is for the People” Movement works as a branch of the Public Citizen
organization. Public Citizen is a nonprofit organization that works to champion citizen interests before
Congress in an array of areas. It has challenged the practices of the pharmaceutical, nuclear, and
automobile industries in addition to many others. Since its founding in 1971, Public Citizen has worked
on an array of projects with the central goal that “all citizens are represented in the halls of power.”
The main obstacle that this particular movement was founded to overcome is the corruption of
politics within campaigns and elections that occur when corporations and extremely wealthy
individuals spend inordinate amounts of money into the candidate of their choice. This issue became far
more prevalent during the two rulings of Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. These
rulings are pivotal in the fight to keep campaigns “for the people, by the people: because they ruled that
it is unconstitutional to limit any amount of donation to campaigns by individuals or corporations alike.
The first ruling, Citizens United v. FEC, was passed on January 1, 2010. It held that the First
Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a
nonprofit corporation. However, since the passing of the ruling, the principles articulated by the
Supreme Court have been extended to forprofit corporations, labor unions and other associations. The
second ruling, in McCutcheon v. FEC, expounded upon the initial ruling by directly striking down the
aggregate limits on the amount that an individual may contribute during a two year period to any
federal candidate, party and political action committee combined.
 
The outcome of these combined Supreme Court rulings was evident immediately. In 2012,
during the first presidential election since the Citizens United ruling, outside spending on the election
totaled more donation capital than in 2010, 2008, 2004, 2002 and 2000 combined. The central objection
that the Democracy is for People movement has against this increased spending is that it leads to an
inaccurate amount of influence upon candidates and political parties by groups or individuals that do
not represent the collective majority of voters, therefore obstructing democracy and creating a
disproportionate representation of money in relation to citizen interests. Furthermore, the issue of “dark
money” (funds given to political nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors) has become
an increasing issue as well in recent election years as a result of these rulings; in 2014, the federal
midterm elections were believed to be influenced by “the greatest wave of secret, specialinterest
money ever received in a congressional election.” All of these recent events have increased the
occurrences of candidates accepting virtual bribery by massive corporations that are able to invest
countless million dollars into the campaigns of political campaigns, thus having a greater impact on
that candidate’s political acts than the average voter.
 
Central Actors and Mechanisms

The central actors within the Democracy is for People Movement are largely amorphous,
because the strength of the movement lies in its accessibility to a wide range of American citizens with
varying levels of commitment. However, some of the most influential actors on the side of the
movement are well known politicians who have endorsed the movement and the amendment to
overturn the Supreme Court rulings, such as Senators Ted Deutsch and Bernie Sanders. Beyond that,
the most influential actors driving the movement are the tens of thousands of citizens who contribute to
the power of the petitions and legislative drives to overturn the rulings.
 
The major actors working against the movement are the Supreme Court and the corporations
and individuals contributing huge sums of money to campaigns since the 2010 and 2012 rulings. For
example, Michael Bloomberg has donated over twenty five million dollars to the Democratic
presidential campaigns in the last two elections, and Charles Koch donated seven million dollars to the
last presidential campaign for the Republican party. In terms of organizations, the Service Employees
International Union has donated over two hundred million dollars to the democratic party. This is just a
sample of the skyrocketing cost of influencing change within politics, as the federal political candidates
are inevitably indebted to those who donate the most to their campaigns to get them elected.
The actors within this conflict are largely domestic, and there are both local and national
institutions at play. Since the movement is based in Washington, D.C., it is likely that the greatest
concentration of the movement exists in that area.
 
Although the main goal of the movement has yet to be achieved, the movement has made
extensive progress in the five years since the Citizens United v. FEC ruling in 2010. As was stated in
the executive summary, sixteen states, one hundred and twenty five Congress members and two million
American voters have publicly signed their support to an amendment that, if ratified, will overturn both
the Citizens United and the McCutcheon rulings. The amendment, aptly titled the “Democracy is for the
People Amendment,” is sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Ted Deutsch and
proclaims the following:
“Whereas the right to vote in public elections belongs only to natural people as citizens of the
United States, so shall the ability to make contributions and expenditures to influence the outcomes of
public elections belong only to natural persons…”
 
In introducing the Amendment, Congressman Ted Deutsch said, “What the Supreme Court did
in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, ‘You own and
control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies. Now,
for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own and control
the United States government.’ That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this
disastrous decision must be overturned.”
 
On March twelfth, 2013, the amendment was introduced to the 113th Congress with thirty three
congressmen from the House of Representatives as original cosponsors on the resolution. The
resolution has not been passed yet, but since the resolution was introduced, it has since garnered more
support and over two million signatures in its online petition.
 
The innovative aspect of this movement is that it is a perfect example of a movement that
utilizes social media to fuel its grassroots foundation. The Democracy is for the People movement has a
facebook page with over thirty thousand “likes”; although this is not an obvious indicator of
involvement, it definitely represents the capacity of the movement to advertise itself and spread
information. However, the movement is also interesting because a good amount of its supposed success
is relatively useless if the goal itself is not achieved. Until the rulings are overturned independently or
the “Democracy is for the People” amendment is passed and the rulings are overturned in that sense,
the movement will have virtual rather than physical success.
 
Conclusion
Public Citizen’s “Democracy is for the People” movement is a grassroots, citizendriven
movement whose main goal is to overturn two Supreme Court rulings that have allowed spending on
political campaigns to skyrocket. The movement has yielded success as outlined above. The key
obstacle for the movement in the next two to three years will be sustaining the momentum that it has
garnered since 2010, as movements can often die after yielding relative success but no concrete
outcome. Based on its track record, it seems likely that more states, senators, and American citizens
will become involved. There should be further assessments as the movement becomes older in the next
several years to better measure the likelihood of the Amendment passage, as that will allow
consideration for other tactics if that does not happen. Another critical aspect of this movement is that it
can only occur within a democracy that allows freedom of speech and freedom of protest. This
movement would not be applicable in third world countries or authoritarian regimes, and thus the
tactics within the movement must be understood as successful within the sphere of conditions that they
are occurring in.
 
Bibliography:
1. Democracy is for People Movement Website, www.democracyisforpeople.org
2. Ted Deutsch Congressional Website,
3. Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php