Join us for Democracy Day
This column begins our seventh year of collaborating on Heights of Democracy. We are grateful to the Heights Observer staff, readers who respond to us in writing and face-to-face, city officials and personnel, and everyone else who puts up with us—critics and supporters alike. It is a pleasure and a privilege to have this outlet for our opinions on the workings of, and challenges to, democracy at the local level.
In our first Heights of Democracy column, “How 'public' is public education?” we wrote about some terrific testimony presented by two Cleveland Heights High School seniors, at the January 2016 Democracy Day public hearing in front of Cleveland Heights City Council. Since Elijah Snow-Rackley and Emma Schubert recounted their experiences with the privatization of public education, things have only gotten worse—in the schools and in most other American public institutions.
What is Democracy Day? In 2013, with 77 percent of the vote, Cleveland Heights voters passed a citizens’ initiative calling for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to establish that human beings, not corporate entities, have constitutional rights, and that money is not speech. The initiative also created, by city ordinance, an annual public hearing on these topics. Ours is one of 12 Ohio cities to have passed such an initiative. This is not a partisan issue, and the supporting organization, Move to Amend, is non-partisan.
The city’s ninth annual Democracy Day event will take place on Thursday, June 9, at 7 p.m., at Cleveland Heights City Hall, in council chambers. With our governor and other members of the state redistricting commission thumbing their noses at Ohio Supreme Court orders to draw the fair district maps that Ohioans deserve; with FirstEnergy getting away with only fines for creating the biggest bribery scandal in Ohio history; with unregulated, unaccountable political action committees bankrolling candidates; and with the General Assembly still gaming school funding to the detriment of public education, we will have plenty to talk about.
In a 2017 column, “Corporate personhood and Ohio,” we wrote about the radical document that was Ohio’s original Constitution, signed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. We pointed out that “tension between corporate interests and the public good has been a feature of civic life in Ohio for a long time,” and that “[c]orporations could only be created one at a time, by petitioning the legislature, and were subject to strict rules.” Those rules included limits on the duration of a corporate charter, the amount of land a corporation could own, and capitalization or owners’ total investment. Critically, in addition, the state was required to issue each corporate charter for a specific purpose, and was allowed to revoke it.
Ohio’s Constitution has seen several revisions, most notably and democratically in 1912; but despite the many ways that corporations have usurped government powers since then, the state still has the power to revoke corporate charters. We must ask, then, why is FirstEnergy still in existence?
A lawsuit recently filed by FirstEnergy shareholders notes, “The public and investors have suffered enough from FirstEnergy’s above-the-law attitude. It is a confessed criminal enterprise, based not on one isolated crime, but rather a years-long crime spree targeting the public and its investors.” (Ohio Capital Journal, April 25, 2022.) So what will it take to put FirstEnergy out of business?
Are you fired up about abuses of corporate power and the gazillions of dollars distorting our politics beyond recognition? Share what you know by testifying at, or listen and learn from your fellow citizens on, Democracy Day 2022, June 9, 7 p.m., at CH City Hall. See you there!
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are writers, editors and longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.