Seventh annual CH Democracy Day is Jan. 30
We think many readers will agree that democracy in America has taken a beating over the past several decades. In particular, since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision 10 years ago this month, ever greater amounts of money have flooded our electoral process. The dangers posed by unregulated corporations have become increasingly evident to the average person. Still, the effects are insidious. All of us have learned to speak the language of commerce, and do it with scarcely a thought: hospital patients are now health care consumers; library patrons have become customers; even the word “citizen” has been replaced with “voter,” “taxpayer,” or “stakeholder.”
There will be some plain speech about American democracy at Cleveland Heights City Hall on Thursday, Jan. 30, starting at 7 p.m., when Cleveland Heights celebrates its seventh annual Democracy Day. Whatever your political persuasion, we hope you will attend, and consider adding your voice.
Democracy Day consists of a public hearing hosted by CH City Council, “to examine the impact on our city, our state and our nation of political influence by corporate entities and big money.” Anyone who so chooses may speak for up to five minutes on this topic. Please understand: the term “corporate entities” is deliberate. It includes nonprofit as well as for-profit corporations, labor unions, and professional associations (which often engage in lobbying). These legal entities all have, and should have, certain statutory rights, but they are not entitled to any of the constitutional rights originally intended for human persons. Corporate entities do not vote, and Americans must put an end to their pouring money into electoral campaigns and using their “personhood” rights to manipulate our political system.
Of course, Cleveland Heights cannot fight a constitutional battle alone. Citizens across our state and country have passed resolutions and ballot issues establishing Democracy Days in their communities. In 2019, the following Ohio cities held Democracy Day hearings, as voted by their citizens: Brecksville, Chagrin Falls, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Defiance, Kent, Mentor, Newburgh Heights, Shaker Heights, South Euclid and Toledo.
Last year, at the sixth annual CH Democracy Day, 20 people testified about a broad range of topics, including:
- The fossil fuel industry’s hold on the Ohio General Assembly; specifically our state senator Sandra Williams, whose benefactors include AEP Ohio, Dominion, BP America, and First Energy, her largest named contributor.
- The threat to direct democracy posed by Ohio House legislation that would weaken and obstruct citizens’ access to the initiative process guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution.
- The difficulty of passing bi-partisan, common-sense gun laws, due to the influence of gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association.
- How Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Inc. has harmed communities and generations of children by influencing legislators to block laws requiring lead remediation.
- The fight against corporate interests, in Cleveland and nationally, for better public transit.
We know from observing the recent campaign for Issue 26 (the elected mayor charter amendment) that Cleveland Heights neighbors with different political views can and will work together, both productively and gladly, to achieve a common goal. This is the essence of a functioning democracy, and it is something the leaders of our political parties would rather we never learn.
We look forward to seeing many friends—new and old—at CH Democracy Day 2020.
(For background on the annual public hearing and how it came about, see “The backstory to Democracy Day,” Heights Observer Vol. 11, Issue 1. Heights of Democracy columns are archived at www.heightsobserver.org/read/opinionblogs/columns/heights-of-democracy.)
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.