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Civil Rights without Economic Rights makes Constitution a Tool for Oligarchic Control

Third in a series of articles on Economic Rights

Justice Louis D. Brandeis, former Justice of the US Supreme Court tried to warn us almost 70 years ago of the dangers we are facing today when he said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.” (Labor, October 14, 1941)

The cruel irony, from my vantage point, is that the root of the problem was and continues to be the Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution, that Brandeis and his fellow justices were appointed to interpret.

A casual examination of the Constitution will quickly reveal (after you wipe off the Patriotic juju dust) that the document ratified in 1789 is essentially a business contract between the thirteen independent corporations who fought collectively to end British rule.

The Preamble to the Constitution is very clear if interpreted correctly in citing why the corporation owners (the largest land owners in each state) were willing to subjugate the interests of their corporation to the control of the elected representatives of all the other corporations and the central government that they would create and maintain. The interpretation of their true meaning is inside the parentheses.

“We the People (largest land owners) of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union (business compact); establish Justice (Suppress dissent—Alien Sedition Act --1789); insure domestic tranquilly (create an army so if those damn farmers think they can mess with us, we’ll give them a whipping…); provide for the common defense (we need to create a navy too to fight the British when they begin to think about taking us on again);

“promote the general welfare (since this contract had nothing to do with the welfare of the people of the country---the vast majority of whom couldn’t vote---general welfare refers to trade deals, control of currency to suppress demand of farmers for cheaper money, treaties; relations between states—general welfare equals corporate welfare); and to secure the blessings of Liberty (and control of the land and the wealth thereof) to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

A cursory examination of the American political, economic, and social landscape will convince a blind person that the framers did an excellent job of creating an institutional mechanism that enabled the rich and powerful of this country to maintain economic dominance to an obscene degree despite the window dressings of evolving voting rights and civil rights.

As Adam Smith predicted in 1776, “Civil Government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none.”

A fair question is how did these corporate owners get away with passing a Supreme Law of the Land six years after the end of the revolutionary war that grants power exclusively to the rich? There were, I believe, a number of key ingredients in their recipe for success. 

First, a shroud of secrecy hung over the proceedings that were conducted in secret. In fact, it took fifty five years before the public was able to see a copy of the proceedings.

A second key factor was the fact that Shay’s rebellion had just been suppressed by force of arms which certainly discouraged any marching on the convention. 

Third, many of the wealthy who may have sided with the people had been intimidated by the MA rebellion and therefore felt the need for a standing army. Fourth, class interests were another force drawing the reluctant together with the adamant.

However, I believe that the crucial element in the success of the corporate owners’ strategy was patience. The convention was described as an opportunity to consider amendments to the Articles of Confederation that linked the 13 independent colonies. However, Alexander Hamilton, who become the first Secretary of the Treasury and James Madison, who became the fourth president, were secretly conspiring to have the group develop a new Constitution.

It took them three years from their illegal beginning in 1786, but by 1789 they were able to get 9 of the 13 states to ratify the document, thus establishing a standing army and a central government to solidify the control of the land and wealth of this country by those with land and wealth.

There were those like George Mason, the Virginia statesman (wrote the Virginia Bill of Rights in 1776) who stood up for the voiceless and refused to sign the final draft with its absence of any rights for the people. Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry would not give validation to the convention and refused to attend.

Others such as Luther Martin, John Francis Mercer, Elbridge Gerry attended but also refused to sign the final draft. John Lansing and Robert Yates of the New York delegation attended but left after six week because of their opposition to the consolidation plan being engineered by Hamilton and Madison. Of the six two members appointed by the state legislatures, fifty five actually showed up at the convention. Of the fifty five who came only 39 stayed to sign the final document.

However, despite the resistance of some, the final draft of the constitution was ratified without a Bill of Rights. As John Miller said in Origins of the American Revolution (1943): “(The Framers of the Constitution)…had no wish to usher in democracy in the United States. They were not making war upon the principle of aristocracy and they had no more intention than had he Tories of destroying the tradition of upper class leadership in the colonies. James Madison yielding to mounting pressure introduced at the First Congress in 1789, the Bill of Rights which took two years before achieving ratification on December 15th, 1791. However, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, could be classified as “civil rights”.

Wikipedia defines civil rights as a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from unwarranted infringement by government and private organizations, and ensures one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination and repression.

Civil rights include the ensuring of people’s physical integrity and safety, protection from discrimination on grounds such as physical or mental disability, gender, religion, race, national origin, age, or sexual orientation, and individual rights such as the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, religion, the press, and movement.

The civil rights provided by these ten and the majority of the additional 16 are very important in terms of providing a framework for protection against abuse by government at any level. However, given our experience today, we have a legitimate right to raise the question of whether the average person regardless of race, creed, color, or sexual orientation can feel protected as long as the Constitution continues to have no framework of economic rights.

It appears that the Wisconsin 14 are on the verge of victory and that collective bargaining will be taken off the bargaining table. This is a tremendous victory. It should make us all proud to see legislators standing shoulder to shoulder with the people defending collective bargaining. Yet, despite the successful strategizing and organizing and the tremendous victory; we still have no constitutional framework for protecting our economic rights. The struggle may be won in Madison tomorrow but the reality is that these rights continue to be vulnerable until they are constitutionally mandated.

How you ask do we in this 21st century, 222 years after the Constitutional was ratified build into our Constitution a framework of economic rights. Let me suggest a plan. However, before talking about the details let me share a story. Forty two years ago, the people of Massachusetts were convinced that the government was in fact going to build a highway through many MA communities including Boston in order to complete MA’s portion of the national defense highway, I-95, running from Maine to Florida.

A group of organizers in Roxbury decided to join organizers in other communities and fight the highway coming through our respective communities. Many in our community said, “Why are you doing that. You know people don’t win highway fights. There is a national trust fund to pay for it. How can you fight it? Our organizers’ response was how do we not fight it. To do nothing is to accept its destruction. By the way, WE WON.

To me that is similar to the situation that is facing us regarding economic rights. We can continue to fight for crumbs from the budget. We can continue to fight for jobs programs but if we don’t put a framework of economic rights together and build it into the Constitution, we the people will find ourselves more and more entrapped by the growing wealth and power of the oligharchy.

Remember, there have been no economic rights for people built into the Constitution since it was passed 222 years ago, Yet, 136 years ago the Supreme Court gave corporation a legal life meaning that they can come into court with their fancy lawyers and financially driven bottom line strategy to challenge our economic rights as human beings and citizens. Last year, the Supreme Court opened the piggy bank for their wealthy patrons and look what happened not only in Wisconsin but across the country.

When does our turn come? I think we take our turn at implementing economic rights by developing a plan. Let talk steps:

1) Conceptualize: We must call on organizers across the country to share formulations of economic right approaches that have been developed. An assessment should identify approaches that provide a reason framework to aide people’s thinking.

2) Research: We must call on organizations to come together state by state to research what it would take to pass an Economic Bill of Rights into their constitution.

3) Organize: With the information regarding the passage of a state Bill of Economic Rights, we need to have our supporters state by state create as many caucuses as possible in order to bring people together in similar grouping to begin to think about what a bill of economic rights should look like and what concrete actions could be taken to advance the implementation of economic rights in the
particular areas.

4) Network: Once the caucuses have begun to make progress in developing their thinking regarding a framework of economic rights and concrete actions that could be taken, they should be encouraged to network with other organizations to come up with a unified plan. 

5) Implement: Networks should be encouraged to put their concrete plans into action in order to build public consciousness and awareness.

6) Nationalize: Bring together reps from states to share progress and develop national strategies.

7) Assess: Having been through the steps 1 to 6, groups in all the states should evaluate progress, reformulate plan, and implement.

This discussion obviously could go on and on but think about the above and let me know what you think.


Next articles:

A) Menino’s Ferdinand Plan (By Monday, March 14)
B) Assessment of How to Keep New D7 Councilor Accountable (By Wed. March 16th). I plan to write an article a week/maybe two on the Council Politics.
C) What’s the Future for African-American’s Given Our Constitution’s Lack of Economic Rights 

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