Laird, 69, and Robin Monahan, 67, are two brothers from Minnesota who are walking from San Francisco to Washington D.C. to protest “corporate personhood.” The Monahan brothers are endorsed by Move to Amend, an organization that stands against the controversial Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee.
What is corporate personhood?
Laird: Corporations were created originally to serve the public good. They outgrew that basic tenet. They have stolen our representation and used our tax dollars and counted them as profits. We think that’s terrible. The courts have said that corporations are people. If corporations are people, then what are we, the people? The answer is that we, the people are now resources. We’re less than people. The corporations influence our representatives, our court, the presidency – all three branches of government.
What was inspired this protest?
Laird: Disgust at the decision of Supreme Court on January 21st, in Citizen United vs. Federal Election Committee — the decision to reaffirm that corporations are people and that money was speech. I was despondent. For a couple of days, I thought that my government no longer belongs to me. Corporations are the government. Then I got angry. I’ve been writing to my senators and congressmen and on blogs on the internet for the last ten years, complaining about corporations being involved in our government, the conflict of interest and the blatant bribery or intimidation of our senators and representatives. I just got angry. I had to do something physical. Forty years ago, I volunteered in service to my country, I served four years in the Navy. I feel like I’m being called back into service to defend my constitution.
How do you think corporations have managed to gain these legal rights?
Laird: It goes back to a decision in 1886 – the Santa Clara County vs. the Southern Pacific Railway. It actually wasn’t the court that decided that corporations were people, it was the clerk of the court, who in the head notes – the summary of the decision – stated it for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case was a tax case, and the corporations defended themselves on the basis of equal protection under the law, under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court did not address the issue of personhood. It was the clerk of court, who put in the head notes, that for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, corporations were considered persons.
From that point on, even though it wasn’t law, even though it hasn’t been legislated, it had been the opinion of the court, and every court since, that corporations are people. That’s preposterous. If corporations are people, they can influence our legislators, then, in effect, what we have is taxation without representation. The last time somebody said that, there was a rebellion. I’m not advocating a rebellion, or a violent overthrow of the government, but we need to pass a constitutional amendment, abolishing the notion that the courts have that corporations are people.
What inspired this method of protest?
Laird: I had to do something. I thought at first that I’d get a dozen people to go with me across the country. Funding of this was at that time was approaching $30,000, with twelve people and meals, motel stays, and gas for four vehicles. I couldn’t fund it myself. In the meantime, I called my brother. He’s got over 12,000 miles canoeing, leading groups of people. He got enthusiastic about it. After realizing that I had to rethink this whole plan, I said if Robin signs onto this, then we’re gonna do it no matter what kind of support we get. We have incredible support, just wonderful, more than my expectations.
What are some of the major ways corporate personhood allows big business to profit?
Robin: As people with due process, we have the right to court appeal. When a corporation uses that, they have a right to appeal court decisions. A wonderful example of their use of that is the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The court made a judgment that the Exxon Company would pay $5 billion to the people around Prince William Sound. People were affected greatly, through the loss of the fisheries, through the disruption of the entire economy, because that affected every person in that whole area. Exxon Corp. appealed the decision of the lower court, and the higher court overturned the lower court’s decision and awarded only $900 million, less than 20% of the original judgment. It was a very minimal sum. It didn’t pay for years of lost wages, years of lost fishing. It didn’t pay for the poisoning of the entire environment, poisoning that still goes on today, because of the residual oil that’s still on the beaches, under the rocks. We can extrapolate that the same thing could happen in the Gulf of Mexico.
In the coal mining industry, they have to be notified of when inspectors are coming. They then have time to implement safety procedures that they otherwise don’t follow because it slows down coal production. So they have no incentive to have safety precautions in place until they’re being inspected.
Laird: That same kind of protection allows corporations in all industries to override safety precautions. They’re able to use the court to overturn regulations that they feel have discriminated against them. They have rights against search and seizure, which prevents regulatory agencies from surprise inspections.
Do you think it’s possible to overcome corporate power in politics?
Laird: We hope that within the next two or three elect
ions, we can elect enough representatives who are loyal to the people to pass a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood. It’s gonna take a lot of work. We have to raise the awareness of the people, no matter what party their voting for, that this is a national issue affecting all of us. It goes across all political boundaries. Corporations don’t care what senator they have to deal with, they can buy him off.
Robin: We’re also working on a local level to encourage municipalities everywhere, every high school, every college and university campus, to pass a resolution that supports the abolishment of corporate personhood. The very basic question, basic enough even for me to grasp, is do you want more corporate influence in congress or less corporate influence in your government? For me, that’s a pretty easy answer. As we ask individuals, everyone says, “Yes, of course we need less corporate influence in our government.” We see it as a non-partisan issue.
How can people follow and support your march?
Laird: We have a blog, and we post on it almost every day – www.lairdandrobin.org. We have somebody working on a map, we hope to have it up by the next couple weeks or so, so people can follow along. Move to Amend has a map on their site, (http://movetoamend.org/march-of-the-monahan-brothers) but I haven’t had time to check it out.