A Declaration of Rights for the 21st Century
Click here to hear this read by Kindra Scanlon
- Human rights are for humans.
Corporations are not persons. We must update the 14th Amendment to insert "natural" before the word "persons" so corporations can no longer claim the "right to lie," the "right to hide their crimes," the "right to buy politicians and influence elections," and "the right to force themselves on communities that don't want them." Corporate charter laws should be amended on a state-by-state basis to reinstate the spirit of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by again outlawing the ownership of one corporation by another, to limit the term of a corporation, to insert Corporate Code-like language requiring a corporation to place the needs of its community above its desire for profits, and, as Teddy Roosevelt so strongly urged us, to ban corporations from political activity of any sort. Similarly, corporations are not nations and shouldn't stand on an equal footing with nations. The United States should withdraw from support of treaties and agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, WTO, and its support of The World Bank.
- We own our government and our commons.
"Drowning government in a bathtub" as the neo-cons recommend may have been a good idea in the Soviet Union, but the United States is a constitutional representative democratic republic where our government is, literally, us. It was designed to work for us, be owned by us, exist solely by virtue of our ongoing approval, and must answer to us. Government functions must be transparent, and that transparency must also apply to corporations hired by government, particularly any who handle our votes. The shared commons of our nation - including our air, water, transportation routes, airwaves and cable networks, communication systems, military, police, prisons, fire services, health care infrastructure, and courts must be held either by locally-controlled non-profit corporations or by government responsive to its citizens. Because our federal legislators represent us, any benefits, rights, and privileges they have voted for themselves must apply to all of us. Similarly, just as we must balance our budgets every year except when in a crisis, so must our governments. Finally, government must not be a stepping-stone to private profiteering. We must re-institute laws against "revolving doors," particularly with regulatory agencies and the military and those they regulate or who provide military supplies.
- In a democratic republic, government must represent the will of the majority of the citizens while protecting the rights of the minorities.
To make American government more democratic, we must join the rest of the world's modern democracies and institute either proportional representation or Instant Runoff Voting systems at local, state, and federal levels. Similarly, human rights movements defending minorities and women against exploitation by corporate power structures or harm from paranoids, homophobes, and racists must be recognized, and the Equal Rights Amendment passed.
- A strong middle class is vital to democracy.
In 1792, James Madison defined government's role in promoting an American middle class, "By the silent operation of the laws, which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence toward a state of comfort." To say that somebody who earns millions a year by arbitrage "works that much harder" than a middle-class wage earner is simple nonsense. We recommend restoring inflation-indexed income tax and inheritance tax rates to those that were extant from the 1930s to the 1960s - during the golden era of the American middle class. We also recommend that government become the "employer of last resort" by taking on public works projects and supporting the arts, as it did during that era, and establishing a truly livable minimum wage.
- Building a civilization on liquefied fossils and then thinking it will last forever makes no sense.
According to British Petroleum, world oil reserves are enough to sustain us only into our children's lifetimes, and then will run out. We must institute a Manhattan Project type of effort to create viable energy sources that are not dependent on fossil fuels, and, in the meantime, take immediate steps to reduce use of and preserve our precious stores before they're exhausted.
- We are part of nature.
The natural world - including our water and air - is our most vital and essential commons, and therefore must be protected from those who would despoil it for short-term profit. As we poison the world, we cause human cancer epidemics and degrade our own quality of life. We - through our representative government - must take immediate steps to protect the commons we share with all other life on planet Earth.
- Education is a human right, regardless of station of birth.
When Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, his vision was to provide a free education to every person interested in and capable of participating. The Founders knew that classroom education is a right - and not a requirement - for life in a democracy. Therefore, university education should be free to all who academically qualify, and primary school education should not be compulsory but neither should it be provided by for-profit corporations.
- Health care is a human right and necessary to sustain freedom in a democracy.
America should join every other industrialized democracy in the world by instituting a single-payer health care system.
- America is not a kingdom, and we don't elect kings.
To turn back from the "imperial presidency" and return the executive branch to its position co-equal with the other two branches of government, we recommend disbanding the primary instrument of presidential power - the Office Of Homeland Security - and requiring the President to meet weekly in open and public discussion with all members of Congress, as is done in the United Kingdom (“Prime Minister’s Questions”) and most other modern democracies.
- The US Government is an instrument of secular democracy, not a religious theocracy, and has no right in our churches, homes, or bedrooms.
What we do in private, among consenting adults, is our business and our business only. Prostitution, drug abuse, alcoholism, and gambling addiction are medical problems, and thus should be handled by medical authorities, and all attempts to place these in the realm of the criminal justice system should be rescinded. Similarly, the government has no right or business using the language or beliefs of any one of our many religions, or to tell any of our religions what or how they should behave or believe.