Although our mission sounds rather grandiose – especially for three people! – it has very simple beginnings. In Alaska, we each grew more and more frustrated with big money in politics and laws that failed to hold corporations accountable to the people. In Cordova, Riki was a plaintiff in The Exxon Valdez Case and dealing with real long-term social, economic and environmental impacts that Exxon denied even existed. Lisa Marie was working at the Cordova Legislative Information Office of the Alaska State Legislature and saw how big money influenced state policies. Meanwhile from Haines, Gershon was designing campaigns to stop big cruise ships from dumping raw sewage into coastal waterways.
After hearing Thomas Linzey speak at Bioneers in 2006, Gershon and Riki attended Linzey’s first Democracy School in Wasilla, Alaska then two more schools in other states over the next year. Riki included the story of the evolution of corporate personhood – “corporate persons” entitled to human rights – in the final chapter of Not One Drop, her second book on the oil spill. She launched on book tour with Lisa Marie as an assistant in September 2008 – right into the national economic meltdown.
The timing was perfect. Many Americans were reeling from job, home, and financial losses and could quickly connect the dots between their losses and giant corporations wielding human rights to amass financial capital and political clout – at the expense of the other 99 percent. Across America, Riki and Lisa Marie found that people supported the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to affirm that corporations are not persons and money is not speech.
In May 2009 after book tour, Gershon, Riki, and Lisa Marie co-founded Ultimate Civics as a project of Earth Island Institute. Our goal was to coalesce a movement to amend the Constitution. In September 2009 in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, Ultimate Civics co-founded Move To Amend, a national grassroots coalition to amend the Constitution. In January 2010, the Supreme Court delivered its most blatant statement that corporations are persons entitled to human rights to justify its decision to allow “corporate persons” to spend unlimited amounts of “speech” (money) to influence elections. With that, “corporate persons” suddenly became a national topic of discussion and MoveToAmend.org launched to build the movement.
There is one last twist to our story: how Ultimate Civics came to define its niche in the larger campaign through our three programs. In response to the April 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf, Riki flew to Louisiana to help fishermen deal with the mental, emotional, and physical health impacts of the disaster – and wound up staying for a year! In the process, she laid the foundation for Ultimate Civics’ Energy & Democracy Program: Riki and Lisa Marie work with “accidental activists”, people whose lives have been uprooted by fossil fuel-related disasters and who, like us, want to do something about it. We teach campaign skills through rights-based community organizing and recruit for the larger movement.
While teaching in schools and communities, especially after the Occupy Movement started, we all saw a need for education in the basic democratic arts of overcoming our differences, finding common ground, and working together to move dialogue into action. There was also an opportunity to introduce such lessons into community forums and school programs on sustainability, as sustainability is not attainable without basic democracy – people having control over their future at the local level. This became the work of our Education and Democracy Program.
Gershon builds the larger campaign through our Alaska Democracy Initiative, teaching in high schools and working with communities to pass local resolutions and support a statewide ballot initiative to affirm that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights.
Please check out our programs!