The Need For The People To Invoke Their Right To Amend or Rewrite The Constitution

“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them, like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well: I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading: and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know, also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. It is this preposterous idea which has lately deluged Europe in blood. Their monarchs, instead of wisely yielding to the gradual changes of circumstances, of favoring progressive accommodation to progressive improvement, have clung to old abuses, entrenched themselves behind steady habits, and obliged their subjects to seek through blood and violence rash and ruinous innovations, which, had they been referred to the peaceful deliberations and collected wisdom of the nation, would have been put into acceptable and salutary forms. Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs. Let us, as our sister States have done, avail ourselves of our reason and experience, to correct the crude essays of our first and unexperienced, although wise, virtuous, and well-meaning councils. And, lastly, let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods. What these periods should be, nature herself indicates. By the European tables of mortality, of the adults living at any one moment of time, a majority will be dead in about nineteen years. At the end of that period, then, a new majority is come into place; or, in other words, a new generation. Each generation is as independent of the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has, then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds itself, that received from its predecessors: and it is for the peace and good of mankind, that a solemn opportunity of doing this every nineteen or twenty years, should be provided by the constitution; so that it may be handed on, with periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of time, if any thing human can so long endure. It is now forty years since the constitution of Virginia was formed. The same tables inform us, that, within that period, two thirds of the adults then living are now dead. Have then the remaining third, even if they had the wish, the right to hold in obedience to their will, and to laws heretofore made by them, the other two thirds, who, with themselves, compose the present mass of adults? If they have not, who has? The dead? But the dead have no rights. They are nothing; and nothing cannot own something. Where there is no substance, there can be no accident. This corporeal globe, and every thing upon it, belong to its present corporeal inhabitants, during their generation. They alone have a right to direct what is the concern of themselves alone, and to declare the law of that direction: and this declaration can only be made by their majority. That majority, then, has a right to depute representatives to a convention, and to make the constitution what they think will be best for themselves. But how collect their voice? This is the real difficulty. If invited by private authority to county or district meetings, these divisions are so large, that few will attend; and their voice will be imperfectly or falsely pronounced. Here, then, would be one of the advantages of the ward divisions I have proposed. The mayor of every ward, on a question like the present, would call his ward together, take the simple yea or nay of its members, convey these to the county court, who would hand on those of all its wards to the proper general authority; and the voice of the whole people would be thus fairly, fully, and peaceably expressed, discussed, and decided by the common reason of the society. If this avenue be shut to the call of sufferance, it will make itself heard through that of force, and we shall go on, as other nations are doing, in the endless circle of oppression, rebellion, reformation; and oppression, rebellion, reformation, again; and so on, for ever.

These, Sir, are my opinions of the governments we see among men, and of the principles by which alone we may prevent our own from falling into the same dreadful track. I have given them at greater length than your letter called for. But I cannot say things by halves; and I confide them to your honor, so to use them as to preserve me from the gridiron of the public papers. If you shall approve and enforce them, as you have done that of equal representation, they may do some good. If not, keep them to yourself as the effusions of withered age, and useless time. I shall, with not the Less truth, assure you of my great respect and consideration.”

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Samuel Kerchival – July 12, 1816

We at Red Liberty believe that in order to best represent the will of the people as they actually exist in American society, at a minimum, the kind of constitutional reform advocated by Thomas Jefferson in his private letters is necessary. Jefferson himself, over 200 years after the above excerpt was written, now exists in the mystical veil of sanctimonious reverence he himself criticized. A “founding father”, we quote him at length here precisely because of the reverence so many fellow Americans hold for the ruling class of that generation. This idea, though it may seem radical in how it shatters the mystical, almost religious reverence so many hold of the nation’s founding documents, was itself a believed necessity in the minds of those who founded the Republic. As the socialists we are, we are far more optimistic than Jefferson as to the emancipatory potential of humankind. This time, when the oppression and exploitation of the present day is reconciled with the free will of the informed people, in our society of material abundance, we believe a real possibility for the abolition of all institutional forms of oppression and exploitation presents itself. Furthermore, the internet provides the people with the possibility of a grassroots initiative of popular assemblies all over the nation, to be decentralized, that is, best representing the will of the people as they actually exist, while also being enormously wide in scope. The class implications here are also apparent, such a meeting of people’s blocks out in form and execution, the corrupting influence the billionaire class has on existing institutions.

Today we find ourselves on the edge of oblivion. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that we have only 12 years to limit the catastrophic consequences of climate change, yet one of the two ruling parties of this country refuses to even admit that climate change is real. We the millennials, even when working full time, increasingly find ourselves unable to afford higher education, rent, and the basic necessities of life in the richest country in the world. Not making enough to survive, things have only gotten worse for us. And what, we must ask, of the generations to come? We are the children of cyberspace. The technically inclined among us use VPN’s or Tor to connect to the internet because we know we are being watched illegally, and unethically by our own government and by the governments of the world. Nearly everyone informed on this issue is alarmed. We believe information should be free, cyberspace has no borders, regognizes no walls, no barriers, no outside authority. As the surveillance state grows stronger and stronger with less and less accountability, where here is the consent of the governed? Consent that is passive is granted, but true consent requires one to be informed, and even our own conservative courts when informed on the issue at hand deem these illegal programs, that have only accelerated in totality since we the people found out about them, to be “Orwellian in scope”. When can we acknowledge that privacy in the digital age is a fundamental prerequisite to civil liberty? In the history books that describe the descent of the 21st century into despotism, or with our own voices today?

How is it that there are 5 empty homes for every homeless person in the richest country in the world? We already produce enough food to feed 10 billion people a year, yet world hunger still persists. We give to charities and then stop thinking about the issues at hand. Why? Trump wanted 5 billion dollars for a border wall. To end homelessness in the United States, what is the estimated cost? 20 billion dollars. To end world hunger, what is the estimated cost? 30 billion dollars. Neither party is talking about this, and for good reason. Such facts pose an existential threat to the capitalist system. What of the institutional racism of the American criminal injustice system? For an entire community to view the police as a menace to the community, yet to still be subjugated to them, that Citizens is a menace to democracy. America has more prisoners than any other nation. Prisoners are routinely subjected to solitary confinement, cruel and unusual punishment- torture by any other name to be sure, and used legally as slave labor. Trans women are sent to male prisons, and trans men are sent to female prisons. How many times do we hear of Trans women being raped 1000’s of times in all male prisons? We know European prisons boast only 20% of inmates returning to prison, in America that number is well over 80%. People still want to “debate” the legitimacy of trans rights, but when such fundamental questions such as human rights are put up for debate, we have a serious problem. It is our own “War on Drugs”, our own imperialistic foreign policy, our own imperialist socioeconomic system that is responsible for the rampant crime and poverty that affects Latin America. Those of us informed on the issues at hand know that prohibition does not work, we see clearly how Portugal’s decriminalization of all drugs has led to drastic decreases in drug related deaths, addiction, use, and disease. Yet the prospect of drug decriminalization, legalization, and free treatment for addicts in our country is deemed “too radical” by both parties to be even considered.

Those of us who are informed understand the absurdity of the present socioeconomic and political system. As socialists, we advocate neither corporate dictatorship in the workplace nor dictatorial state management over the enterprise, but rather, we advocate industrial democracy for the worker and the public at large! To what degree this or that measure or policy is to be implemented? We have no “ready made plan” of action. We leave it to the free expression and debate of the people themselves. Before it’s Stalinist degeneration, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960’s rightfully recognized that our present society was not a democracy. Just as the Greek city slave states were both a dictatorship of the slave owner and a democracy through the slave owner, our modern society is a democracy of the capitalist class and a dictatorship of that class at the same time. Jefferson to his lasting credit, knew this day would come. The founding fathers did not think their experiment would last this long, and to it’s credit it has achieved miracles. Jefferson thought every 19 or so years the new generation should speak for itself in the name of democracy, amending the constitution or drafting a new one where necessary. By such logic, a radical change embodying the active consent of the people is 10 times overdue! Jefferson and his generation have no right to speak for us, Jefferson himself said so!

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

As democracy divorces itself more and more from capitalism, those in power expect us to stand idly by. We will not be a party to the death of liberty, to the death of democracy. If necessary we will preserve and expand liberty and democracy at the cost of our lives. As 12 years come down to 0, we are expected to beg for concession after concession so that our children might survive what they have wrought upon us. We are expected to blame climate change on the individual, to “stop using plastic bags and plastic straws”, to “bike to work” and not to challenge the corporations that mercilessly plunder and pollute the earth, not to challenge those really responsible for our predicament. The present socioeconomic and political order, in it’s nihilistic, anti-scientific, and reluctant attitude towards the scientific consensus, and in its unabashed corruption in this regard, is fundamentally destructive to the Life of humankind and all future generations. The unprecedented increase in far-right authoritarianism in the most “stable” democracies of the world, along with the emergence of Orwellian, illegal government mass surveillance programs and its violations of the people’s right to privacy, fundamentally endangers one of the only prerequisites to the existence of civil Liberty in our age. Indeed we must say that it is destructive to Liberty itself. And what of the pursuit of Happiness? I will quote here from my friend and fellow writer Christian Chiakulas:

“In a world that produces enough food to feed each and every one of us, starvation is violence. In a society where vacant houses outnumber homeless people six to one, homelessness is violence. A country in which health insurance companies rake in billions in profits while leaving nearly thirty million people uninsured and unable to access medical care is a violent society.

This is the everyday violence of capitalism – if it is profitable to let somebody die, or languish in abject poverty, we do so. That is a violent society.”

More than violence, such a state of affairs are a menace to the pursuit of Happiness. We have established thusly, that the present socioeconomic order, and the government with it, has become destructive to the ends of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. We therefore must see it as justified to invoke the right of the people to alter or abolish the present government if we are to be true to reason and to ourselves. We must have no fear in saying this, for it is the right of the present generation to do so, a right recognized by the fundamental founding documents of the United States itself. We must cast aside the sanctimonious reverence so many of us have for the constitution, it is our duty to rewrite it if we the people deem it to be necessary. What power do I at Red Liberty have in this regard? I have no power, all political power rests solely with in the hands of the people themselves. I am one of them, but without them I am nothing. They will either dismiss me as some isolated radical or take the initiative themselves to forge their own futures, in time I think these measures will be seen as having been inevitable. What I propose is not some violent revolution, but that the people come together at the grassroots level, in popular assemblies, and discuss what kind of future they want, what kind of society they want to live in, what kind of government, if any, they desire. The people at such assemblies would not be ignorant of the issues at had, they would call in experts where necessary, to educate the people and themselves. Does this mean such things need be applied having been debated and drafted? Not necessarily. The act itself can be but a matter of future precedent, an experiment if not a revolution, though revolution itself is always an experiment of sorts, the greatest of all experiments. Experiments such as those of the recent Congress of People’s Resistance organized of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) are promising in this regard, even if we condemn the PSL’s Stalinist political line. The website for the Congress of People’s Resistance puts it well when it says, “U.S. Congress is a Multi-Millionaires’ Club. It’s time to build a #PeoplesCongress”. We cannot help but agree.

I would like to give here my predictions as to what would come of such a thing. Of course, many of these predictions are far more radical in scope than what would today be considered popular opinion. I make these speculations with an understanding that not only would the people would have to be informed on the issues at hand, but moreover I make these speculations keeping in mind the spirit of all revolutions and revolutionary movements. As the people become more involved in public life and are swept away in the turn of events, popular opinion and the vanguard movements of popular opinion become more and more radicalized. This, history tells us, is the general course of development in all the great historic social revolutions of modern history; the English Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. It is the typical course of every first general reckoning of the revolutionary forces begotten within the womb of bourgeois society. Its development moves naturally in an ascending line: from moderate beginnings to ever-greater radicalization of aims and, parallel with that, from a coalition of classes and parties to the sole rule of the radical vanguard of the formerly oppressed people’s (paraphrasing Rosa Luxemburg).

Not funded or corrupted by big business or corporate power, I believe the Bill of Rights would be radically expanded. New amendments would be passed by the people themselves that were just as, if not more radical than the first Bill of Rights was in its day. The biggest corporations would be socialized and democratized, made to work by and for the people themselves, with rights always guaranteed to the minority, and not for the profit of the few The media too, I believe, would be democratized and decentralized, becoming grassroots, ruthless adversarial journalism made to inform the people and not to profit off of them through flashy headlines and clickbait. The fourth amendment would be restored by the prohibition of mass surveillance and the architecture of the internet itself would be altered to make it decentralized, secure and privacy respecting by default. The government insofar as it exists, would be made to be 100% transparent. There would be transparency for the powerful and privacy for everyone else. Perhaps most importantly to the future of humankind, the people, not corrupted by lobbying and misinformation from the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class, but thoroughly informed on the scientific consensus, would advocate the immediate and emergency rapid divergence from fossil fuels and its replacement with 100% green, renewable energy. Plastics and other polluting industries would be replaced with ecological ones or allowed only under strict conditions. There would be mass reforestation initiatives and a serious focus on preparedness for the impending consequences of climate change for the generations to come, even for “worse than the worst case scenario”. The current Bill of Rights rightfully recognizes negative liberty, but as far as positive liberty goes, there is none. It was as absurd to speak of a right to healthcare in 1774 as it was to speak of freedom of the press in pre-agricultural society. There is no reason anyone in our society should be homeless, hungry, or in a state of material poverty. We have the ability to sustainably abolish forever these grave social ills 20 times over, and many times more so! Such conditions are a menace to liberty. The world of material scarcity that produced our Constitution and Bill of Rights no longer exists. Today in our world of material abundance, it is our right and our duty to actively decide for ourselves what kind of a world, if any, we want for our children. Inaction is to let a generation that knew not our world to govern it. Inaction here is to declare the future of humankind as good as dead in the name of profit. The people would in time, realize that they had far more in common with the citizens and working people of every other country than with their own ruling class, and the people’s of the world would increasingly come to the same conclusion. As Anarchist Emma Goldman said in 1908,

“Thinking men and women the world over are beginning to realize that patriotism is too narrow and limited a conception to meet the necessities of our time. The centralization of power has brought into being an international feeling of solidarity among the oppressed nations of the world; a solidarity which represents a greater harmony of interests between the workingman of America and his brothers abroad than between the American miner and his exploiting compatriot; a solidarity which fears not foreign invasion, because it is bringing all the workers to the point when they will say to their masters, “Go and do your own killing. We have done it long enough for you.”

The military would serve to be a purely defensive apparatus of the people. It would not invade other countries, it would not intimidate the people’s of the world, it would respect the right to national self-determination of other nation, viewing it as a prerequisite to its own freedom and sovereignty.

We do not believe it is possible to adequately address the climate crisis under capitalism. Green social-democrats often look to Norway as an staple of Green capitalism, a model to the rest of the world. But in spite of Norway having moved to 100% Green energy, it’s top exports are still all in the polluting industries. The top exports of Norway are Crude Petroleum($45.1B) Petroleum Gas ($43.6B), and Refined Petroleum ($6.56B), all of which are fossil fuels. This is a prime example of the impossibility to fully address this issue under capitalism. But at least it is a step in the right direction. We should mention here that as of late, while fossil fuels are still Norway’s top exports, its second top export is fish in the midst of global excesses in regards to ocean fishing! Norway has created a fortress of ecology within its own national borders, it has merely ‘exported’ the crisis of climate change to other countries! In the alternatives we look towards, a country (Norway, for instance) could stop fossil fuel exports and resource exploitation entirely without a serious hit to its economy as other countries would provide it with needed material aid. As Murray Bookchin said,

“To speak of ‘limits to growth’ under a capitalistic market economy is as meaningless as to speak of limits of warfare under a warrior society. The moral pieties, that are voiced today by many well-meaning environmentalists, are as naive as the moral pieties of multinationals are manipulative. Capitalism can no more be ‘persuaded’ to limit growth than a human being can be ‘persuaded’ to stop breathing. Attempts to ‘green’ capitalism, to make it ‘ecological’, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth.”

While an authoritarian state-capitalist model such as that of the present day People’s Republic of China has the potential to begin addressing the climate crisis in a serious way, it can do so only at the expense of the freedom and democracy of the people. This to us is unacceptable. The Chinese model is by far the most successful model of capitalist economics today. If one wishes to see the future of capitalism, they need look no further than China. No other school of economics to date comes close in terms of success and stability. Yet in spite of this, we think the advent of popular political democracy at the local level with the emergence of genuine industrial democracy has the potential to blow the Chinese state-capitalist model out of the water. Its focus would not merely be production for the sake of production, with no regard whatsoever to the social and ecological consequences of its actions, but on meeting human needs and to expand the state of human liberty and the dignity and quality of life. It would replace the feudal, dictatorial methods with which modern day corporations are managed, with the principles all Americans claim to aspire to embody- democracy. Do we as Americans, not claim to love liberty and democracy? The current order endangers the very foundations of all Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is a menace to democracy itself.

Citizens, our generation will have none of it! It’s high time the American people come together to create a socioeconomic and political system that embodies their active, not their passive consent. A system that embodies the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and values of the people as they exist today, not as they existed in 1774. I tip my hat to Mr. Jefferson, who recognized our right to do this. Citizens, it’s high time our generation said for itself what kind of a world it wants. If we care at all for liberty, for democracy, if they are more than empty words for us, then we must act now. For if we do not act now, the generations of tomorrow will not forgive us!

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