Some of the following I’m sure you’re well aware of, but to be clear, all points are included. The idea is paradoxical: on the surface, complex, but underneath, so simple; academic, but then, really exciting. It comes from a love of many things: civilization, the rule of law, the arts and sciences, America, but ultimately a love of humanity, its place in the universe—and thus, perhaps—a love of the cosmos itself. Back in 2005 there was an effort that brought a federal lawsuit up through the U.S. courts, and in late 2006 placed it before the Supreme Court.
Before I detail it, I’d like to point out some things about the U.S. Constitution. These days media pundits and the mainstream press often characterize the Constitution as some kind of big grey wall open to interpretation—that we need judges and lawyers to tell us what it means—but this is inaccurate. The Constitution is made up of two types of law: structural and civil. The structural is the seven articles, and the civil is the twenty-seven amendments. The latter you can debate forever: should you be able to express yourself freely, should you expect a certain amount of privacy, should you be able to own a gun? These things and others are to one degree or another, subjective. But the articles—the structural law—the Constitution as it was initially ratified—is objective. No one gets to debate what it means, and it revolves around the word shall: there shall be a legislative branch, there shall be an executive, there shall be a judicial branch. There’s no room for interpretation. It’s black and white, and for good reason. The framers knew then what we know now—that individuals can be corrupted by power and money.
Jefferson once said the two enemies of a society are government and criminals, and the Constitution was written to prevent the former from becoming the latter. You may have found that sometimes political discourse ends with the sentiment, “Well, there is no silver bullet to the problems we face today.” But actually, the Constitution is the silver bullet. That’s what the framers sat down to design—a silver bullet—so that should tyranny ever rear its head somewhere down the line, a generation could hold up the law and stop it dead in its tracks. We’re taught that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are our two most important founding documents, but what we’re not taught is that the former is actually written into the latter. It was placed there so that we don’t have to resort to violence in order to re-establish liberty. That was the genius of the framers; that’s the gift from the sons of the Enlightenment to we the living.
Where in the Constitution is this peaceable declaration? Let’s get back to that and first take a quick look at the tyranny we face today. Some characterize today’s tyranny as a military/industrial complex that’s kept us positioned on a war-time footing, or to put it in a phrase, perpetual war for perpetual peace. This began with a pen stroke in the summer of 1947. The National Security Act created the DOD, NSA, CIA, built the Pentagon, and we’ve been caught within that construct while over the years it’s eroded rights and dumbed-down two generations, going on three. A key component to this mess is that corporations have been provided the rights of living, breathing citizens—a legal fiction is treated as a human being. Because corporations have been given the rights of citizens, they’ve been granted access to politicians and facilitated deregulations—two of them being the dismantling of the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s, and the consolidation of broadcast entities in the 1990s. This was a coup as it allows corporate interests to control what information does and does not become popularly known.
In the end, is there anything more important to a sapient being than information? How can we get to where we want to be if we don’t first know where we’re at? Luckily, some of us are still vigilant and know when we’ve been bamboozled, and that’s where the voting process is supposed to come in. If we know we’ve been lied to and want to rid ourselves of politicians who’ve worn out their welcome, or agendas which no longer serve a purpose—or worse, actually endanger all we hold dear—we let our vote do the talking. Except there’s a problem: objective facts of recent history show that corporate interests, in the aftermath of the 2000 election debacle, influenced Congress to flood the country with a hodge-podge of electronic voting machines. Corporate media raised this issue fleetingly before the 2006 election, but it hasn’t really been heard of since, and when we do find a story buried in the back pages of the press, the issue is framed as if a paper trail will remedy the problem.
But wait, we already found out in 2000 and 2004 that recounts don’t happen in modern presidential elections (the effort to determine Ohio’s electoral votes in 2004 went on until March of the following year before it was overruled by the courts, all the while dismissed by corporate media). For now, let’s agree that corporate interests have an inordinate amount of influence on how and what information is delivered to us, and how and what our electoral process looks like. A current presidential candidate says he’s running because of what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now.” He believes there’s such a thing as being too late, and that the final hour has arrived. If the sentiment is applied to The Vote and information, the current state of affairs cannot remain unaddressed without a fatal consequence.
Now let’s get back to that federal lawsuit mentioned before. Walker v. Members of Congress (06-244 U.S. Supreme Court) was concerned with the fifth article of the Constitution, and was the first lawsuit of its kind in all American history. Article V is absolute and reads very clearly that once enough states apply, the Congress “...shall call a convention for proposing amendments....” The evidence in the suit was the congressional record which shows all fifty states have applied and one Congress after another ignores this, failing to carry out its constitutional and legal obligation. As you may or may not know, the Federalist Papers were the sales pitch to Anti-Federalists as to why the states should ratify the Constitution so we could become the U.S.A. The very last paper, Federalist 85, was the final rebuttal, and to paraphrase, said: Look, if you guys are so afraid of this new government becoming corrupt, we have Article V to look to—if the states get fed up, they cast applications, and once the required number hit the doorstep of Congress, it must call a convention so delegates can discuss ideas the politicians are failing to. Pretty simple right? No need to take up arms. The Declaration of Independence reappears, as the convention clause of Article V. As Walker showed, the legal requirement has been met, but the clause has never been satisfied. That’s why our system is so thoroughly corrupt; that’s why corruption has become institutionalized. Unfortunately we currently have a myriad of groups addressing the myriad of symptoms (electoral/media/environmental/education/health/ infrastructure/trade/ labor/fiscal and foreign policy). It’s no one person or group’s fault, it’s just an aspect of the human condition—something the law which governs us takes into account, and provides a solution to. Over the last sixty years, about once every decade, the idea of a “constitutional convention” is floated in the media and mainstream press. If you go back through The New York Times and other national newspapers, and read the editorials, they all say the same thing: that a convention is dangerous, and that it would become a huge monstrosity where everything is up for grabs, and which might destroy the Constitution itself, losing the protections it established and provides.
This position is not only irrational, but illogical, because convention delegates cannot ratify a single thing. They can only place ideas on the table for the country to examine, and if any one meets with the approval of 38 states, only then is it ratified, and only then does it become law. The reason the framers set ratification at a three-quarters requisite is because whatever the idea is, it better have overwhelming and broad support or it’s going nowhere; if it’s even slightly questionable, it’s toast. It’ll never get ratified. While the human condition has its negatives, it also has its positives, and in this case, when people come together for open discussion, consensus happens. That’s really all an Article V Convention is, a legal mechanism to build consensus. If state delegates are allowed to convene, they’d join together to figure out what amendment proposals have a chance at being ratified in a country as polarized as ours is today. OK, so reality is we’re in the process of losing the electoral system and the public broadcast frequencies to corporate interests, and if this situation continues to go unaddressed much longer there will be consequences. What might a legal fiction do with a society that is deaf and dumb? What might something without heart or soul do with our collective heart and soul? There is the saying that politics is the art of the possible, and while I’m excited about a future presidential administration, one executive will not be able to meet the “fierce urgency of now” head on and with the effective force which is currently required. Only the Constitution can do that; only the highest law can break the status quo in order for it to be reformed into a more equitable reality.
Civilization is based on laws/sciences/arts. Law is created to prevent harm, and our highest law is unique in all of history, because it provides a way to balance what may have become unbalanced. Americans do not fear their government because they can alter or abolish it; this is what makes us first among nations. But the military/industrial complex is entrenched and tired, and in metaphor, you can’t ask someone who’s been sitting on a couch for years to suddenly get up and run a mile or two. The idea of putting the Constitution to work needs to be finessed. It needs to be done gently, and if possible with a sense of excitement and in the spirit of collective pride. The solution in this audio/visual day and age is obviously a feature documentary which entertains ,while at the same time reminding us of our origin and what makes this nation and its law so renowned and revered.
Here’s what could be done: gather together 100 college students at a symbolic location, hand them a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, send them into a ballroom, and have them carry out the convention clause—document them building consensus. In this, of course, there will be some shrewd delegates, some humorous delegates, perhaps a couple of them will fall in love—and all these human interest stories of such an event will drive the narrative, the take-away being: “Hey, we should hold a convention!” Such a documentary entered into national and international film festivals would have a chance to breach, where at that point the Congress could appropriate the idea, and the country could gracefully change course from the fatal path it treads this moment. Baby-Boomers and Gen-Xers could fall in love with young Americans doing the quintessentially American thing, while the entire country falls in love with our constitution and the rule of law. Such a documentary would be a joyful testament to who and what we are as sapient beings.
Such a documentary would be as simple to produce as any could be. It would take place over a weekend and at minimal cost. Perhaps it will be accepted to Cannes, to Sundance, to other festivals--a documentary that not only celebrates the rule of law, peaceable change, and the Red, White, and Blue, but humanity itself? It’s there on the horizon, waiting, and Americans of all walks of life are yearning for it; we’re yearning for something to reveal the truth of how special it is to be American; we’re yearning for the catharsis brought about by open discussion and the clarity that we’re all in this together. Such a revelation is a good thing, as it, in turn, reveals how liberty and democracy are worth fighting for. That’s what makes our lives romantic, and what’s the point of life without the hope or inspiration of romance? Individual romance is only an individual bliss, but collective romance is a collective bliss, and whether everyone knows it or not, that’s the entire reason for, and ultimate goal of this dream we share.