An Objective for the U.S. Occupy Movement: A Constitutional Convention

The Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig wrote Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – And a Plan to Stop It before the Occupy movement began. According to Alesh Houdek in Atlantic Online (November 11), it might be the perfect guide for the Occupy movement.

No one in the movement would disagree with its main point: the fundamental problem is the corruption of Congress. That is why there has been no meaningful financial reform in response to the current crisis and that is why nobody has been punished.

Lessig is well known in legal circles for having spent ten years fighting to rewrite the copyright laws. He is now making a case for a vastly more fundamental reform.

“The single most salient feature of the government that we have evolved is not that it discriminates in favour of one side and against the other,” he writes, “but that it discriminates against all sides in favour of itself.” The corruption starts at the level of the institution, not the individual.

The obstacles blocking the way of doing something about this are, of course, overwhelming. “It sounds a bit like shooting for the moon,” Alesh Houdek observes.

The fundamental reform required will have to deal with the connection between money and politics. At the root of it all: campaign financing.

Article 5 of the United States Constitution describes how it can be amended. Congress proposes amendments and the states ratify them. That is how all the existing twenty-seven amendments have been passed. But there is another way – states can ask Congress to call for a constitutional convention. The convention proposes amendments that would have to be ratified by the states. There hasn’t been one since the convention that wrote the original constitution.

In the past, calls for constitutional conventions have served an important function in pushing Congress to pass reforms. Lessig believes that a large-scale debate is a necessary step and that a call for a convention would provide the appropriate framework.

When Lessig wrote the book, he called for mock conventions to be organized all across the country – assemblies of regular people. Now, Alesh Houdek believes, the Occupy movement could generate enough energy to do what Lessig proposes.

The original appeal for Occupy Wall Street, from Adbusters, called on President Obama to “ordain a presidential commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” The 99 Percent Declaration is calling for a National General Assembly beginning on July 4 in the City of Philadelphia to address the influence of money and other issues.

These appeals are close to Lessig’s thinking.

The strategies and aims he proposes could make it the handbook the protesters have been looking for.

6 responses to “An Objective for the U.S. Occupy Movement: A Constitutional Convention

  1. Is it realistic to think that, in today’s climate, agreement could be achieved in a constitutional convention?

    • Dum speramus spiramus

      • aut desperamus.

        • ‘While we hope, we breathe’ … an apt revision these days of the venerable keep-going motto, ‘dum spiramus speramus’.

          Apt for a central banker working to keep financial markets optimistic. Apt for a pundit’s existential choice – in interesting times, dismiss despair first, only then weave facts, views and plans. And with HK’s change, it’s an apt caution against false hope.

          All in just three Latin words.

  2. The same forces that led to the great compromise in the first constitutional convention — strong vs weak central government — would likely be in play again.

  3. I realize that there is a risk that a CC could spin out of control but I believe that it is worth the risk. It may be the only chance we have to save our democratic republic. May God be with us.