Getting the timing right is essential for social change

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Although we face a time of seemingly intractable division and polarization, it is precisely during turbulent times like these that the United States has come together in times of social reform. The story confirms the idea that timing is an essential element in structural social change work.

The idea that now is the time for major change came to fruition for me recently when I spoke to Jeff Clements, a lawyer and social entrepreneur who founded an organization in 2016 called American Promise. Jeff and American Promise are on a mission to push through a constitutional amendment that would reverse the campaign finance model put in place by United Citizens and setting reasonable limits on political spending so that politicians can act on the beliefs of their constituents rather than those of wealthy donors.

At first glance, it may seem that Jeff has devoted his work to a difficult and even chimerical goal. Only one constitutional amendment has been passed in the United States in the past 50 years.

But our discussion has given me hope that now is the time to make an amendment to address Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United and others, including the recent Dobbs v. Jackson, where the Court may have violated our rights. Jeff pointed out that this would be the ninth Supreme Court case overturned by an amendment. Previous examples include the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Slavery, Citizenship and Equal Protection Amendments, which overturned the infamous Dred Scott vs. Sandford decision, and the Nineteenth Amendment, which nullified the Miner vs. Happersett decision that deprived women of the right to vote.

What I didn’t realize until talking to Jeff is that constitutional amendments have usually come in waves, in response to turbulent times in US history. For example, following the Civil War, three amendments were passed from 1865 to 1870. Four more became law from 1913 to 1920 at the end of the Progressive Era, in response to abuses of the so-called “Age Golden “. .” And two came in 1933 during the New Deal era. More recently, four amendments were added from 1961 to 1971 during the civil rights movement. Reform eras account for 13 of the 17 amendments ratified since the Bill of Rights established the first 10 amendments.

Wondering if the United States is about to embark on another period of major societal and constitutional reform, I think back to the reaction of the Progressive Era to the Gilded Age, when advances in computer technology physical transport transformed the way people lived, but also led to extreme income inequality. and the well-known excesses of the ultra-rich like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt and others. At the time, there was also a backlash against immigration and political gridlock – in two presidential elections (1876 and 1888), the Electoral College gave a president to someone who did not win the popular vote.

It all sounds eerily familiar. In our modern Golden Age where Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg and others are at the forefront of advances in information technology that underlie extreme income inequality, most people in the United States are frustrated with the hyper partisan nature of politics and the failure of elected officials. responsible to act on health care, gun laws, the climate crisis and other challenges of our time. Jeff is convinced that in these difficult times, real change is possible. And we can all have reason to believe: The amendment has the support of a majority of Americans — including business leaders and legislatures in 22 states — across the political spectrum.

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