Amyot/My Turn: Petitioning the government

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Recently, I, and several people I know, have gone out into public places asking people if they would sign petitions for various causes. Mostly, these petitions have been written in the hope that certain changes might be included on the next state or local ballots. That way, voters could decide for themselves whether or not they would accept those changes by voting either for, or against, them.

If enough signatures can be gathered on a petition, this allows that question to be included on an upcoming ballot. This is a first, and major, step in giving the people of a community a voice in what laws they want, or don’t want, to govern their lives. It is a perfect exercise of the democratic rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution.

It also should be noted that, in Massachusetts, people collecting signatures for petitions have a right to be at public events, even when they are held on private property, as long as they are not obstructing the public way, harassing people or asking for money. They also have the right to offer printed materials to help people understand the issues.

I have been struck, however, by the number of people who have rushed past, not looking at me or glancing furtively away as though they suspect that I am doing something un-American and they do not want to get involved. Even young men in the armed services have behaved as though I might, somehow, be trying to overturn the government or some other such dire action.

I fear that our schools have not been given the duty, or perhaps the time, to teach students about how our government works and what rights we were given by our own Constitution. Ask yourself how much you know about the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial branches of our government. Do you know what they are and what their duties are? Do your children know these things?

This lack of knowledge and understanding is quite frightening because, if the people of our country do not know what rights they have, those rights can be easily taken away.

Take, for example, the main cause for which I have been trying to gather signatures. This petition would put on the state ballot for 2016 an amendment declaring that, in Massachusetts, “Corporations are NOT People and Money is not Speech.” Unfortunately, many people seem to be unaware that the Supreme Court ruled a couple of years ago, in a case called “Citizens United,” that corporations have the same rights as you and I do. For one, that means that they have every right to push for a candidate or a law that will serve their purposes well. And, because MONEY was declared to be equal to SPEECH, corporations can throw as much money as they want into campaigns for given laws or candidates and they don’t have to tell us how much they have spent.

As an example, I would like to see a law mandating that all foods that have genetically-modified ingredients (GMOs) would be labeled to tell me that. I don’t want to eat GMOs because, for one thing, they have never been proven to be safe. But, in California a couple of years ago and again, as I write this, in the state of Washington, Monsanto and other big corporations are spending many millions of dollars to fight this. They are flooding TV, radio and media with lies, telling people that they would be big losers if this bill passed. Even though it has been shown that none of these things would be true, because Monsanto and company keep repeating these lies, voters are getting confused and may, as they did in California, vote down this law by a small, but important, margin.

Let’s face it; money talks! And corporations have lots of money while citizens like me don’t. If corporations choose to use their money against me, my voice will get drowned out for sure.

And so it is that I have been out collecting signatures to give the people of our state the chance to prevent corporations from such abuses. I believe that the people have the right to speak and be heard and that voting matters. History teaches that it is in staying silent that we will lose the rights given to us by our forefathers.

Louise Amyot is a long-time resident of Greenfield whose children attended local schools. A retired registered dietitian, she has recently realized the extent to which our democracy is being eroded away by our willingness to not get involved.

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