Eighteen people testified before Cleveland Heights City Council and the public, with Council President Melody Hart presiding in council chambers at city hall. Mayor Kahlil Seren and Councilors Anthony Maddox, Davida Russell, Craig Cobb, Tony Cuda and Gail Larson were also in attendance. Councilor Janine Boyd was absent.
U.S. House Joint Resolution 54, “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing that the rights extended by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only,” and also establishing that money is not speech, was introduced in the 118th Congress two months ago by Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and a number of co-sponsors. Attendees were urged to contact their Congressperson, Rep. Shontel Brown, asking her to co-sponsor HJR-54. (Update: on the date of the hearing, June 7, the resolution had 49 co-sponsors. As of June 13, HJR-54 had 53 co-sponsors. Rep. Brown was not among them.)
A strong theme this year was the preemption of public goods and public functions by corporate actors for profit and other forms of private gain. In Ohio, this extends to state government preempting local laws to serve the interests of corporations and entire industries.
- The Director of the Cleveland Heights – University Heights Public Library announced that “Book Banning Has Landed in Ohio.” She noted that “In 2022, for the second year in a row, book challenges across the United States doubled from the previous year.” She quoted Allison Jennings-Roche, writing in The Political Librarian, Spring 2023 as saying that these are not “good faith disagreements about the merits of an individual book... Book banners try to use a market-driven impulse to undermine the library’s position as an educational or public institution.” While in Ohio, book challenges tripled from 10 to 34 from 2021 to 2022, the library director assured the local audience that the CH-UH Public Library’s strategic plan for the next three years includes this goal: “Provide unbiased sources of information and combat censorship and disinformation.”
- A Cleveland Heights resident spoke on “Protecting the Commons,” meaning our air, water and public lands. She pointed out that just a few years ago, the citizens of Cleveland Heights successfully repelled an effort by Aqua Ohio to privatize the city’s water. She also reported encouraging progress in efforts to put a stop to the gigantic tri-state Appalachian Petrochemical and Storage Hub planned for Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The huge operation would depend on increasing fracking, but academic and non-profit research quantified the impacts and found that the negative health effects would exceed the economic benefits. The development is on hold for now.
- Is there anything more disgusting than a wealthy person stealing from a poor one? In effect, that is what the privatization of welfare-to-work programs in Ohio and nearby states has done, except the thief in this case is a corporation called Maximus that operates in 41 states and on 4 continents and takes in over $3 billion a year. The victims are every person who needs welfare benefits. A Cleveland Heights speaker explained how Maximus makes all that money: “Depending on its contract with a particular state, Maximus may get paid when a client gets a job, when they’ve held it for a month, and again at the end of three months. For a participant who loses a job and repeats the program, Maximus may receive as much as $11,000, on top of what they are paid to run the program.” The company makes money off the same poor people over and over, by keeping them on a “welfare-to-work” merry-go-round that they can never get off. This is what constitutional rights for corporations has wrought.
- If welfare can be privatized, why not the General Assembly of Ohio? Another speaker explained how that works: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a “nationwide organization bankrolled by hundreds of corporate members to influence legislators.” But why stop at influencing, when you can just write precisely the legislation you want? In its “model legislation” on a wide variety of issues, ALEC thoughtfully leaves blanks to fill in the name of the state wherever needed. Of course, actual legislators are subject to sunshine laws, but ALEC, being a private nonprofit corporation, conveniently claims 4th Amendment privacy rights. ALEC has recently been busy helping states across the country pass “model” legislation to preempt cities from enacting laws that certain ALEC member corporations deem unprofitable. The Ohio General Assembly has passed ALEC authored statutes ending Ohio cities’ abilities under home rule to: place limits on predatory lending; outlaw or regulate fracking; regulate possession of guns, cell towers, puppy mills or the use of pesticides on private property; enact minimum wage laws or paid leave provisions; ban single-use plastic bags; or allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. It’s nothing less than the outsourcing of state government to a private corporation.
Other testimony addressing issues vital to democracy in Cleveland Heights, the state of Ohio, and the United States of America included:
- History of Juneteenth
- The Ever-Expanding US Military Budget
- US “Healthcare”
- Ohio Issue 1
- The Need for Expanded, Improved Medicare for All
- East Palestine Derailment
- Anti-Public Education Bills Currently in the Ohio Legislature
- Common Sense Gun Laws (Is It Time Yet?)
- Celebrating a Non-Corporate Juneteenth
- Is Factory-Farmed Salmon Healthy for Us?
- HB-6: the Corruption Never Ends
- Change the Laws – Change the Culture
- How Charter Schools Hurt Public Education
At the conclusion of the hearing, several members of council thanked the speakers for their dedication to democracy, remarking on the variety and quality of their remarks
The entire public hearing may be viewed on YouTube: Cleveland Heights Democracy Day June 7, 2023.
Carla Rautenberg and Greg Coleridge, for Cleveland East Move to Amend, 6/13/2023