Proving that there still is such a thing as a citizen initiative, the staff and volunteers of the Washington Coalition to Amend the Constitution (WAmend) today made the happy trek to Washington’s capital city of Olympia to submit hundreds of thousands of signatures for Initiative 735, which would formally put the Evergreen State on record as calling for a federal constitutional amendment to end the legal fiction that corporations are people and money is speech.
Sponsored by Norm Conrad, Initiative 735 is an initiative to the 2016 Washington State Legislature. If Secretary of State Kim Wyman certifies it, as expected, it will go before the House and Senate for consideration this winter. If the House and Senate ignore it and fail to enact it into law, it will automatically appear on the November 2016 ballot for the people to decide. (The House and Senate also have the option of sending it to the November 2016 ballot with an alternative.)
Statewide initiatives, whether to the Legislature or to the people, require at least 246,372 valid signatures to qualify (equivalent to 8% of the people who voted in the last election for governor). The Secretary of State recommends that campaigns submit at least 320,000 signatures to offset duplicate and invalid signatures.
WAmend and its partner Fix Democracy First for I-735 submitted more than 325,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Elections Annex this afternoon, with dozens of volunteers on hand to celebrate, so I-735 will almost certainly make it, which is fantastic news. The deadline for submission of signatures for an initiative to the people is tomorrow, New Year’s Eve, at the close of business (5 PM).
The vast majority of the signatures collected for I-735 (over 280,000 of the 325,000+ submitted, to be precise) were gathered by volunteer petitioners, which is pretty much unheard of in this day and age.
As Cascadia Advocate readers know, Tim Eyman gets on the ballot nearly every year because he has wealthy benefactors who supply him with megabucks so he can purchase a vote on a scheme of his choosing. Eyman operates as a mouthpiece for these wealthy individuals, though he falsely masquerades as a fighter for the little guy at the media events he stages. He’s always the star of his own show.
WAmend didn’t have the checkbooks of hedge fund managers and real estate developers at its disposal, but what it did have was a corps of determined, motivated activists who believe that democracy belongs to We the People.
That was evident from today’s turn-in event at the Secretary of State’s office, which featured a large group of activists representing the many Washingtonians who circulated petitions. You could tell from observing the scene that this was a true people-powered signature drive that took a lot of grit and persistence to pull off.
WAmend did raise money to pay staff to oversee its signature drive, but as mentioned, most of its signatures were collected by volunteers.
NPI Advisory Council member Steve Zemke, a veteran of many past initiative campaigns, served as WAmend’s State Field Director, working with WAmend’s statewide officers and county coordinators to keep the campaign on track and in regular communication with I-735 supporters and signature gatherers.
The WAmend Honor Roll lists the campaign’s most productive volunteers. Topping the list is Linda Bock, who singlehandedly gathered some 21,000 signatures on over a thousand petition sheets. Now that’s dedication.
Sixth on the list is WAmend Campaign Chair Diane Jones, a devoted friend and supporter of the Northwest Progressive Institute, who herself gathered more than 5,000 signatures over the course of the last ten months. Jones headlined the press conference outside the Secretary of State’s Elections Annex.
“Our government should not be for sale,” Jones said in a statement celebrating the successful completion of the I-735 signature drive. “The flood of money into elections frustrates the rights of ninety-nine percent of citizens.”
Jones and fellow grassroots leaders like WAmend Secretary Cindy Black had previously been involved in trying to qualify I-1329 as an initiative to the people in 2014. Though they came up short, to their credit, they resolved to try again, and committed to laying the early groundwork needed to win on a second attempt.
We happily pledged our support when asked, and recommended that they bring Steve Zemke aboard to plan and execute the signature drive. Thankfully, they did, and today, many months of thoughtful planning and hard work paid off with the submission of hundreds of thousands of signatures for I-735.
Though passage of I-735 will not, by itself, bring about the federal constitutional amendment we need to reclaim our democracy, it does move us closer to the goalposts. This is a marathon, not a sprint, to use an old running adage.
In The Lorax, one of my favorite books growing up, Dr. Seuss reminds us that we must be the change we want to see in the world. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
As activists and concerned citizens, we have a choice. We can whine and complain, or we can work for change. We at NPI believe in the latter. Effective activism has always been part of our ethos. It has been our pleasure to provide support and assistance to WAmend over the past year, and we’re looking forward to participating in the campaign to pass I-735 in 2016. Onwards, and congratulations to everyone who made this great day possible. We made it!