by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy
On this day 230 years ago, our founding fathers signed the Constitution. 230 years later, we continue to both uphold and improve that living document.
This year, Virginia paved the way to amend our Constitution for the 28th time when it became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantees equality for women. On this Constitution Day, I’m celebrating this momentous accomplishment — this document that makes it possible to ensure our civil rights, and the citizen activism that makes our Union more perfect.
Citizen activism has consistently driven crucial and fundamental changes in our nation’s history. Over the past 200 years, the grit and determination of our citizens have expanded the rights of our democracy.
The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments corrected the notorious Dred Scott decision that locked in slavery and oppression as constitutional law. The 17th Amendment created the popular election of U.S. Senators. The 24th amendment abolished the poll tax, and in 1971. The 26th amendment lowered the voting age to 18. The citizen activism our Constitution allows has advanced the ultimate promise of our nation – equal representation for all. The ratification of the ERA in Virginia is just the most recent example of the role citizens play in ensuring our civil rights.
While this day is certainly an excellent time to applaud our achievements as a nation, it is duly important to recognize that there is more work to be done. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed what was just beneath the surface: In the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, in one of the wealthiest states in the country, working families don’t have what they need to thrive. Our country is being challenged on nearly every front: systemic racism, environmental degradation, unequal access to quality healthcare and economic opportunity, gender and pay inequities, and even universal suffrage.
In 1776 we fought and won a war against tyranny and non-representation. Today our rights to representation are challenged by the megaphone of corporate money and lobbyist influence that drowns out the priorities of our citizens. Private interests often determine our public policies through big business pay-to-play practices. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case continued a longtime history of curtailing the right of citizens to equal representation.
The Constitution recognizes We the People and protects the fundamental rights of citizens, not corporations. Equal representation demands that voices, the free speech of the citizenry is lifted first and foremost. Virginia should join 20 states representing 146 million Americans in passing resolutions pressuring Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United.
We can’t wait for problems to be solved — the time for action is now. As leaders, we should go by the example of the citizen activism that has historically led to such meaningful change in our country and Constitution — we should be willing to solve problems, not apply band-aids that get us from one crisis to the next.
The first convening of a legislative body ignited our nation’s democratic principles and our search for a more perfect union, right here in our Commonwealth of Virginia. In recognition of the threat that special interests pose to our government in preventing meaningful legislation from being enacted on issues we care about, and in honor of the citizen activism that has upheld the promise of our Constitution by, of and for the people, I call on my colleagues to take action. It’s our Constitutional duty to do so.