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Democracy Movement Takes a Message to Senator Ayotte

NASHUA, NH — The “Democracy for All Amendment” failed on a procedural vote today in the US Senate, but not before a dozen New Hampshire activists made one more attempt to get Senator Kelly Ayotte to support overturning the US Supreme P9110119Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

“Corporations are not people.  They should not control our political process,” Representative Sylvia Gale of Nashua said to the group assembled at City Hall Plaza at 9 am this morning.

The group was small, but they are part of a large movement of people concerned that “corporate people” and the wealthiest Americans have the legal ability to drown out competing voices in the political process.

“I don’t have a lot of money and I want my voice to be heard,” explained Fred Robinson, who drove to Nashua from Goffstown to participate.   

“Democracy should work for people,” offered Dr. Thabile Mnisi-Misibi, an ANC member visiting from South Africa.

The contingent of 13 people walked with signs and chants througP9110155h the downtown district to the Senator’s office.  There, they delivered a petition with 12,000 New Hampshire names calling on Senator Ayotte to support the constitutional change.   

“This is an issue for all of New Hampshire, and Senator Ayotte needs to get involved,” said Dan Weeks of the Coalition for Open Democracy, the group which led the organizing of today’s action.

Weeks handed the petitions and supporting material to Simon Thomson, an aide to Senator Ayotte, who met the group on the sidewalk outside her office.

Dan Weeks presenting petitions to Simon Thomson.

A similar action took place last week at Senator Ayotte’s Portsmouth office.

Ayotte voted Monday for a motion that allowed consideration of the amendment to go forward, but today joined her GOP colleagues voting against ending debate, thereby blocking the measure from an up or down vote on its merits.   New Hampshire’s other Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, was a co-sponsor of the amendment proposal.

The notion that the Supreme Court believes corporations are people, that money is speech, and that therefore corporations can spend without limits to affect election campaigns has provoked a reaction expressed through petitions, resolutions, and proposals for constitutional change.  SJ Resolution 19, the proposal defeated today in the P9110141US Senate, is just one of a couple dozen advanced by members of Congress in response to Citizens United.  Some groups, such as Move To Amend, have made it clear they think it doesn’t go far enough to reverse corporate constitutional rights.  But it was the only proposal likely to get considered in the foreseeable future, so many groups calling for constitutional change were on board. 

Writing in his blog at The Nation earlier this week, John Nichols said:

The amendment that is being considered is a consequential, if relatively constrained, proposal, which focuses on core money in political concerns but which does not go as far as many Americans would like when it comes to establishing that money is not speech, corporations are not people and elections should not be up for sale to the highest bidder.

Yet it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the debate that will unfold this week. The debate signals that a grassroots movement has established the rational response to a political crisis created by US Supreme Court rulings (including, but certainly not exclusively, the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions) that have opened the floodgates for domination of political debates by billionaire campaign donors and corporate cash.

No one expected the amendment to get the two-thirds vote it would need to pass or get a vote at all in John Boehner’s House of Representatives.   But the fact that any vote took place is evidence of a significant expression oP9110133f public sentiment that the“Citizens United” decision did serious damage to fundamental issues.  The questions now are whether the movement will grow or fizzle, and whether the pro-amendment groups will intensify their demands for more aggressive language or head down the familiar road of further compromise.  A decision to water down the language in hopes of gaining votes at this point would be a huge mistake.

“Constitutional amendments become viable when support for them grows so overwhelming that traditional partisan and ideological boundaries are broken,” wrote Nichols, who will speak at an AFSC dinner in Concord on September 27.  “When this happens, the divide becomes less a matter of Republican versus Democrat or left versus right and more a matter of a broken present versus a functional future.”

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More than a hundred immigrants rights supporters rallied today at Nashua City Hall  and marched to the offices of Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen to call for reforms centered on a clear and direct path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the USA. 

Rally speakers included Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees; the Rev. Tom Woodward of the Granite State Organizing Project; Juan Zamudio, a student at Derryfield School in Manchester; Marisol Saavedra, a Nashua student; and Carols Escobar of SEIU  nashua 4-6-13 040crop Local 615.

In many years of working across the US, I saw time and time again bosses use the broken immigration system to mistreat, intimidate, underpay and over work undocumented workers,” said Escobar, an Ecuadoran immigrant who works as a janitor in Nashua. 

“When employers pay lower wages to some workers, all workers are affected and standards are lowered for everyone,” the Local 615 member added.

Participants included union members, faith community leaders, and otnashua 4-6-13 014cropher social justice activists adding their bodies and voices to the movement calling on Congress to act now for humane immigration policies. 

Following the brief rally, the crowd marched north into Nashua’s downtown shopping district and crossed over to the east side of the road by the office of Senator Kelly Ayotte.  There, they taped a giant letter to the window, where marchers added their signatures to a statement calling for commonsense immigration reform that fosters unity.

nashua 4-6-13 031 “The time for action is long overdue and there is bipartisan agreement on moving forward,” the statement said.  “A reform package that includes a path to citizenship makes economic sense and is true to our ideals as a nation.  Taking action now makes sense politically, as well, since the American public supports immigration reform.”

Marchers continued northward to Senator Shaheen’s office where another letter was taped to the window for signatures. 

The program concluded with a statement from Germano Martins, a member of the State Employees Association (SEIU Local 1984) followed by a prayer led by the Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ.  nashua 4-6-13 109

The organizing committee included SEIU Locals 615 and 1984, the NH AFL-CIO, NH Civil Liberties Union, Lutheran Social Services, the Granite State Organizing Project, the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, the United Church of Christ Immigration Working Group, and the American Friends Service Committee.

Another rally will take place at State House Plaza in Concord at noon on Wednesday, May 1.

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More than one hundred people, many of them local immigrants, rallied at Nashua City Hall yesterday to demand an end to immigrant deportations and an end to cooperation between the Nashua Police and the federal agents who enforce immigration laws.

5-2-11 Nashua 015 The event followed reports that local police have been tipping off Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about immigrants who were expected to appear at District Court for traffic violations. After meeting with Nashua residents, the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees and the AFSC decided to hold their annual May Day rally in Nashua instead of Manchester.

A recent Nashua Telegraph article described the detention of Juan Valdez, who was picked by ICE in March after he went to court on a charge of driving without a license.  The 19-year old is now at risk of being deported to Mexico, which he left when he was five years old.

Eva Castillo, organizer for the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, served as

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emcee and led the group in chants.  She was joined at the stage by Olmer Villavicencio, an Ecuadoran immigrant who distributed hundreds of flye5-2-11 Nashua 028rs at churches and stores in the preceding two weeks and deserves much of the credit for the turnout.  Olmer’s 10-year old daughter, Joselyn, in her first public speech, criticized deportations for separating families. “There are many people who are trying to work, and then when they get here they get arrested because they don’t have any papers,” she said. 

Other speakers included Alejandro Urrutia and Enrique Mesa, both members of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs. Rev. Yolanda Martinez ,

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Sister May Cronin, and Sister Sara also delivered impassioned speeches grounded in religious traditions and principles.  Jean Serino, of Hudson, read a letter about the personal impact of deportation. 

5-2-11 Nashua 055 Maggie Fogarty, who directs the AFSC’s New Hampshire Economic Justice Project, was the final speaker. Recalling the warm welcome her family received when they lived in Bolivia for several years, she said “I want newcomers in Nashua, in Manchester and Dover, to be greeted with a smile and warm embrace. I want us to learn what newcomers have to teach us about family and faith and living on this earth.”

Rallies for immigrants’ rights have been held in recent years on May 1, which is known as Labor Day or Workers Day throughout most of the world. This was the first such rally in Nashua since 2006.

A demonstration did take place in Nashua in September 2010, when Maricopajust say no County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio visited the city for a political fundraising event, but most participants were from out of town. Yesterday’s rally, by contrast, was mostly residents of Nashua, which now has the largest immigrant and Latino populations in the state.

Members of the community are already talking about holding meetings to learn about their rights and to get better organized.

The rally was attended by several members of the Sisters of Mercy, activists from the Granite State Organizing Project, and members of the local Democratic Party. 

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The rally was covered in today’s Nashua Telegraph.

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