A century ago in 1914, the United States Senate voted 35-34 in support of a Constitutional Amendment to right an historical wrong and stop denying half our population a voice in politics. A few months later, the measure died in the House. But the vote resounded.
Five years later, as America emerged from World War I, Congress took up the measure once again. In short order, the House and Senate approved and the states ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For the first time in our history, women universally had the right to vote.
We've come a long way since then. Thanks to the Women's Suffrage and Civil Rights movements, most women and people of color are no longer legally barred from casting ballots. New Hampshire, in particular, can be proud. As of 2012, our governor and all four members of our congressional delegation are women-a first among the fifty states. And turnout among women now exceeds that of men.
But having the right to vote does not guarantee your voice will be heard in our democracy. Long before American citizens go to the polls, there is a "money primary" where money effectively determines who will run for office.
This primary, like the "whites only" primaries of yore, is not open to you or me. For the vast majority of Americans who lack the financial means to invest in political campaigns, the money primary is out of reach and out of mind. It is the preserve of the fraction of one percent of citizens who provide the lion's share of campaign cash. Nine times out of ten, the candidate who raises the most money goes on to win the election.
Making matters worse, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has repeatedly struck down decades' worth of campaign finance regulations shielding our public servants from the undue influence of special interest money. When the Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations and unions could spend without limit on elections, they were not acting to uphold the First Amendment, which every American holds dear. They were subjecting our sacred free speech rights to the almighty dollar.
Now, we are faced with another turning point in history. This week, at least fifty U.S. Senators will vote in support for Senate Joint Resolution 19, the "Democracy for All" Amendment to overturn Citizens United and ensure that all citizens have the right to make their voices heard in politics.
Who will be the fifty-first?
Like the fight for women's suffrage and Civil Rights, this movement to ensure an open and accountable democracy will not be quick or easy. A simple majority of Senators will not suffice to pass a Constitutional Amendment and the House of Representatives is all but certain to stand by. But like the Senate vote for women's suffrage a century ago, this week's vote is sure to resound.
Already, millions of citizens have signed petitions asking their senators to support a Constitutional Amendment. Hundreds of cities and towns across the country have passed resolutions calling on Congress to overturn Citizens United. Sixteen state legislatures have also followed suit.
And in my home state of New Hampshire, thousands of citizens have taken to the streets in the tradition of Doris "Granny D" Haddock by walking hundreds of miles across the state this January and July to declare their independence from special interests, as part of the NH Rebellion.
The American people understand that politics should not be the preserve of men alone, of whites alone, or of a wealthy few. It is only a matter of time before we will overturn Citizens United. I urge all senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, to hasten history and vote in support of a Constitutional Amendment this week. Our democratic rights as a free people are at stake.
For more of Daniel's writings on democracy and poverty in America, visit www.PoorIndemocracy.org