On October 17, BPL released our 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on behalf of the people of Brooklyn. Over the spring and summer, BPL gathered participants in online town halls to deliberate and exchange ideas on how to strengthen our country and its founding document.
At every town hall, moderators posed the same three questions to spark conversation:
I. What protections, ideas, or language would you like to see included in the Constitution?
II. In this present moment of the coronavirus, when so much has been so swiftly and fundamentally changed, what new protections would you like to see included in the Constitution?
III. Whoever wins the upcoming presidential election will face a United States that is charged, challenged, and changed in ways it has not been before. What new Constitutional amendment would you want that president to heed?
Notetakers captured ideas from those conversations, and from their notes the town hall moderators and our Constitutional Framers created a two-part document of radical proportion that sets forth the People’s response to the pressing needs of our time.
Part One is a legal proposal for a 28th Amendment drafted by the Framers: Anand Giridharadas, Susan Herman, Kimberly Peeler-Allen and Nathaniel Rich. Part Two is a narrative summary that seeks to capture the voices of the People who participated in this project. It was crafted by moderators Brian Tate and Craig Manbauman.
THE 28TH AMENDMENT
Whereas the government of the United States should represent all of the people of the United States equally,
Section 1. The Electoral College shall be abolished and the President selected by popular vote; Senate membership shall be reallocated to reflect more accurately the distribution of the national population, with a minimum of one seat per state; Election Day shall be a national holiday; elections shall be publicly financed. All citizens of the United States, including those living in its territories and the District of Columbia, shall have the same electoral rights and representation as residents of a State; all citizens of voting age shall have the unencumbered right to vote in federal, state, and local elections. Congress shall have the power and obligation to enforce these provisions by appropriate legislation.
Section 2. In recognition of the inherent dignity of all persons, Congress shall have the power and obligation to enact appropriate legislation to secure all rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to education, healthcare, housing, employment, food security, and a clean and healthy environment.
NARRATIVE TEXT OF THE 28TH AMENDMENT
BPL kept detailed notes of participants' ideas at each 28th Amendment town hall. The following is the edited, narrative text using verbatim quotes from the participants. This text and the notes are the sole sources of the suggested 28th amendment.
Section 1. POLITICAL AND PRESIDENTIAL REFORM
We must protect our Constitution from itself. So, when parts of it are failing, we scrap it and try again. Our Constitution needs to be reviewed every five years. Everything we amend must be clear so that it works the way it is supposed to.
The Electoral College no longer reflects the will of the People: institute a popular vote and allow ranked-choice voting. We need an immediate end to all forms of voter suppression. Implement automatic voter registration at birth, legalize mail-in and electronic voting, restore the voting rights of incarcerated and previously incarcerated People convicted of felonies, and lower the voting age to 16. Link voter turn-out by state to federal aid, so that states with lower voter turn-out receive less aid. Decree election day to be a federal holiday to incentivize voter turnout.
Private interests purchase campaigns: this corrupts representation. We need campaign finance reform. The Citizens United ruling must be overturned; we reclaim the idea that only People are capable of speech. Establish a citizen’s allowance for political contributions, where we allocate our shares to candidates of our choice.
Our citizens of U.S. territories and D.C. are entitled to representation. Make all representation proportional to population. Young People need political outlets: we too, are citizens. We deserve to be included in governmental decision-making that will impact us. Our insights can offer clarity where there is controversy. Too many of our representatives are too old to represent us. We need diversity of age in our electorate and elected officials. Lower the minimum age to run for Congress and for President.
We must close the revolving door between politics and the lobby industry. Gerrymandering must be abolished. Ban elected officials from investing to prevent conflicts of interest. We need congressional term limits. Every Senator must publicly present their reasoning for voting on a bill to the People who are directly impacted by it.
Establish a 4th branch of government--a Citizens’ Assembly--with the power to make law. We need a 3rd party that can truly represent the middle class. Instead of speaking for their parties, elected officials must speak for the People first.
The president is the People’s employee, not some rarified deity. A president shouldn’t be above us, but someone who stands beside us. We deserve a president who is competent and who will follow through on their promises. They must be a teacher, a leader, and role model for the world. Americans need a president that represents all of us. We need a president who sees the humanity in People and shall always place the People over profit. We want a president who thinks about everyone in the country as family, because if you are our president, America is your family.
Section 2. THE INSTITUTION OF EQUAL RIGHTS
Violence based on identity is a hate-crime. Federal laws must protect us from discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, in all aspects of life. We pronounce our right to body sanctity: our right to be safe in our own skin.
Our natural rights must be guaranteed by our Constitution. Every state must establish protections against hate crimes. There are LGBTQ children who are abandoned by their parents because of their sexual identities: we must support and defend them. People need opportunities to learn about each other – and understand that different does not mean deficient.
The idea that men are making decisions about what women can do with their bodies needs to stop. Women have the authority to decide what to do with their bodies. Our Constitution must explicitly accord equal recognition and protections for women. America can start by removing taxes on feminine hygiene products and reversing all the revocations of women’s rights to abortions.
White supremacy must be outlawed in all its forms, because it's not just supremacy over People, but supremacy over morality, science, medicine, and facts. In this philosophy, there’s no need to think-- only to act.
Indigenous Americans want a just return of the land, not an apology. The U.S. government’s treaties have not been updated for more than a century. We must hold the United States accountable for the promises made over our history. America owes reparations to Indigenous People and the descendants of enslaved Africans. Until that debt is paid, taxes on Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color should be a hate crime. We need an Amendment that will rebuild Black communities. America needs a revolution of truth and reconciliation about our nation’s history.
Section 4. LABOR REFORM
We need to protect the idea of living. To create real democracy in our country, democratize the workplace. Put workers on the boards of corporations and strengthen unions to protect their rights.
Bring back American self-sufficiency: we need jobs and manufacturing. Pay living wages, and tie the salary of the highest paid employee to the lowest paid employee. Essential workers deserve bonuses for their service during the pandemic.
Entrepreneurs need greater support in starting up small businesses: make loans more accessible to them. We must enable small businesses to thrive; let them take the lead in our economy.
Section 5. UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE
Healthcare is part of the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to be healthy, regardless of employment. When health insurance is tied to our jobs, it isn’t sufficient. Waiving all medical debt is sufficient. Universal healthcare is sufficient.
Preventative medicine needs to be included in this concept. Put a cap on fast foods outlets and make healthy foods accessible and cheap. Vaccines should be free.
We want more than illness intervention, it’s time for a wellness infrastructure. Shift to community-based healthcare for citizens and noncitizens alike. Build up neighborhood hospitals and wellness centers. Create checks and balances so that everyone, regardless of age, is given the same right to live. We can’t allow older people to die simply because they are older. We need healthcare advocates for the elderly and everyone else.
We have awakened to an age of worldwide medical crises. When there is a pandemic, the president must empower a leader to marshal forces to get to work solving that pandemic. The laws of survival must become our permanent compass: follow the science, counter the spread of misinformation, help people without discrimination.
Section 6. LEGAL AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM REFORM
Our People go to prisons to become better prisoners. This must end. We need restorative justice. Eliminate prison pipelines and the prison-industrial complex. Prisons must rehabilitate, not carry out revenge. Cancel pretrial detention. End cruel and unusual punishments in prison. Abolish the death penalty; something so irreversible shouldn’t be legal: taking a life is never the solution. We must dismantle these static slave ships and revise the 13th Amendment to uphold prisoner rights, safety, and human dignity.
Policing is ass backwards. America must rebuild its entire police force so that it is no longer the enemy. We demand an immediate end to police brutality and the murdering of black people. Qualified immunity is entirely unconstitutional. The law must hold police officers accountable when they inflict harm. America cannot continue to tolerate a society that still resorts to violence as a first course of action to solve a problem. We must draft rules of engagement for all police, wherein violence is the last option. People deserve a police force that will actually protect and serve.
Americans are tired of rich people buying their way out of jail. We must eliminate the inequalities between rich and poor in our legal system. Stop putting kids in cages for doing graffiti and smoking weed. Reaffirm the 8th Amendment’s protection against excessive fines so that it accounts for income inequality. We shall establish a national popular referendum to adopt amendments to our Constitution. It is time we change the number of Justices in the Supreme Court. We must terminate civil asset forfeiture. The People need access to free legal services not only to defend themselves but also to inform the revolution.
Section 7. REGULATORY REFORM
The economy... is tilted against the vulnerable. Private interests should be removed from public policy, around firearms and fraud and everything else.
The prohibition against search and seizure should be broadened to prevent the seizure of people’s labor and environmental health. That is where we need regulation, that is where we need reform: not for nonessential trades like braiding hair or arranging cut flowers, but for corporate plunder that puts our lives at risk. We must create new systems that will protect our most valuable resource: each other.
We must stop the insane amount of gun violence in the United States. No more school shootings. No more AR-15s in cities and towns. Military weapons should not be in the hands of people who are not military. Civilians should have only limited access to semiautomatic weapons, for self-defense and home defense, that’s it. We need tighter restrictions around gun ownership and more training for gun buyers. We need a better understanding of how and why people are getting guns.
Section 8: EDUCATION REFORM
A college degree should be as accessible as a gun permit. Equal protection is good but we need equal access to a quality education. Everyone has a right to literacy. The rage of the protesters comes from a lifetime of struggle for adequate resources and education withheld because of the color of their skin.
We are cherry picking people to succeed and that’s not right. Suppose everyone had education at their fingertips. A first-rate public education, without the price tags and massive debt. Make college affordable or free. Put an expiration date on student loan debt or wipe it out. Bring back vocational training for anyone who wants to learn a trade.
What if the government met its obligation to educate all its people? What if we offered civics classes in public schools to normalize the idea of participating in government? Could we form the perfect feedback loop? Could we make it easier for citizens to learn the system and then take it into their hands? What if we institutionalized multilingualism and cross-cultural knowledge? Could we create a society that embraces difference, that doesn’t turn to violence as the first course of action? A country that looks instead to education to solve its problems?
Section 9. IMMIGRATION REFORM
Grant immigrants the right to run for President. We are each of us human beings, not aliens.
The government must guarantee constitutional protections for everyone, because protecting humanity matters. America should be more considerate. We must be a more welcoming country and make it easier to get in legally. Much of what is great about the United States comes from immigrants. Make America the country it ought to be.
Section 10. GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP & EARTH STEWARDSHIP
We must meet global crises with international cooperation. Not isolationism. Not war. When we wage war under false pretenses, the people responsible should be prosecuted.
We demand nuclear disarmament. We renounce weapons of war. We propose a foreign policy that enshrines the principle, First Do No Harm. Given America’s history of interference around the world, international citizens should be protected by the U.S. Constitution. We must evaluate events on the world stage in terms of global humanity. No one should be allowed to take positions that harm humanity.
We are disinterested in the cycle of delay. America is one of only three nations that have not signed the Universal Rights of the Child: we are past due to sign it. The Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization have moved on without us: we must rejoin them. We reject this insistence on America first and last and alone at all times. That is the calculus of suffocation and we intend to breathe. We are wed to a simpler equation: if a policy creates a barrier to clean air, clean water, or healthy food, it must be eliminated. If it does harm to the environment, it can’t be allowed to exist. Our vow is to enrich the people and protect the earth, in perpetuity.