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Group brings effort to amend the Constitution to Duluth

Scott Bol (right) of Duluth waves to traffic as he and other supporters of the Move To Amend group hold a protest banner above Interstate 35 on Monday afternoon from atop the Fifth Avenue West overpass. From left are Tom Starkey, Klay Longstreet and Dana Rossing. (Bob King /

Throughout American history, there have been more than 11,500 proposed amendments to the United States Constitution, including successes like the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery, the right of women to vote and the establishment, and subsequent repeal, of Prohibition.

Those successful and landmark amendments tend to diminish the fact that thousands of proposals fail. Esko’s Virgil Boehland understands.

“It requires a mega-effort,” he said.  

With that in mind, the Move To Amend’s barnstorming tour arrived in Duluth this week. Boehland and others started the festivities by hanging a protest banner across Interstate 35 in Duluth during the lunch hour Monday.

Tonight, the group’s Texas-based founder, David Cobb, will speak at First United Methodist Church at 7. Cobb is the leader in the group’s uphill fight to amend the Constitution that Cobb said would “abolish the principle that corporations have citizens’ rights and that money buys free speech.”

“We know it’s hard,” Cobb said after he arrived in Duluth on Monday. “But we have to do this.”

“This” refers to the group’s desire to counteract recent Supreme Court decisions that further acknowledge corporations’ rights as people. The court recently has protected the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby. It preserved free speech of corporations with its Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings earlier this decade that had the cumulative effect of striking down longtime limits on corporate political spending.

To hear Cobb tell it, things have gone far enough. He believes corporations are stealing democracy from the people.

“We can accept it, hope the court changes its mind, or change the Constitution,” he said.

Boehland is a 35-year veteran retired Proctor teacher, who now takes therapy dogs to people who benefit from them. He was attracted to Move To Amend because he fears recent decisions will only make it easier for corporations to hold more sway than voters.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “It’s the abuse of power that’s changing things.”

Cobb agreed, wondering aloud if any law, including workers’ safety and environmental protection laws, are next to be compromised by a broader interpretation of corporate personhood.  

While a hot button issue of late, corporate personhood dates back to the 1880s. It allows for corporations to do things like own land and file lawsuits.

Still, it’s the recent court rulings that have Move To Amend trying to gain traction. Cobb said his message is a universal one that is attracting people from across parties and ideologies.

“We’ve taken this message into liberal places, conservative places,” he said. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a principle about how the government is supposed to operate.”

Duluth made history in 2011 when it became the first city in the state to pass a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment that would essentially overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Cobb said 600 such resolutions have passed in cities and states, both red and blue.

“In every place we’ve been on the ballot,” Cobb said, “we’ve won.”

After retirement from teaching, Boehland said he was looking for a cause.

“I looked around at global climate change,” said the former earth science teacher.

“But this influences everything. The message is delivered by the people with the most money,” Boehland said.

If you go What: “Overrule the Court” with David Cobb

Where: First United Methodist Church, 230 E. Skyline Parkway, Duluth

When: 7 p.m. today