Brooklyn Public Library’s crowdsourced ’28th Amendment’ calls for more democracy

28th Amendment March 5
A participant at a March 5 town hall event holds a copy of the Constitution.
Photo by Gregg Richards

It’s by the people, for the people!

Brooklyn Public Library released a crowdsourced proposal for a new amendment to the United States Constitution on Saturday, which aims to make the country more democratic and guarantee human rights.

The borough’s book lender partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union to hold dozens of town hall sessions in the last seven months — most of them virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic — to craft the first addition to the founding document in almost three decades, according to the project organizer.

“The fact that hundreds of people came and many kept coming back to town hall meetings to think about our lives and democracy — this fact itself is so moving,” said Jakab Laszlo Orsos, the library’s vice president of arts and culture. 

Bookworms on Oct. 17 unveiled the proposed 28th Amendment, which calls for the abolition of the Electoral College and instead allowing presidents to be elected by popular vote, reallocating senate seats to reflect population like the House of Representatives, make Election Day a national holiday, and publicly finance elections.

The purely symbolic addendum to the 233-year-old text would also grant the same electoral rights that states have to US territories and the District of Columbia, and guarantee that the right to vote shall not be restricted for any citizen of voting age.

“It’s a major change in our electoral system, meaning our democracy,” Orsos said. “It’s really furthering the notion of democracy, it came from hundreds of people from Brooklyn and beyond.”

The document — which Orsos and his team dubbed the “Brooklyn Amendment” — further states that Congress shall enact laws to secure all rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including a right to education, housing, healthcare food security, and a clean and healthy environment, which would “restore dignity” to Americans, according to Orsos.

Library leaders dropped the manifesto less than three weeks before the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 3 and four years after Republican nominee Donald Trump won with the Electoral College, despite his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton gaining almost three million more ballots in the popular vote.

The Constitution was last amended 1992, when the 27th Amendment regulated wage changes for members of Congress, and Orsos previously argued it was long overdue for an update to adapt to technological and societal changes in the last 28 years.

The Constitutional suggestions come from 32 public input session the library hosted since March which four experts — dubbed “Framers” — distilled into a legal document.

The panel included constitutional law scholar and president of the ACLU, Susan Herman; Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a co-founder of Higher Heights, a group dedicated to expanding Black women’s elected representation and voting; Anand Giridharadas, an author and former New York Times columnist; and environmental journalist and author Nathaniel Rich.

The library’s brainstorming sessions — which kicked off in-person at branches in early March before pivoting to Zoom due to the viral outbreak — touched on a laundry list of other topical issues, such as providing universal healthcare amid the COVID-19 outbreak and rebuilding a reformed and more accountable criminal justice system following the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Note-takers captured the discussions and activists Brian Tate and Craig Manbauman summarized them into a narrative released Saturday with the amendments.

The recap includes many more progressive policy proposals that Brooklynites suggested, such as automatic voter registration at birth, universal basic income, democratizing workplaces, nuclear disarmament, and barring practices and laws that destroy the environment.

The library plans to send the document to elected officials in the coming weeks, according to Orsos. 

“Hopefully you will consider it, the Brooklyn Amendment,” he said.