What To Do In Our Crazy Life? Attend Democracy School By Dave Ratcliffe Last year I attended a three-day course of the Daniel Pennock Democracy School, known as “Democracy School” and presented by Thomas Linzey and Richard Grossman, founder and cofounder, respectively, of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD). Democracy School explores why democratic self-government is impossible when corporations assert their “constitutional rights” against those of individual citizens and their communities. Our group learned how processes being developed in rural Pennsylvania are empowering local communities to assert their own inborn sovereignty. We learned we can create the type of ferment that people before us created when they organized to abolish slavery and give women the rights all must have if any are to be truly free. Over 200 years ago in eastern North America landed settlers understood what they were facing in the form of the earliest large, continent-spanning corporations, as passages in The Alarm, written by The Sons of Liberty in 1773, demonstrate: It was fully proved to you in my first Number, That the East-India Company obtained their exclusive Privilege of Trade to that Country, by Bribery and Corruption. Wonder not then, that Power thus obtained, at the Expence of the national Commerce, should be used to the most tyrannical and cruel Purposes.... The Poverty of the Nation by these corrupt Means, forced venal Ministers to be regardless of the Ways and Means to support their Creatures. To support these Creatures, the Stamp, and Revenue Acts originated; Acts pregnant with Chains, and the Loss of all that's dear to these Colonies.... Tea must be sent to the Colonies, the Profit of which is to support the Tyranny of the Last in the East, enslave the West, and prepare us fit Victims for the Exercise of that horrid Inhumanity they have in such dread Abundance, and with more than Savage Cruelty, practised, in the Face of the Sun, on the helpless Asiaticks. The origins of Democracy School grew out of the tragic deaths of two Pennsylvanian youths exposed to urban sewage sludge spread on local farmlands, actions sanctioned by state regulatory environmental law. Thomas Linzey described how the system of regulatory law, put into place in the last century, has served to strip away democratic authority from communities and their local governments: Movements seek to drive rights into the Constitution. At this point communities, towns, rivers, streams, [animals and plants] don't have rights. When we regulate, we assume the role of regulator. When you regulate something you automatically allow it in. That's what regulating is. You regulate an on-going activity or an on-going facility.... What we find when we start looking at history, when we start looking at the 200 years of organizing in this country and the rise of corporate rights, is that other people and other communities that went before us have rejected the regulatory approach. They're rejected being faced with the prospect of causing a little less harm or doing nothing.... They've seized on the larger issues….on equal protection and Bunker Hill and the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights ... as their organizing ground rather than ceding the fact that all they could do was cause a little less harm…. In our organizing… we define the problem as corporate rights ... the issue here is about people, about re-learning this rich history that we have and standing in the shoes of the folks that went before us to transform what would otherwise be single issues into issues about rights. CELDF has found that a key to successful resistance to corporate harms being perpetrated in a community is to reframe a single issue like exposure to toxics or a quarry operation or creation of factory hog farms, and focus on the rights corporations have been “found” to have by the United States Judiciary, ever since Reconstruction. This work requires both experiential knowledge of how our system of governance actually works and knowledge about how people's rights movements have worked in the past. Solutions or options to a typically hopeless regulatory situation in a jeopardized community open up when the situation is reframed by learning how corporations have come to enjoy a more favorable interpretation of their constitutional rights and privileges than people, for whom those inalienable rights were originally written, and, by challenging this state of political and economic reality to protect human beings and other life forms against the legal fiction of the corporation. I learned how the rights of property were given a superior status over the rights of people by our nation's founders—beginning with slavery being written into the Constitution and sanctioned in law. According to Richard Grossman: Slavery was written into the Constitution. The return of bonded workers, whether they were white servants or black slaves was written into the Constitution. It was legal. The force of law would enforce slavery. From the very beginning the tradition was that property rights trump human rights.... The corporation as a governing instrument of the ruling men of property was not that important because they had written the Constitution. They governed through the Constitution. Eighty percent of the people, of the human beings who were in the thirteen states, had no rights. Twenty percent were able to write a Constitution that denied the rights of eighty percent. So the rule of law, the coercive force of law was done through the state and they did not need the corporation … [though] they did after the Civil War. Twenty percent of the people here were African-Americans, mostly slaves, brought by force. One-third to one-half of all the whites, except for the people who came with the Puritans, were indentured servants. A majority of the people basically were slaves whether white or black slaves, they were treated as slaves. They could not control their work. They could not quit. They could not travel. They had no rights. Plus women, plus native people, plus white men without property. I learned why, despite the Constitution and the rule of law, the ruling minority decided it needed an additional coercive basis for governing the many. To quote Grossman again: Increasingly … they needed the corporation—because more and more people started to struggle and gain their rights and forced their way into the law and begin to change the dynamics—[so] men of property decided ... they're going to make the corporation their principle governing instrument, along with the state. The corporation is going to be the means to control the state. The corporation then is going to become the source of all jobs, the source of all goodness, the source of all progress, and the institution that's replicated throughout our society. The "Model Legal Brief to Eliminate Corporate Rights," written by Richard Grossman, Thomas Linzey, and Daniel E. Brannen, contains the history of the U.S. Government's gift of constitutional powers to property organized as corporations. The introductory Summary of Argument frames the focus of the Brief: The people of these United States created local, state, and federal governments to protect, secure, and preserve the people's inalienable rights, including their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is axiomatic that the people of these United States—the source of all governing authority in this nation—created governments also to secure the people's inalienable right that the many should govern, not the few. That guarantee—of a republican form of government—provides the foundation for securing people's other inalienable rights and vindicates the actions of people and communities seeking to secure those rights.... Over the past 150 years, the Judiciary has "found" corporations within the people's documents that establish a frame of governance for this nation, including the United States Constitution. In doing so, Courts have illegitimately bestowed upon corporations immense constitutional powers.... Wielding those constitutional rights and freedoms, corporations regularly and illegitimately deny the people their inalienable rights, including their most fundamental right to a republican form of government. Such denials are beyond the authority of the corporation to exercise. Such denials are also beyond the authority of the Courts, or any other branches of government, to confer. When Linzey and Grossman refer to corporate rights, they mean the whole gamut of rights asserted by the few over the many. Corporate personhood (1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 14th Amendment rights primarily), plus seeking the protection (shield) of the Contracts and Commerce Clauses to strike down legislative enactments, plus preemption. As Linzey explained to me regarding preemption, “the few use a higher level of government against a lower level of government.” A prior contender to the current U.S. Constitution was the Articles of Confederation which kept power and authority in state legislatures. The Articles sought to define a decentralized system of authority and power in which no Supreme Court existed and each state legislature was the supreme governor of its state. As Linzey recently explained it: The colonists both (1) feared that their â€˜limited self-rule' would be stripped, and (2) evolved to a point where they understood that the â€˜gift' of their â€˜limited' self-rule was not something that could be â€˜gifted,' but was something innate and inalienable, thus provoking them to codify that understanding via the Revolution…. So the concept of the American Revolution ... was that people had certain rights and powers and that when they came together to form governments they didn't give up those rights. But they formed governments purely to secure those rights. That's the framework that the American Revolution stands in that we've used for the Model Brief in saying that if governments are established only to secure rights then by what authority do they confer rights onto corporations that then deny our rights. It's about doing indirectly what states and governments can't do directly. That's what the constitutional rights of corporations project is all about. The Anti-Federalists sought a decentralized form of governance, not the centralized federal system spawned by the U.S. Constitution. We have as resources innumerable examples of inspirations, movements created solely for the purpose of establishing rights. The Abolition and Civil Rights movements, the Women's movement, the Labor movement seized the larger issues including the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights as their organizing ground. And then there is the larger vision expressed by people like Thomas Berry that expands the language and framework of rights to encompass everything in the universe. Koyaanisqatsi, from the Hopi, is defined as "crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, and, a state of life that calls for another way of living." Our time is a crescendo of accelerating koyaanisqatsi. It is left to each of us to choose how to creatively respond to what life is offering us.