On the path to ĎConsent of the Governedí
by Adam D. Sacks
Todayís fundamental question is how do we bring democracy to the United
States of America. In fact, we have little experience with democracy. Our
constitution was written by wealthy white men who saw to it that their economic
and political interests were protected. Only twenty percent of the human beings
were deemed "people." Slavery and indentured servitude were not only
legal, but deemed essential for the growth of the new nation. The president,
senators and supreme court justices were selected by political appointees
representing the elite, not elected by citizens. In fact, wealthy interests
have prevailed over the interests of the vast majority since the beginning, and
despite over two hundred years of extraordinary peopleís movements, that hasnít
As tragic as our heritage of war and exploitation has been, the imperative
to change its course in the twenty-first century is greater than ever Ė if we
donít, we face decimation of civilization and massive species extinction,
quite possibly including our own. The first step is to pierce the veil of
amnesia that hides our history from us. The second step is to develop methods
that take us beyond obedience to culture and habit and to begin organizing in
ways that mount fundamental challenges to the status quo. These are what we
learn at Democracy School.
The Center for Democracy and the Constitution is a Massachusetts-based
non-profit whose humble mission is to abolish corporate constitutional rights
and establish democracy in our Commonwealth. To that end we teach Democracy
Schools at Boston College, which were developed by Thomas Linzey of the
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF - http://www.celdf.org) and
Richard Grossman of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD -
http://www.poclad.org). Linzey founded CELDF in 1994 with Stacey Schmader to
help communities organize to oppose corporate assaults on republican democracy.
Richard Grossman co-founded POCLAD in 1994 and is a leading thinker, teacher
and writer on corporations and democracy.
Thomas Linzey and Richard Grossman launched the Democracy School in 2003
with five weekend sessions at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
There have been twelve sessions of Democracy School in 2004: Wilson College,
Boston College, the North Carolina Blue Ridge Assembly, and Landmark College in
Vermont. Participants have come from California, Iowa, Texas, North Carolina,
Florida, Georgia, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington
Democracy Schools address the history of corporate power, the peopleís
movements for democracy, the failure of the regulatory system to protect us,
and the exciting grassroots developments taking place in Pennsylvania, where
small rural communities are leading the way toward challenging corporate
takeover of our government and our lives. (For a closer look at this work, see
the feature article that appeared in Orion Magazine at http://www.oriononline.org/pages/om/03-6om/Kaplan.html.)
Attendees receive 190-pages of background reading material, and practice the
organizing strategy by reframing a single issue selected by the group. To see
the current syllabus, visit http://www.constitution411.org/dem_schl.php.
How it works
Hereís a quick summary of the work. When Pennsylvania townships were
confronted with factory hog farms, they didnít only want to mitigate the
odor, which is all that Pennsylvania law allows Ė they wanted to keep factory
farms out of their communities entirely. The health and environmental damage
from factory farms, while severe, isnít the only problem. Small farmers are
routinely put out of business, community life is disrupted, and the local
economy suffers. People realized that the regulatory system is there to permit
harms to come in (thatís why regulatory agencies issue "permits"),
albeit with minor mitigation. So in the late 1990s several townships, defying
corporate threats and state law, passed laws of their own prohibiting ownership
of farms by corporations.
At around the same time, towns were confronted by the application of toxic
sludge on their farmland. Sludge is a byproduct of municipal wastewater
treatment. Waste hauling corporations make big profits by removing the sludge
from large cities and spreading it as fertilizer in rural areas. In 1995 two
teenage boys died from exposure to the sludge when riding their ATVís through
fields where it had been applied. The townships were desperate to prevent
further sludge application, and passed laws accordingly. And to protect
themselves from corporate claims to constitutional rights which so often trump
the rights of people, in 2002-03 Licking and Porter townships passed laws
stripping corporations of those very constitutional rights!
How does this work? Corporations, mainly through our unelected and
unaccountable Supreme Court, have over the past 120 years or so illegitimately
acquired constitutional rights that were meant for people. Under the Fifth
Amendment to the Constitution, government may not take property of persons
without due process and just compensation. Corporations, claiming to be
persons, demand Fifth Amendment protection for their property, which includes
future profits. If they donít get what they want, they threaten to sue
municipalities. Since large corporations have much deeper pockets,
municipalities usually accede to their demands rather than face years of
The ordinances passed by Licking and Porter townships take away these
protections. In these two towns corporations no longer have the right to wield
the Constitutionís Commerce and Contract clauses, or the First, Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendment to demand their freedom of speech, entitlement to future
profits, and the due process and equal protection accorded to real persons
under the law.
This all sounded pretty abstract to the Pennsylvania folks until they saw
corporations say, in writing, "You people canít do what you want in your
home town because you are violating our corporate constitutional rights."
Then they realized that the issue wasnít sludge or factory farms, the issue
was democracy, and who decides what happens in our communities. Thatís
supposed to be us, We the People. And thatís what Democracy School is all
about: teaching citizens how to assert our right of self-governance so that it
serves not wealthy special interests, but us, future generations and our
The Center for Democracy and the Constitution regularly sponsors Democracy
School around the country. For further information, visit their website at
www.constitution411.org, or call the office at (781) 674-2339. For the
Democracy School schedule nationwide, contact CELDF at http://www.celdf.org.
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