What's wrong with our democracy?
The corporations have all the power, and the people in the communities in which corporations have a vested interest be damned.
How did this happen?
The Supreme Court said in 1819 that corporations are persons and have the same rights as a human person would have.
Douglas Pibel has a great article in the Fall 2007 issue of YES! magazine entitled "Communities Take Power". Here is what Pibel writes about corporations being given the rights of humans:
In 1819, the Supreme Court declared for the first time that corporations are entitled to protection under the Constitution. That case started in New Hampshire. Since then, corporations have been granted virtually all the rights constitutionally guaranteed to human beings. They use those rights to site polluting feedlots, dump toxic sludge, build big-box stores, and take municipal water to sell, all whether citizens want them to or not.
Corporations get into "site fights" with local communities when they want to put a Wal-Mart in a rural town which will kill off many of the local businesses, or open a mine, or take their water as they tried to do in Barnstead, NH.
One-at-a-time regulatory battles over a single project—whether sludge dumping, a Wal-Mart, or a nuclear power plant—are called “site fights.” They are sometimes successful, although only about one time in 10. Even then, defeated corporations are free to try again, as Wal-Mart frequently does when citizens defeat its siting plans.
The problem is that the system isn’t set up to protect the rights or interests of the average human. Rick Smith of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) says that when people realize that corporate rights override community rights it’s “shocking to them.”
That the rights of a legal fiction, the corporation, trump the rights of human beings is the result of years of work by corporations to bend legislation and court rulings in their favor. Since the Supreme Court first cracked the constitutional door in 1819, it has steadily opened it wider, giving corporations virtually every protection in the Bill of Rights.
The Court, for instance, held that corporations have First Amendment rights to free speech and, in a later case, said that free speech includes spending money on political campaigns. Corporations have acquired full due process rights, a right to Fifth Amendment compensation for governmental “takings,” and a right to require search warrants, even for OSHA safety inspections.
Communities sometimes rally around a single issue whether its the siting of a new super store, dumping sludge, opening a landfill, etc., but the problem runs deeper in terms of local control. The corporations have the time, the resources and the expertise to exhaust regulatory oversite and usually prevail in time in spite of what local community people desire. Corporate power trumps local democratic processes.
They already had experience with the regulatory system, having worked to get the town to ban local dumping of Class A sewage sludge. Once that ban was in place, the corporations shipping the sludge simply got it reclassified as Class B biosolids, and the town was back to square one.
“That was my first introduction to the regulatory process which actually does not allow citizens to say ‘No’ to anything,” Darrell says. “All corporations have to do is change a word and they get their way.”
If screwing with the wording of the regulatory process doesn't work, corporations just get new laws written.
If corporations don’t get the results they want in court, they can take the more direct approach of tailoring their own legislation. In a world where politicians depend on money to get elected, having a constitutional right to write big checks gains valuable access. Having a say in federal legislation is particularly useful since the Commerce Clause of the Constitution says that federal law trumps state law on matters of interstate commerce.
What's the answer?
Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, CEDLF, thinks he has a possible strategy.
CELDF’s model ordinances go beyond zoning or other efforts to control corporate behavior. They ban corporations from specific operations altogether, citing the Declaration of Independence, international law, state law conferring rights on citizens, and the general rights of human beings to govern themselves and take care of their own communities.
Does the CELDF strategy work?
So far it has saved the water in Barnstead, NH township when USA Springs wanted to start pumping millions of gallons of water from their water table for corporate profit.
Barnstead is located just south of New Hampshire’s lakes region. The Suncook River runs through town, and four lakes are within the town limits. It’s a water-rich community sitting on a big aquifer.
Which puts it in the crosshairs of corporate water miners. As bottled water has become a “must have” commodity generating nearly $10 billion a year in consumer spending, corporations have descended on communities like Barnstead and set up pumping operations. They extract hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day, bottle it, and ship it out for profit. Taking that much water raises the specter of lowered water tables and dry wells, infiltration of pollutants or saltwater, and damage to wetlands. The townspeople lose control of one of the necessities of life.
Barnstead residents watched as nearby Barrington and Nottingham fought to block multinational corporation USA Springs from taking their water. They saw those communities work through the state regulatory system and, after years of labor and hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs, find themselves without a remedy. Corporations, they were told, have constitutional rights that limit what regulators can do with zoning or other land-use controls.
To read more about how local communities are standing up to corporate power click on the link below and visit the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund web site.
Link: Communities Take Power by Doug Pibel - Barnstead NH fights off USA Springs.