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Rights! The Newsletter of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution
October 2004

Welcome to Rights!, the newsletter of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution ("CDC"), published monthly, with a very occasional update between issues.

We're working to end the constitutional rights of corporations and to create a vital, living democracy in the U.S.A. (including strong businesses run for the public good), starting at home in Massachusetts. So please join us! We hope you'll find Rights! informative, engaging, useful, infuriating, energizing, inspiring.
  In this issue:
  • Tale of Two Waters
  • Democracy School
  • Introducing Tom Stites
  • Community Legal Services
  • Short Takes
  • Prescription Drugs - Join Us
  • Visit Our Website
  • Donate
A Tale of Two Waters

The privatization of water is one of the most serious threats we face, worldwide, in the twenty-first century. It's a problem because private water companies are in business to make a profit, which is incompatible with the high quality of service that communities need, and which are best served by public utilities subject to public oversight. And now water privatization has come home to roost in communities across the United States. This month we take a look at what's happening in two small New England towns, and how corporate claims to constitutional rights play a role.

On September 23, 2004, the town representatives of Lee, Massachusetts voted 41-10 to reject a proposal by a Houston-based water company, Veolia, to take control of their public water system for twenty years. The defeat of the Veolia proposal was a result of the vigorous activism of informed citizens, and the exercise of sound local democracy.

On July 2, 2004, there was a very different outcome for the Save Our Groundwater (SOG) group in New Hampshire. On that date, over the vociferous objections of the residents of Nottingham and Barrington, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) issued a permit to a private water corporation, USA Springs, to withdraw over 300,000 gallons daily from an aquifer which lies under its property. USA Springs wants to bottle and export the water (which, of course, as part of the commons, belongs to the people of Nottingham and Barrington), and sell it abroad. It is of little consequence to the corporation that extraction of such large quantities will endanger those towns' water supply by depletion and contamination.

For those of us concerned with the loss of local control, and how communities are subjected not only to the whims and greed of distant corporations but to the loss of democracy when corporate governance trumps people's rights, there are a couple of interesting points here.

In Lee, democracy functioned pretty much the way it should. The community educated itself on the issues and voted down the contract with a private company because it didn't like the implications of privatizing its water -- end of story. This is the community's right and this is what local democracy looks like.

In contrast, in New Hampshire the corporation owns property. This gives the company extraordinary leverage against local residents. Under contemporary culture and law, owning property gives USA Springs the protection of constitutional rights, in particular the Fifth Amendment which states that property may not be taken without due process and just compensation.

As currently interpretated, property is not only land -- permits and future profits are also considered property! If the people interfere with USA Springs "property" they may be liable for damages in the amount of the corporation's future profits -- an impossible burden for communities to bear. Furthermore, because of Fourth Amendment protections, the company can keep all of its business affairs private, and may engage in questionable activity that will be difficult to expose. As a result people no longer have the authority to decide what happens in their communities. Local democracy expires.

Lee has decided to keep water public and has been spared facing the spectre of corporate constitutional rights. The town is proceeding to evaluate how best to address its needs by and for the public. On the other hand, due to no fault of their own, Nottingham and Barrington are in the midst of a long and expensive battle. They are currently appealing the permit that they argue was illegitimately issued by DES, but further on may face claims by USA Springs based on its constitutional rights, conferred by an unelected Supreme Court, that were meant for people but have been used against us by corporations and our corporate-controlled government.

It's an old story by now, whether it plays itself out with hog farms, sewage sludge, cell towers, quarries, water or a thousand other single issues. The important point is that it's fundamentally not about any of these issues -- it's about democracy, it's about who decides what our communities look like: the people living there, or impersonal aggregations of property called corporations, driven solely by profit, from hundreds or thousands of miles away, or even from halfway around the world.

Democracy School
Next Democracy School in Boston: February 25-27, 2005

Thomas Linzey, the founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and the attorney at the forefront of legal battles on corporate constitutional rights, will teach our February Democracy School at Boston College. Due to the increasing popularity of and demand for Democracy Schools around the country, this will be Thomas's last appearance as a Democracy School instructor in Massachusetts for the forseeable future. We are busy training other Democracy School instructors, and are videotaping Thomas for some of the topics. Our October School had sixteen students and three old students coming back for a refresher (returning students attend for free), and we had to turn people away -- so we recommend signing up for February as soon as you can.

Democracy School covers the history and development of corporations in the U.S., the movements for people's rights, exciting current developments in fighting illegitimate corporate "rights" in Pennsylvania, and strategizing on how to apply all of these lessons for the benefit of Massachusetts communities dealing with toxics, sprawl, pollution, noise, and corruption of government. Democracy School is highly recommended to anyone interested in changing our democracy's collision course with corporate rule!

To find out more about Democracy School, click here. Enrollment is limited.

Introducing Tom Stites, Advisory Board Member
Tom Stites For forty years Tom Stites has been a reporter and editor for a who's who of major American newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times. In 1997 he escaped from the world of corporate journalism to become editor and publisher of the UU World, the Unitarian Universalist Association's 120,000-circulation national magazine. Tom devoted the entire May/June 2003 issue of the World to questions of democracy and corporate rights. CDC is delighted to have Tom's enthusiastic support to help us in our work.
CDC Now Offers Legal Services
Through a special arrangement with a local attorney who is committed to addressing fundamental issues of democracy, CDC is now offering low-cost legal services ($65/hour) to communities committed to rights-based organizing. If your community is confronting a corporate assault, is frustrated by the regulatory system, wants to work towards addressing the root causes of our failure to control corporations -- and it wants to have another chance to protect its residents and resources in the process, call the CDC office at (781) 674-2339.
Short Takes
CDC Needs Volunteer Office Help

We're only eight months old, but our work is growing by leaps and bounds. Someone to come in and help with bookkeeping, correspondence, event CDC's Office planning, and a thousand other little things would be warmly welcome! Basic computer skills necessary, but you'll learn all kinds of interesting things about organizing and running a non-profit. Work for one or two half days a week at our Lexington office, non-smoking, ample parking, on public transportation. We're asking for a six month or longer commitment, starting in early November. Call Adam at (781) 674-2339 for more information.

Great Book . . .

Advisory Board member Charlie Derber's Regime Change Begins at Home is on sale until Election Day at the bargain price of $9.98 (plus shipping). Call (800) 929-2929 and tell the operator the code for the book discount offer is RCBAH.

. . . and a Belmont event . . .

Friend and Supporter Frances Moore Lappé sent us a new note to pass on to you:

Please join us for a special screening of Anthony Lappé's new film BATTLE GROUND: Dispatches from the Edge of Empire (called "intense, emotional and fascinating" by the Marin Film Festival.) It will be on Tuesday, Oct. 19th at 7 p.m. at Belmont High School (near Belmont center) with a reception afterward at the home of his mother, Frances Moore Lappé, and Richard Rowe at 37 Goden Street in Belmont. Please mark your calendars!

Prescription Drugs - Another Reason to Join Us!
Illinois wants to import affordable prescription drugs from Canada and Europe. But
"The governor, instead of following established legal avenues to change the law, is instead creating a program that would violate the law by causing the importation of drugs that are themselves illegal," said William Hubbard, FDA associate commissioner. Canadian Press, October 5, 2004
Yet despite its strong bias in favor of wealthy corporate political donors, the FDA doesn't dare prosecute state or local governments for violating its prohibition on importing prescription drugs. It knows how unpopular its position is, and the firestorm that would ignite if it were to pursue enforcement. It tries scare tactics -- it can't guarantee the quality of the medications -- but in whatever corporate/government heart it has, the FDA knows it's wrong.

What is a local community or state to do when the federal government creates laws that are wrong? In fact we have a deeply rooted tradition of challenging unjust law, starting with the American Revolution. In 1798, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Sedition Act was used by the Federalists, including President John Adams, to prosecute and imprison their Jeffersonian political opponents who criticized the government, Congress or president in speech or print.

Virginia and Kentucky passed resolutions defying this federal law. The Virginia resolution said, in part:
That the good people of this commonwealth, having ever felt, and continuing to feel, the most sincere affection for their brethren of the other states . . . ; the General Assembly doth solemenly appeal . . . in confidence that they will concur with this commonwealth in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid, are unconstitutional; and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each, for co-operating with this state, in maintaining the Authorities, Rights, and Liberties, referred to the States respectively, or to the people.
It was the people and their elected representatives who declared a law contrary to the Constitution. Our early citizens didn't wait for an unelected Supreme Court to tell them what was constitutional, they felt it was the people's right and duty to engage in the debate and make that decision.

In the 21st century we should do no less. California legalizes medical marijuana. Arcata, California criminalizes compliance with the USA Patriot Act. Licking and Porter Townships in Pennsylvania pass ordinances stripping corporations of constitutional rights illegitimately conferred by state and federal government. When we make law to protect our communities, defying higher authority which favors activity for profit over the wellbeing of people, we will begin to bring democracy to the United States of America.

That's our work at the Center for Democracy and the Constitution. We need you to join us in the thinking and organizing. Sign up to volunteer -- there's something of interest to everyone. Hold a house party or fundraiser in your neighborhood (we'll provide a speaker). Attend Democracy School to learn more about the history of corporations and the Constitution, and what's being done today -- as you read this -- to turn it around. Work with us to educate the public and develop a legal team that will help communities reclaim basic rights when confronted with corporate harms. And engage in the dialogue about who governs as we move towards a ballot question to abolish corporate rule.

Last but not least, please consider contributing to CDC to eliminate the corporate power that creates war and inequity and poverty -- in its own interest at the expense of the rest of us. We're not going to get corporate funding, nor should we -- but we do need money to continue our work. This is the beginning of an independent people's movement in this country, and it will be built by you, by me, by all of us.

To volunteer, send an e-mail to adam411 {a-t} constitution411 [d-o-t] org.

And to contribute online, click here. Or make out a check to "CDC" and mail it to:

   Center for Democracy and the Constitution
   12 Locust Avenue
   Lexington, MA 02421

Contributions are tax deductible. Many thanks for your interest and support!

Adam D. Sacks
Executive Director
(781) 674-2339

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