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Rights! The Newsletter of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution
November-December 2004

Welcome to Rights!, the newsletter of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution ("CDC"), published monthly, with a very occasional update between issues. (Due to a very heavy schedule, we've combined November and December issues this time around.)

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.

  In this issue:
  • Drowning in Data          
  • House Party in Lexington
  • Democracy School
  • Introducing Michael Kanter
  • Community Legal Services
  • Short Takes
  • Smilia's Quarry -
    Another Reason to Join Us
  • Visit Our Website
  • Donate Now!

Drowning in Data

Whenever we are faced with a toxic challenge to our communities, whether it's a quarry, hog farm, incinerator, power plant, cell tower or corporate appropriation of our lands for urban sprawl, we are always asked for data. We may know from mountains of existing data that sewage sludge, for example, makes people sick and sometimes kills them, but each community will nonetheless be sent on an expensive and exhausting quest for more studies, more statistics, more experts. All of these will be "balanced" by cost-benefit arguments, protestations of unfriendliness to business, dire warnings about job loss and, that last refuge of scoundrels, name-calling -- "radical environmentalist," "socialist," "anarchist," "communist" (it's hard to believe they still use that last one).

So, good citizens that we are, believing in the dreams of democracy and seduced by the hope of justice, we dig into the data. Laborers, doctors, homemakers, executives, farmers, artists, teachers, truck drivers -- all who care about the quality of life in the community -- become experts in the most arcane of subjects. We spend years of our spare time preparing documents, testimonies, rallies, media campaigns. Our personal relationships strain, our children hardly know us, our job performance deteriorates. And in the end, we generally lose. (See Smilia's Quarry piece at the end of this newsletter.)

What's going on? As it turns out, we are following a regulatory script that keeps us powerless. As someone once said, "The only thing environmental regulations regulate is environmentalists." We play by rules that we didn't write that give us little if any chance of winning -- although there are occasional isolated victories, enough to keep us chasing the carrot of clean air, water, land. We are sent after data -- data which has been testified, quantified, verified thousands of times in thousands of other community battles -- to keep us distracted, to set groups who are natural allies arguing with each other, to divide us and conquer us. And it works -- our air, water and land are in worse shape than ever before. Not to mention our democracy.

That's what it's about, democracy. It's about who has the right to decide what happens to our communities, to our families, to our local economies. Is it half a dozen distant corporate directors wielding illegitimate constitutional rights to pull resources and money out of our neighborhoods, or is it the thousands of people who live in our town?

If the answer isn't "We the People decide," then we should stop pretending.

Better yet, we should start deciding.

House Party in Lexington, Thursday, December 16th
Rights: Corporations Have Them, You Don't

WHAT: Community Discussion and Snacks
WHEN: Thursday, December 16, 2004, 7-9 p.m.
WHERE: Adam's house, 12 Locust Avenue, Lexington
RSVP: (781) 674-2339, adam {a-t} constitution411 [d-o-t] org

We will review the history of corporate power in the United States, and describe groundbreaking grassroots work that's being done in Pennsylvania to challenge both illegitimate corporate constitutional rights and the government collusion that has created those rights. This will be followed by a general participatory discussion of an important new democratic tool that we can use to fulfill the promise of the American Revolution: that government is subordinate to the people, and has no legitimacy without the consent of the governed.

Adam D. Sacks is an activist and director of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution, a 501(c)(3) non-profit in Lexington, Massachusetts. CDC's mission is to challenge corporate constitutional rights and help bring democracy to the U.S.A. Tax deductible contributions are appreciated.
Democracy School
Next Democracy School in Boston: February 25-27, 2005

Democracy Schools are starting to spring up across the country (click here for the national schedule), too many for Thomas Linzey and Richard Grossman to teach. At the beginning of December we had our first training of new instructors.

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 lead the staff teaching our February Democracy School at Boston College.

We cover 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, advance registration highly recommended.

Introducing Michael Kanter, Executive Board Member

Michael Kanter
Michael has been in the natural products business for over thirty years, the last seventeen near Harvard Square at Cambridge Naturals, which he co-owns with his wife, nutritionist Elizabeth Stagl. As you can see from the photograph of his office, he has many manifestations -- and skills. He knows hundreds of people in Cambridge, many of whom have been his customers for years. He is a master networker, enthusiastically introduces CDC's work, hosts our events and meetings, and generously contributes his business and interpersonal skills.

Michael is one of our founding Board Members, and is energetic and tireless in his support of CDC. He has three grown children, is a former champion ping-pong player and a talented drummer.
Legal Services
CDC offers 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
Visit to Arcata, California

Arcata Town Meeting In October Thomas Linzey and Adam Sacks visited Arcata, California. The Little City That Could is chugging along. In 2002 it passed an ordinance outlawing new chain restaurants. In 2003, while most locales passed advisory resolutions, Arcata passed a law making it a crime, punishable by a $57 fine, for a city department head to cooperate with the unconstitutional provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. This November Arcata banned genetically engineered crops and is currently considering an ordinance to strip corporations of their constitutional rights. They asked Thomas to come and speak to them about the Pennsylvania work, and Adam wanted to see what made Arcata tick.

Conclusion? People there are deeply concerned about democracy and, through difficult experience, have developed the ability to see beyond our cultural myth that everything fundamentally works OK. They had long discussions about democracy and local control, and decided that those were pretty good ideas after all.

Smilia's Quarry - Another Reason to Join Us!

Smilia's Quarry
[We are delighted to announce that Smilia Marvosh will be moving from CDC's Advisory Board to Executive Board. She is a lead organizer with the Coalition for the Health of Aggregate Industries Neighbors (CHAIN). In this article, she describes her transition from regulatory- to rights-based organizing.]

Rights, not Regs (or...was there life before Democracy School?)

I've taken to referring to it as the Big Brainwash Bounce - where I bounced against the walls of the endless traditional grassroots regulatory cage in just such an angle that I shot right out of the cage into the void beyond, where Democracy School was waiting for me with the Big Picture. I am the quintessential perfect candidate for the Big Brainwash Bounce, as I suspect thousands of community activists would be after thousands of carbon copy campaigns usually ending in defeat at the hands of a stacked deck, exactly like CHAIN's, the grassroots group I helped found.

Having just emerged from CHAIN's recent defeat attempting to save two things my community considered to be of great value, our beloved Jackson Park and a buffer zone protecting us from an adjacent hundred and sixty acre quarry, a mini-Grand Canyon whose operations cover the local folks with toxic silica containing dust, and sends hundreds of 18-wheeler diesel trucks through our neighborhoods, I was ready for the next step, for though we were defeated, I was no less angry.

The organizational method we had been using for 3 years was one that was taught to us by mature traditional grassroots advocacy strategists. The endless rounds with Selectmen, Boards of Health, Conservation Commissions, planning boards, corporate lawyers, state house committees, the DEP, the Department of Public Health, the Executive Office of Evil (whoops, I mean Environmental) Affairs, the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, and many others, really taught me that this particular organizational method doesn't work; or if so, only incrementally, and only for individual battles. Close to the end of the third round with the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act Office, knowing that I was just shy of being knocked out of the game altogether, the Universe decided to let in a crack of daylight by sending me Democracy School. This is the place from where I now view what I was doing from a distance and a place that allows no return to the same old way of thinking . . . how could I have been so blind?

The Democracy School journey looks at people's original awareness of how to protect their sovereignty from powerful entities like corporations; the corporate stealth attack in the 19th century on that very sovereignty enshrined in our Bill of Rights and their complicitousness in inventing toothless regulatory agencies that were admittedly designed mostly for show; and the final outcome of this process that turned our corporate creations into our masters. This, in addition to learning about the exciting, groundbreaking work in Pennsylvania challenging corporate personhood rights, is like turning on a series of light bulbs in a dark hallway, and I can never go back to that same old way of thinking again that kept me running around in circles, dealing with one emergency after another, clueless as to my own Pavlovian response pattern.

Viewing our 3-year campaign through the window of Democracy School changed me. I see now that our local government, in conjunction with a local industry owned by an international conglomerate, took things from us that we valued simply because they could, and for purposes contrary to our well being. I'm not sure whom I feel more betrayed by, but I do know we were lightly defended, unprotected by the rights we thought we had.

I woke up to the fact that I myself have been regulated to believe in a system designed to defeat me - I and countless other community leaders who willingly dissipate our resources and fracture our power until we are so watered down we simply burn out and fade away. And guess what? We willingly embark on this cycle not of our own free will, but with a will we think is ours that has been shape-shifted for us by the back room dealings of corporations, the government that governs our government and has stolen our inheritance and tries to erase a past that instinctively understood the danger of concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a few.

And they are up there in their boardrooms laughing at us - you can count on it. What perfectly predictable - and powerless - people we became. But Democracy School engaged me in a new way of thinking and seeing -a very big "AHA!" This must be what it feels like to be on the brink of something very large, a truth that hurts, but one that is a great and powerful tool, a base from which to build new strategies and new organizations that leverage the people's power in the same way corporations leverage and concentrate their own power, and will make us a formidable force in determining what the shape of life will look like in our neighborhoods and communities, and what the health of our environment will be. It was Gandhi who said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." O.K., I can do that.

Now, if I can just mount a 10-person delegation to go to the DEP, and then tackle the Board of Health again - they did say to come back if we had anything new - we did photograph the plumes coming out of the quarry . . . more people at the next meeting . . . I never did follow up with . . .

[More on Democracy School above, or go to our web page.]

To volunteer, send an e-mail to adam411 {a-t}

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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