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Rights! The Newsletter of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution
January 2005

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.

Adam D. Sacks, Editor

  In this issue:
  • Getting Off the Dime . . .
  • Community Discussion in Natick, January 18th
  • Democracy School
  • Introducing Neil Berman
  • Community Legal Services
  • Short Takes - Minding Our Own Business
  • Richard Grossman on Bill Moyer's View of History
  • Visit Our Website
  • Donate Now!

Getting Off the Dime . . .

Editor's note: Mary Zepernick, one of our founding Board members, has been dealing for years with difficulties in getting funders to understand the work of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD). POCLAD has provided the historical and theoretical framework essential to what we at CDC and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) are doing to make rights-based organizing a reality.

Progressive foundations have offered POCLAD such gems as "We don't fund thinking." Along those lines, CDC received a polite decline recently from an organization that fervently declared it wanted to fund root-cause activism. They said, "We're just doing things like river cleanups this year." Of course it's important to clean up rivers, but when I asked them wouldn't it make more sense to address why the rivers needed cleaning up in the first place, I was greeted by a long silence. In this response to a funder's request for feedback, Mary gets to the essence of our work. We hope you enjoy it!

Dear Board Friends,

When I received an XYZ Foundation request to fill out a questionnaire helping them consider "what's next," I decided to tell them what I think. For several years I have struggled upstream in the left/liberal funding world, trying to explain why POCLAD is worthy of receiving their money. I don't have great expectations from this response to XYZ, but it sure was fun to write and I'm, sharing it with you, simply for some of the rationale and language that I think underpins our work.


Dear Freddie Funder,

As coordinator of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, I diligently set about responding to your survey. With all due respect for XYZ Foundation's past work, I need to explain why I could not answer the questions. The reasons lie at the heart of POCLAD's analysis and our evolving application of it, as well as our assessment of why there is no real social change movement in this country at present.

Your questions asked respondents to rank a variety of issues, all of them important and worthy of attention. However, single issue defensive struggles do not and cannot fundamentally challenge this country's power structure, in place since "in the beginning." Thus, while some situations will be improved, these struggles will go an ad infinitum, as the root causes -- no matter the rhetoric of activists and funders -- remain unexamined, much less confronted. U.S. history and law, including the Constitution, enable the continuing minority rule of the majority, and will continue to do so unless and until a different kind of activism (and commensurate funding) becomes more widespread.

POCLAD and our colleague Thomas Linzey, founder of Pennsylvania's Community Environmental Defense Fund, are working with what we call a "rights-based" activism, taking clues from past movements. Abolitionists didn't ask for a Slavery Regulation Agency; they exhorted and organized around human and citizen rights. Suffragists did not ask men to treat women better; they patterned their demands for rights after this nation's founding ideals and promises. Similarly, the 20th century Civil Rights Movement seeks to realize people's rights to self-governance and equal rights.

Rights-based (as distinct from harm-based or remedial) organizing has led dozens of Pennsylvania townships -- rural and essentially conservative -- to exercise their self-governing authority in passing ordinances banning corporate hog farms and the application on farmland of toxic sewage sludge. POCLAD and CELDF have inspired organizations like the Center for Democracy and the Constitution in Massachusetts and the U.S. Section of the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom to ground themselves in a different social change history and a different way to seek change today. We do not ask people to drop their issues or concerns, but to reframe them systemically, exercising their rights as citizens in ways that can build a movement. This is why CELDF and POCLAD have created Democracy School, an intensive weekend training in rights-based activism that is spreading around the country. The alternative is to continue in organizing patterns that serve those already well-served, keeping struggles separated in spite of improvements and victories in specific situations.

Finally, speaking as one who has experienced firsthand the role of most foundations in rewarding and perpetuating the status quo, it is clear that little is likely to change on a large enough scale until funders grasp the nettle and rethink their goals and strategies.

In any case, XYZ has certainly helped many people's lives change for the better. Good wishes in the coming year, with hopes that it may include an examination and deepening of your funding goals and strategies.

Mary Zepernick

Community Discussion in Natick, Tuesday, January 18th
Rights: Corporations Have Them, You Don't

WHAT: Community Discussion
WHEN: Tuesday, January 18th, 7-9 p.m.
WHERE: Community Room
Morse Institute Library
14 East Central Street, Natick
Lower Level
For further information, call John at (508) 655-7031

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: March 11-13, 2005

Our February School was well enrolled by the end of December, and is now full, but we've been able to schedule another Democracy School for March 11-13 at Boston College. Staff this time around will include Richard Grossman, nationally known for his research, teaching and innovative thinking on rights and democracy.

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 Neil Berman, Executive Board Member and Legal Counsel

Neil Berman
Neil Berman is an attorney who works with the National Lawyer's Guild and is active fighting for civil and human rights. He hopes to move to an island paradise in the Atlantic one of these days, but in the meanwhile he is working closely with CDC to provide affordable legal services to communities committed to rights-based organizing.

Legal Services
Thanks to Neil, CDC now 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
Minding Our Own Business (MOOB)

Arcata Town Meeting In dealing with corporate power, the question of what's the alternative frequently comes up. Without corporations, what on earth will we do for jobs, for twinkies, for electricity, for toilet paper?! Well, first of all, CDC isn't necessarily against corporations as businesses, we're against them ruling our lives and destroying our planet. It's perfectly possible to conduct business with full-cost accounting and subject to the will of the people.

But beyond that, it's particularly important that communities be as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible. That's why MOOB is important - we want to start building communities without poverty, without mind-numbing endless work.

We're working on a MOOB Conference, where people will learn about actual successful local economic projects and how to go about implementing them in their own communities. Our first planning meeting is on Sunday, January 16th in Worcester. You can read more about it here.

Richard Grossman on Bill Moyers and History

New Jersey Power Plant
Editor's note: Richard Grossman's response to a speech by Bill Moyers addresses how our cultural myths derail our understanding of history and keep us powerless. Revealing the reality behind the veil is a critical step in dealing with the root causes of the failure of democracy and the ability of a small minority to rule the rest of us -- with the catastrophic consequences we see today. For a whirlwind weekend tour of how we got into this mess and how we might start fixing it, sign up for Democracy School!

24 June 2003
A Few Thoughts On the Speech by Bill Moyers
“This is Your Story -- The Progressive Story of America. Pass It On”

Delivered at the Take Back America Conference
Washington DC, 11 June 2003

by Richard Grossman

I cannot do justice here to the false assumptions, half-truths, distortions and manipulations upon which Moyers’ speech is constructed. Adrienne Rich has written that we cannot understand ourselves unless we understand the assumptions in which we are all “drenched.” Can it be any different for a nation?

Moyers devotes only a few lines to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers -- saying nothing about what these Fathers designed the nation’s plan of governance to be, to do. He does declare that
for all the rhetoric about 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' it took a civil war to free the slaves and another hundred years to invest their freedom with meaning. Women only gained the right to vote in my mother’s time. New ages don’t arrive overnight, or without 'blood, sweat and tears.' You know this.
All true. But Moyers does not explain why it has been extraordinarily difficult for the majority to bring about changes in fundamental rights; why it has been difficult for the majority to govern.

This is because people organizing for rights, seeking to define the nation’s money, work and commerce, seeking to build institutions and mechanisms of governance, and trying to have a real say in deciding war and peace, always ran smack into the minority controlling the law of the land...into a minority directing the armed might of the nation.

This is the governing system the Founders’ Constitution put in place.

Click here to read more . . .

Join Us - Contribute!

We're off and running, educating people about rights-based organizing and ready to engage with communities to protect people's rights. To do this, we have to meet our modest expenses. Your contribution will make a big difference!

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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