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

Yes, I know it's January and this is our "Fall" newsletter (sighhhh!). We truly regret that our publication dates just slipped by this fall -- the good news is that it's because we've been exceptionally busy doing our work: grassroots organizing and educating in Massachusetts and New England (be sure to check out the unfolding story of Russell, Massachusetts, below), developing Democracy Schools nationwide, and expanding funding relationships so we can keep going. Thanks as always for your interest, patience and support. And now . . .

Welcome to Rights!, the newsletter of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution ("CDC"), published as monthly as we can make it!

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 New England.

Adam D. Sacks, Editor

  In this issue:
  • Russell, MA: On Declaring Democracy
  • Vermont Secession
  • Industry Loves Regulation
  • Democracy School
  • Community Legal Services
  • Short Takes
  • Everything I Know . . .
  • Join Us!
  • Visit Our Website
  • Donate Now!

Russell, Massachusetts: On Declaring Democracy

On June 28, 2005, in a flagrant display of disregard for the people they represent, the Russell town government issued a permit to the developer of a 50 megawatt biomass power plant. Well over a hundred people attended the hearing preceding the permit decision, and they spoke overwhelmingly against the project. Yet, dismissing the people as uninformed, the boards caved into the demands of the developer -- who was accompanied by his stable of "experts," a fancy slide show, and an abundance of promises and statements that have consistently turned out to be misleading or outright false.

The reasons for town officials abandoning the interests of their constituents are legion, and buried both deep within our history and far from our cultural memory. If we are going to be effective in our opposition to the rampant destruction we're facing across the planet, we have to understand and expose the hidden forces at work, in Russell and in every community defending itself against toxic assaults. (Democracy School is a good place to start).

The threat of the biomass plant to Russell is serious:
  • air pollution -- and asthma -- from 800 diesel truck trips a week down quiet, historic Main Street
  • 800,000 gallons a day withdrawn from the Westfield river (which can slow to a trickle during the summer)
  • unknown contamination of air, soil and water from burning 500,000 tons of wood a year
  • destruction of the habitat of endangered species
  • noise pollution from plant operation and traffic
  • and numerous other issues . . .
In other words, it would ruin the town.

As in so many places across the country, this seemingly simple and commonplace governing decision drastically altered people's lives. Typically, work and family are derailed as reluctant newly-minted activists become consumed with trying to figure out how to protect their community. In Russell a new organization was born out of the struggle, Concerned Citizens of Russell (CCR). (Note that CCR's website won't be up until mid-January -- please visit then!)

CCR is pursuing every available avenue to protect Russell, and we at CDC have attended their weekly meetings and public events since that fateful day last June. We have worked together closely on strategy, local organizing and networking beyond the local community, providing a context broader than Russell and a crucially important perspective: Russell is not alone.

At the end of November, nine members of CCR attended a Democracy School held specifically for people in Russell and nearby towns working against the biomass plant. The enthusiasm and concentration was exceptional; the School went into three hours of overtime to talk about local issues and to begin drafting a local bylaw not only to protect from the biomass plant, but to say no to state and federal law that violates people's rights, and to establish a local government of, by and for the people.

Our work in Russell would not have been possible without the participation of our two terrific interns, Steve Kowal and Ellen Hayes. Steve is currently a graduate student in the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program at Antioch-New England in Keene, NH and in December Ellen graduated from that program and joined CDC's Board of Directors. Both will continue their organizing work with CDC in 2006 and we are delighted to have them!

Vermont Secession

When the right to govern is stolen from us by an oligarchy that attends only to its own satisfaction (hiding behind its massive "news" and disinformation networks); and when we are impoverished or killed for no purpose other than the enrichment of a tiny wealthy minority -- it becomes impossible to protest legally. "Our" laws are not passed for our benefit: they benefit the Enrons, the Halliburtons, the NAFTAists, the Bushes, the Clintons, the globalizing mega-companies. They benefit the factory farm corporations that have claimed the Pennsylvania state government, the developers that gorge themselves on legislative real estate giveaways in Massachusetts, the Monsantos that destroy independent farming and essential planetary genetic diversity. Disastrously, these corporations have become our unelected "democratic" government, having obtained privileged and virtually exclusive access to our public officials and their votes.

The American Revolutionaries turned to war because they felt there were no remedies left under British rule. The Civil Rights movement turned to illegal non-violent resistance because the law did not protect African Americans. Towns in Pennsylvania pass protective local laws in defiance of pre-emptive state and federal law because the higher law denies people their inalienable rights.

In short, when the law is illegitimate, we have a duty to oppose it, to defy it. In the words of the Declaration of Independence, we, the People, institute governments to secure our rights, and "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government."

Here and now, in the 21st century, there is a growing movement in Vermont to secure these inalienable rights, and like the American Revolutionaries to put an end to illegitimate law. Their goal: secession from the United States of America.

Visit the website of Vermont Commons and see what they have to say:
"Welcome to the future of Vermont. From 1777 - 1791, the citizens of Vermont governed themselves as an independent republic. As we enter the 21st century, Vermont Commons is an organization dedicated to the proposition that Vermonters should peaceably secede from the United States and govern themselves as an independent republic once again."

This past October the Second Vermont Republic held a convention in the elegant Senate Chambers in the State House in Montpelier. The objectives were twofold. First, to raise the level of awareness of Vermonters of the feasibility of independence as a viable alternative to a nation which has lost its moral authority and is unsustainable. Second, to provide an example and a process for other states and nations which may be seriously considering separatism, secession, independence, and similar devolutionary strategies. The Second Vermont Republic is a peaceful, democratic, grassroots, libertarian populist movement committed to the return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic.

Industry Loves Regulation

Despite its disingenuous whining, industry truly loves regulation. Ever since the railroads fought behind the scenes to establish the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887, regulation has been industry's best friend. As Richard Olney (Grover Cleveland's Attorney General) explained to railroad executives, the ICC was to be "a sort of barrier between the railroad corporations and the people." It served as a tool for crushing competition, fixing prices, and fooling the public into thinking that the government was serving us. Read more in Jane Anne Morris's article, "Sheep in Wolf's Clothing," in the excellent anthology, Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy, our gift to you for a donation of $35 or more (also included in Democracy School tuition)!

If you think the regulatory scene is any different today, have a look at the article below. The Federal Trade Commission just saved the tobacco companies $10 billion, because if a federal agency says what it does is OK, it's not industry's fault, they were just following the rules (even if the rules allow lying and cheating, not to mention dealing in death).

What's not to like?

Court rejects $10b ruling against tobacco company
Suit alleged fraud over 'light' cigarettes

By Paul Nowell, Associated Press | December 16, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Illinois Supreme Court handed the tobacco industry a significant victory yesterday by tossing out a $10.1 billion fraud judgment against Philip Morris USA over the marketing of its ''light" cigarettes. Shares of parent company Altria Group Inc. soared after the news, but industry critics warned that the Illinois decision does not insulate US cigarette companies from future lawsuits. At least 40 similar suits are pending against such companies as Philip Morris and Reynolds American, any of which could result in awards of billions of dollars, tobacco opponents said.

"They need to keep their legal teams ready," said Richard Daynard, a longtime critic of the tobacco industry who is president of the Boston-based Tobacco Control Resource Center. Philip Morris USA, which makes the Marlboro brand and controls about half the US cigarette market, issued a terse statement saying the Richmond-based company was ''gratified" by Illinois court's decision.

Investors were more openly enthusiastic. Shares of Altria Group rose sharply after the court's ruling; by the end of trading, the share price hit $76.62, up $2.89 or 3.9 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Illinois high court's ruling in Price v. Philip Morris addressed whether the tobacco company acted fraudulently when it labeled some cigarettes as ''light" or ''low tar and nicotine." By a 4-to-2 vote, the court found that the Federal Trade Commission had authorized such characterizations.

"If the FTC has specifically authorized the use of the terms . . . [Philip Morris] may not be held liable under the Consumer Fraud Act, even if the terms might be deemed false, deceptive, or misleading," Justice Rita Garman wrote for the majority.

"I think they [Philip Morris] can take some comfort from this victory," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who follows tobacco litigation. "It does seem like this could dissuade individuals from pursuing them vigorously in other states."

However, Mark Gottlieb, executive director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University, said the fight over "light" cigarettes is far from over. He estimated damages from similar pending suits around the country could go as high as ''tens of billions of dollars." But a Citigroup analyst expects other courts to follow the lead of the Illinois Supreme Court. Yesterday's ruling ''will set precedent for other similar 'lights' class actions," tobacco analyst Bonnie Herzog wrote in a note to investors.

The case came to the state's high court from Madison County Judge Nicholas Byron, who had ordered the company to pay $10.1 billion -- $5 billion in compensatory damages, $3 billion in punitive damages, and $2.1 billion in interest.

Democracy School
Next Democracy School in Boston:
January 20-22, 2006

"I'm tired of our democracy being usurped by corporations. Here I knew I could learn the tools I need to help create our nation's third revolution against the 'crown' of the rich so that We the People can truly rule ourselves."

Charles Uchu Strader, attendee at the April Vermont Democracy School

Like most Democracy Schoolers, Sid is astonished and shocked by the American history we never learned in school and how it affects us now: the corporate takeover of our lives, the wars of global conquest, the failure of democracy, the destruction of the environment. In Democracy School we learn what we can do about it.

We have over forty Democracy Schools scheduled for 2006 (click here for the national schedule). In November we held one especially for people in the small town of Russell, Massachusetts who are determined to keep a biomass power plant from ruining their town (see article on Russell, above). Democracy Schools are for people in communities ready to pursue rights-based organizing and declare democratic control over our corporate-driven government.

And as of this January we have a dynamic new curriculum! Based on several years of organizing and teaching, we have refined and focused Democracy School in ways that are more effective in equipping people to confront the assaults on their communities.

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 communities in the Northeast dealing with toxics, sprawl, pollution, noise, and corruption of government. Democracy School is highly recommended to anyone interested in changing our collision course with corporate rule!

To find out more about our Boston Democracy School, click here. Enrollment is limited, advance registration highly recommended.

Community Legal Services
Thanks to Board Member and Attorney Neil Berman, 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
We the People Gets Going on Cape Cod

Another group fighting for democracy! Their brochure says, "We the People is a Cape Cod-based group that is part of a growing grassroots movement to challenge the power of the corporate few to rule the many . . . "

We the People has public meetings, usually on the third Saturday of each month, at the Harwich Community Center. Confirm ahead by calling POCLAD at (508) 398-1145.

Class Action

Class Action and CDC both address how class and class values distort and damage our relationships with one another and the world at large. Class Action offers workshops, articles and books. Their mission is
"to raise consciousness about the issues of Classism: class and money, and their powerful impact on our individual lives, our relationships, organizations, institutions, and culture.

"We aim to heal the wounds of classism, support the development of cross-class alliances, and work with others to catalyze the movement of resources to where they are most needed to create justice, equity, and sustainablity for all."
Visit Class Action's informative website at www.classism.org.
Everything I know . . .
From Smilia Marvosh, a CDC Board Member and community activist from Swampscott (read more about Smilia in our August 2004 Newsletter and her organization, CHAIN, in the April 2004 Newsletter).

Everything I know I learned in Democracy School . . . except for the one thing that took me there.

I think about that now. I think about what it is that causes people in a neighborhood or a small community to seek each other out, to meet in each other's living rooms and kitchens, to organize against a perceived harm, to devote immense amounts of time, effort, research; to be amazingly dogged, determined, and intense; to work in the middle of the night, to lose sleep, to face personal challenges and defeat them, to go places we never dared go or even thought of going, and all in the midst of a regular life with all its pulls and pressures. In short, to follow a path that changes lives, changes politics, changes passions, changes friends, and changes souls forever.

Is it the quarry down the street bought out by a large international conglomerate that covers a community in silica containing dust and fills a residential street with toxic spewing 18 wheelers six days a week? Is it the proposed construction and demolition waste burning power plant that will be at the bottom of a valley, in a tiny town, near a school, with valley walls higher than the 300-foot smokestack? Or is it the water company that is permitted to drain so much water from a local source that it directly threatens the health of the underground feeding aquifers and all the ecosystems it supports?

Deeper than the travesties against our communities, deeper than the theft of democracy, we grasp that we are being violated to the very core of our humanity.

Thousands of communities across the planet have amazing grassroots groups that rise to challenge the latest form of pain that threatens the community, usually in the form of some large corporation's bottom line that, for the most part, is about maximizing profits and minimizing stewardship. All these individual threats are just the triggers, not the root cause that brings strikingly different people together for one purpose: to remember who and what we are.

But one day something happens - it comes from a place so far away, so deep, so visceral, so ancient, that no school could teach it. Our grassroots groups are the heartbeats of an ancient memory of what it means to be fully human. It surfaces when violated in a way that can bring giants to their knees. It lies just under the surface of those who haven't forgotten. It rises up to own something so deeply a part of us that it was never given and can never be taken. It is not small, and to underestimate it is an error.

We are all fighting for sovereignty and democracy, very basic human concepts, and we feel violated at a very deep level but attach that violation to the symptom - the quarry, the power plant, the threatened water supply - instead of the root cause, a system that eviscerates the ability of a community to protect itself from harm. The robbers look like helpers. We even elect their support crews. Does defeating one robber insure us against the attack of a future robber? Not in the least. So while we run around fighting thousands of different robbers in different communities across the country, the robbers who aren't getting chased go to the bank.

While we need to address the immediate threats to our communities because they are so imminent, we must begin to have wider conversations about how this system we are funneled into forces us to fracture the potential of our combined energies, and has been developed to do just that. It is designed to kill the untamed knowing in each of us that has risen unbidden to the surface, that claiming of who we are, and the awesome power of that energy to take back our inalienable rights that are a part of every cell within us.

Every single battle is about our rights.

There is much more to be done than appeal a permit. Let's start talking about that and the new path it requires of us. That's what the abolitionists did, that's what the suffragists did, that's what the labor and civil rights movements did. Along with the recognition of what the true violation really was came the greatest forward movements this nation ever made. Over two centuries after the first revolution we can look at our current systems and decide what we don't like. It's time for the next revolution, one of revolutionary thought, the kind that frees us from the latest set of chains. It's time to foment the conversations that free us again. Some of those conversations take place in the unlikeliest of places, so never underestimate the value of a good kitchen. Hearth and heart have a tendency to find each other.
Join Us!
As you can see, we have a lot of work to do, and we need you! Come to a Democracy School. Organize in your community. Contribute to the work of the Center for Democracy and the Constitution.
To further this challenging work, 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