It may not only be greatly symbolic, but critically fundamental that the gathering movement for local communities to assert their rights to self determine what goes on in the environment has begun at the foot of Mt. Shasta, where over half of our State's water supply originates.
Mt. Shasta City, California residents have been uniting for the past four years to assert their rights to self- steward the lands where the live upon. This local movement was begun in reaction to their discovering that PG&E had been seasonally seeding the clouds above their city using “Precipitation Enhancement” operations. These operations carry no regulatory oversight or notification to the areas below where PG & E is seeding. The local residents derive no benefits since they get their energy from other sources than hydroelectricity.
Last August the community was temporarily blocked by a technicality with the county Voter Registrar to put to ballot the right for Mt. Shasta City to decide for itself what happens in the community. Included in Proposition A was a local ordinance proposal to: allow the rights of Mt. Shasta City residents the right to self-determine stewardship of their environment; ban corporate personhood as well as the first ever legislation to give Rights to Nature to exist.
On July 23, 2008 the country of Ecuador historically became the first nation ever to vote into their Constitution the Rights of Nature:
“Nature or Pachamama [the Andean earth goddess], where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution. Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public bodies.”
Ending Corporate Personhood
“It has been thought,” Thomas Paine wrote in The Rights of Man in 1791, “…that government is a compact between those who govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true, because it is putting the effect before the cause; for as man must have existed before governments existed, there necessarily was a time when governments did not exist, and consequently there could originally exist no governors to form such a compact with. The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.”
When it was learned by the local residences of Mt. Shasta City in 2008 that PG&E had been for years and continuing to this day, to seasonally spray silver iodine over their city as to increase rainfall for more power to their hydroelectric dams, the citizens organized and took action. A report from the U.S. National Biological Service (“Silver Hazards to Fish, Wildlife and Invertebrates”) calls silver in its ionic form “one of the most toxic metals known to aquatic organisms.” According to several reports, the cloud seeding programs have been going on around various California tributaries since 1986.
Additionally, there are no current Federal and State laws regulating their actions or restrictions on how much or often they can spray toxicity. Amazingly, our California state government does not require any Environmental Impact Review (EIR). This was also evident in last year’s sudden Light Brown Moth spraying over Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties before public outcry temporarily halted the practice.
Currently, neighborhoods have no legal rights against corporate developers other than to stall and delay their developments. Local communities have no legal powers to prevent against those polluting our waterways in large part because our legal system views Nature solely as a money generating supply house and sewer for our collective toxic wastes.
As Alan D. Kramer succinctly wrote in Tukkun magazine about action Mt. Shasta City residents have taken:
The citizens of Mt. Shasta have developed an extraordinary ordinance, set to be voted on in the next special or general election that would prohibit corporations such as Nestle and Coca-Cola from extracting water from the local aquifer. But this is only the beginning. The ordinance would also ban energy-giant PG&E, and any other corporation, from regional cloud seeding, a process that disrupts weather patterns through the use of toxic chemicals such as silver iodide. More generally, it would refuse to recognize corporate personhood, explicitly place the rights of community and local government above the economic interests of multinational corporations, and recognize the rights of nature to exist, flourish, and evolve.
In addition, for the past eight years, the town of McCloud to the southeast of Mt. Shasta City, has fought Nestlé Inc. attempts to extract extreme amounts of water from the McCloud River for bottled water export nationally and abroad. Quietly, Nestle had signed a 100 year deal to extract from the McCloud over 200 million gallons of water.
Yet the Mt. Shasta area is not alone in fighting back. Over 2,000 local townships and municipalities over the past decade have begun to fight the rights of corporations to dominate, exploit and pollute. Just this past year Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became the first city ever to ban fracking (the practice of extreme drilling to extract natural gas underground). In 2009 Spokane, Washington activists coordinated a group of at least 24 different community organizations and to put on their city ballot Prop. 4. It recognized rights to a local economy, affordable housing, preventive healthcare, renewable energy, nature, neighborhood decision-making power, workers’ rights, and subordinating corporate rights to community rights. Though defeated by outside corporate lumber and housing interests and a disinformation campaign, the fight goes on to put the matter before the people again in November, 2011.
These communities, and many like them, have begun adopting Community Bills of Rights, which elevate the rights of people and nature above the rights of corporations and their minority of decision makers. It’s not another exercise in putting out good-sounding statements; but a seizure of governmental lawmaking authority to make government work on behalf of a majority, rather than continuing to serve as a colonized entity to corporations.
In 1998 local rural residents of Pennsylvania, many of them to the right of John Wayne, began fighting back to ban corporations, like Cargill, when they learned that CAFO’s (Corporate Animal Farm Operations) were purchasing lands where they live and dumping factory farms toxic pig sewage next to schools and residential lands.
As our legal system stands now a corporation can use all their resources and powers through ‘Corporate Personhood’ to have the same rights as you and I in the eyes of the courts to earn a living. These corporations are able to draw on their vast legal teams and treasury bank accounts to attack individuals and/or communities who challenge them, yet communities seem to have said ‘enough is enough’.
Meanwhile, it is in very rare cases that the State’s Attorney General revokes the corporate licenses of any of these corporations, as corporations can take out many corporate licenses, so it gets to be extremely difficult to go after the people how are making the decisions to stop them. Also, because corporations are considered ‘people’ in the eyes of the courts they can sue you individually, with all of their corporate power, if you try to take away their opportunity to ‘make a living.’
“Corporations are neither physical nor metaphysical phenomena. They are socioeconomic ploys-legally enacted game-playing-agreed upon only between overwhelmingly powerful socioeconomic individuals and by them imposed upon human society and its all unwitting members.” — Buckminister Fuller
The First American Terrorists
The original Tea Party movement in Boston was about banning the egregious behavior of the first multi-national corporation to establish in this country, the East Indian Tea Company; the Wal-Mart of its day. Through subsidies from their home business partner, the Bank of England, the East Indian Tea company was subsidized and able to sell tea and other goods at prices lower than their newly established competitors.
Inciting the public to destroy the British tea in Boston Harbor was a widely circulated pamphlet amongst the colonists by ‘Rusticus’ titled ‘The Alarm,’ directly before the revolt which stated:
“Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain. The Revenues of Mighty Kingdoms have entered their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions, and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin. Fifteen hundred Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits; but [because] this Company and their Servants engulfed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Price that the poor could not purchase them.”
Messer’s Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and the rest of new Americans took notice and specifically wrote the nation’s laws to keep corporate power subdued, unpowered and in check so that a monopolistic corporation could never again yield such power. In fact the number of corporate licenses issued until the mid-1850’s was few due to corporate charter and authorization being solely determined by control of legislative Congress.
The ‘rights’ of corporations to have equal protection as persons under our Constitution began in earnest after the Civil War when sympathetic courts allowed corporations to begin to have the same powers as people under the 1st (Free Speech), 14th (Freedom from Prejudice), and 15th (Right to vote) amendments. The courts continued the practice of placing property, contract and commerce above living citizens’ rights as evidenced by the then suppression of women’s rights (which still continue) and slaves to be treated as property and chattel.
How the wealthy elite of the time got the Supreme Court to allow corporations the same rights as individuals took twenty years of money and persistence by the railroad giants. After being denied by the courts for so long it appears an obscure ruling changed the course of our history solely to empower corporations, according to Thom Hartman’s research:
“The Supreme Court ruled on an obscure taxation issue in the Santa Clara County vs. The Union Pacific Railroad case, but the Recorder of the court - a man named J. C. Bancroft Davis, himself formerly the president of a small railroad - wrote into his personal commentary of the case (known as a headnote) that the Chief Justice had said that all the Justices agreed that corporations are persons. And in so doing, he - not the Supreme Court, but its clerical recorder - inserted a statement that would change history and give corporations enormous powers that were not granted by Congress, not granted by the voters, and not even granted by the Supreme Court. Davis’s headnote, which had no legal standing, was taken as precedent by generations of jurists (including the Supreme Court) who followed and apparently read the headnote but not the decision.”
“Another great irony of this event is that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect human persons because of their vulnerability in relations with other human persons who may be much more powerful. But corporations are bestowed with potential immortality, can change their identity in a day, or even tear off parts of themselves and instantly turn those parts into entirely new “persons.” Yet regardless of all these superhuman powers, corporations are now considered persons.”
The current regulatory agencies now assist the corporation at what rate it can toxify and pollute as most of our Federal and State regulatory heads have become nothing more than a revolving door between multi-national corporations to pass through to ensure their interests are protected, we the people be damned.
Sadly, it just got a lot worse for us 99% ‘ers. As of February 2010 corporate power was granted almost unlimited political power. The Citizen’s United vs. FEC case, in a 5-4 ruling by Supreme Court Inc., now allows any corporation to give any amount of money they wish to any politician, without recourse or restriction.
Was it prescient or a warning to all that the most recent newly appointed Supreme Court judge, Sonia Sotomayor, declared in her first public comments that “courts who created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons, and there could be an argument made that that was the Court's error to start with, not Austin or McConnell, but the fact that the Court imbued a creature of State law with human characteristics.”
The Populist Movement
Some can argue that the only real Democracy in this country began in the late 1800’s when farmers organized a movement towards cooperatives and self- financing for their needs and protection.
At that time, 44% of our country were employed as farmers and Eastern banks exploited them through crop-lien systems (our modern day Subprime loans) that encouraged local farmers to grow more, to take on more land, while taking on larger debt obligations. When the crops failed to produce enough to cover the loan obligations the Eastern banks foreclosed. Sound familiar?
(This was a precursor to Ag Commissioner Earl Butz’s famous ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mandate to farmers in the 1970’s to either grow large tracts or go out of business? Now less than 2% of the declining employment in this country are farmers and less than 4% of those growing food, grow organically.)
So the farmers organized and created the Farmers Alliance, later merging into the Populist Movement. Incredibly they educated 40,000 instructors and sent them by rail and covered wagon to local Granges around the country. Their goals were to educate and warn the other farming communities of the banker’s usurious practices as well as establish cooperatives to provide common milling, low interest loans and goods distribution at far lower costs than the corporate rail system was offering.
Though the Populist movement was successful for a time, it ended in 1900 with the coming of age of Robber Barons, the wealthy elite of their time. The Rockefeller’s, DuPont’s, Vanderbilt’s, Carnegies and Morgan’s on the national fronts and the new empire railroad building Crocker, Stanford, Huntington and Hopkins of California were major conspirators. By invoking corporate personhood rights these people were able to amass great fortunes and be protected by our regulators and legal system. They knew they could always count on the legal system to extract and exploit at will because it was/is legal or the fines incurred was worth the cost of doing the business needed to grow profits for themselves.
Who Has the Rights?
With the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and Global Exchange in San Francisco, Mt. Shasta citizens formed the Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project to see what they could to not only stop PG & E and future destructive activity by corporations in their cities, but also address the most basic of fundamental questions in our democracy: Who has the rights and who gets to decide what goes on in their local neighborhoods and environment?
On May 24th, 2011 the Mt. Shasta City Council held its monthly meeting. Over 200 people showed up to voice their overwhelming approval to put on the ballot a historically radical ordinance that would ban corporate personhood, give the right to self-determine what is best to their community and protect the right of Nature to exist and flourish.
The most incredible moment came when two Native Indian Winnemen Wintu women spoke. As they turned to their backs on the city council to address the people they said “Welcome back, we have been waiting for you. Our people have returned to regain our rights to care for our lands, our Mother, our Father,” they went on. “We are part of these lands, not apart from,” they intoned, “and you here are demonstrating your will to care for all beings who have been harmed by the settlers who rolled through these lands years back.”
As the Occupy Wall Street movement gains traction, Thomas Linzey, President and Founder of CELDF sums up what must be done now:
The history of populist uprisings like Occupy Wall Street isn’t a reassuring one. The last one to have any staying power was the populist farmer’s revolt of the 1800’s, and it was aggressively dismantled by everyone from the two major political parties to the banks and railroad corporations of its day.
What’s been happening in communities such as Pittsburgh and Spokane since the early 2000’s is a revolution that anchors itself in basic local, lawmaking powers derived from our innate right to self-government. Residents of over a hundred rural American communities have now seized their local governments (in some cases, literally) by using municipal lawmaking power to recognize rights for nature, to strip corporations of certain claimed rights, and to elevate community decision-making rights above the claimed “rights” of corporate decision makers. In the process, they’ve stopped everything from proposed corporate hog factory farms, to natural gas “fracking” and corporate water withdrawals.
These communities have begun to understand that the specific issues that affect them cannot be solved without dismantling a structure of law, government, and culture that guarantees that corporate minorities will continue to make decisions on energy, agriculture, and resource extraction.
Proponents in Mt. Shasta City gathered the necessary number of voters’ signatures and they worked closely with Siskyou County Clerk Setzer throughout the process of filing to ensure that the initiative (Measure A) was successfully placed on the November ballot.
But in a not so surprising move, giving the gravity of what this could mean for corporate interests, Setzer threw Measure A off the ballot in May 2010, claiming it had been filed in the wrong office and also citing a one sentence difference between the initiative filed with the City and the version petitioners signed. However, the previous week the City Council had already voted unanimously to leave Measure A on the ballot, because the error did not change the meaning and intent of the initiative.
Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project team leaders are gearing up to get the local rights measure back on the ballot in 2012.
This article is in conjunction with the Rights of Nature events being presented @7:15pm at the AV Grange on Wednesday, Nov. 9th and the Mendocino Community Center on Thurs. Nov. 10th. Ami Marcus, Co-Lead of Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project and Shannon Biggs, author of Rights of Nature, will be the guest speakers. Donations appreciated, all welcome.